Florida Celebrates National Honey Month, Increases Production And Profit
While September is a month of somber observances such as Sept. 11 and Patriot Day, it also celebrates sweetness.
That's because it is National Honey Month.
September was chosen as the month to pay homage to honey because it marks the end of honey collection for many beekeepers across the country. Initiated by the National Honey Board, it serves to promote honey and beekeeping in the U.S.
In Florida, bees are big business. According to Aaron Keller, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the state consistently ranks in the top five for honey production.
"Because of Florida's temperate climate, there is a year-round growing season," Keller said. He also said that climate enables bees to pollinate more than 100 different varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Managed bee colonies are also booming. According to the department, bee colonies have increased by 145 percent in the past eight years, leading to a $13 million annual honey profit.
Suzanne Hall, president of the Alachua County Beekeepers Club, noted another benefit of Florida’s honey industry.
“We actually have two harvest times in Florida, which most of the rest of the country has one,” she said.
She explained that Florida has two successful periods of honey production -- during spring and fall -- whereas most of the country only has one good period in the spring when flowers start to bloom.
Warm weather is important because bees don’t fly unless it’s at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit, she added.
Gainesville’s average annual temperature is 68.7 degrees Fahrenheit, providing an appropriate year-round temperature for the bees, according to U.S. climate data.
However, bees struggle in the rain, so beekeepers sometimes have to feed their colonies themselves. Honey spores, sugar water and pollen can be bought in advance as a food source, she said.
"Bees offer more than just honey to the Florida agriculture industry," said Tom Nolan, president of the Florida State Beekeepers Association.
“Bees add millions -- if not billions -- to the crop yield in Florida," Nolan said, "and agriculture is a big deal in Florida.”
He mentioned that there are common misconceptions about bees, including confusion between "bees and wasps."
And the classic image of Winnie-the-Pooh and his jar of honey is only partially true.
"What bears are really after is the bee larvae in the hive because that’s a protein for them,” he said. “The honey is a bonus; that’s like dessert.”
Emily Helton, interim extension technician at the University of Florida’s Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab, noted that a loss of pollination areas could be a huge threat to the bee population as forestry is removed to make room for the human population.
“They need the pollen and nectar from plants to be able to sustain their colony,” she said.
Helton also explained where the phrase “busy as a bee” comes from.
“The forager bees must fly over 55,000 miles and visit 2 million flowers, all to make one jar,” she said. “If honey bees earned minimum wage, a jar of honey would cost $182,000.”