I have always wanted to be a bee keeper and one weekend in October I discovered that I had a colony of bees living in my overturned Terra Cotta Kokopelli flower pot out behind the oak tree. I approached the bee colony a number of times to see how aggressive they were and lucky for me they did not take much notice of my presence.
I wished to keep the bees, but first I asked my wife if she would be alright with it. She expressed a bit of skepticism, “By the pool?”, she questioned. I assured her that it would be fine, the bees would mind their own business and not bother us when we were enjoying the pool since their hive would be in the far corner of the yard under the oak tree. She also asked if it is allowed in Royal Palm Beach, since they are tough with the codes here.
Legally Keeping European Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) in Your Florida Yard
According to Florida’s Honey bee law (Florida Statute Chapter 586; 5B-54.0105 Location of Managed Honey Bee Colonies) the Florida Department of Agriculture (FDACS) has the authority to preempt any local ordinances that prohibit beekeeping except for those adopted by homeowners’ associations (HOA) or deed-restricted communities. You are legally permitted to keep up to 3 honey bee colonies on your one quarter acre or less size property if you follow a couple of important rules. First, any honey bee colonies kept on non-agricultural properties must follow the Best Management Requirements (BMR) for Maintaining European Honey Bee Colonies to be in compliance with the Florida Beekeeper Compliance Agreement (FDACS-08492). The law requires Florida beekeepers to register their colonies with FDACS and requires yearly colony inspection by an FDACS apiary inspector. When a bee colony is situated within 15 feet of a property line, the beekeeper must establish and maintain a flyway barrier at least 6 feet in height consisting of a solid wall, fence, dense vegetation or combination that is parallel to the property line and extends beyond the bee colony in each direction. Additionally the honey bee colonies must be on fenced property to keep the hives from being disturbed by trespassers,
Other common sense best practices when keeping bees on your property are to not place apiaries within 150 feet of tethered or confined animals or public places where people gather such as parks, parking lots, etc. And do not place colonies in an area that will block entry or exit of emergency services to entrances of properties and buildings.
It is important to note that a yearly colony inspection is required so the Department of Agriculture inspector can verify that you are not inadvertently keeping Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) the so called “killer bees” of bad horror movies — Apis mellifera scutellata Lepeletier. Also important and required by the law is that there must be a source of water available to the bees on the property so they do not congregate in someone else’s yard to find water; That you inspect your honey bee colony monthly to insure that they have adequate food, a strong colony and that they have not become overly aggressive (in which case, if they have the local bee inspector should be called to determine if AHB’s have taken over the colony).
As a bee keeper you are responsible to practice reasonable swarm prevention techniques as referenced in University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension document “Swarm Control for Managed Beehives”.
The Bee Hive I Purchased
Now that we have the legal stuff out of the way I needed to purchase some bee keeping supplies. The first thing I needed was a place to keep the bees. I looked at a few different bee hives and decided on the Summerhawk Ranch Mason Jar Beehive mostly because it looked fun and easy for a beginner. It arrived in one large box and was fairly easy to put together. Although a couple of the mason jars arrived cracked and broken. I understand that this is typical of this bee hive in shipping. They do not pack the glass jars very well.
The main advantage of a mason jar bee hive is, in addition to the design and simplicity of use, the bees themselves pack honey in the glass jars. The Summerhawk Ranch hive took the standard brood super and added a window that allows the beekeeper to see the activity of the hive from the outside. It is called “quick check super” which allows you to check the condition of the hive without stressing out the bees by opening the hive. Summerhawk Ranch designers also took the standard frame and scalloped the edges to make it easier to see between the frames when looking through the quick check window allowing quick visual checks on the health of the hive without having to fully dismantle it as often. The Summerhawk Ranch hive also comes with all of the frames preassembled and pre-waxed which allows setting up the hive faster.
Summerhawk Ranch Mason Jar Beehive Kit
- Deep jar super x1
- 1-pint (0.45l) mason jars with lids x6
- 1-quart (0.90l) mason jars with lids x6
- Quick-check super x1
- Frames with pre-waxed plastic foundation x8
- Stainless steel queen excluder x1
- Ventilated inner-cover x1
- Ventilated jar screens x2
- Bee veil with the hat
- Bee gloves
- Liquid smoke – you can put it on your hands and arms to prevent bee stings during inspecting the hive if you don’t wear protective gear
- Frame tool
- Honeycomb uncapping fork (scratcher)
Some of the tools came with the Summerhawk Ranch hive, but I bought a few more things that were not included such as:
- Stainless Steel J Hook Beekeeping Hive Tool Frame Lifter and Scraper
- Bee Hive Smoker Stainless Steel with Heat Shield
- Combination Beekeeping Suit, Jacket, Pull Over, Smock with Veil
Suiting Up and Dumping the Bees Into Their New Hive
Being new to bee keeping I suited-up with a bee jacket and bee bonnet. Started a fire in my smoker and had my spray bottle of sugar water. I opened the Summerhawk Ranch hive then spaced the frames apart. I then used my smoker to puff some smoke around the entrance of the Kokopelli flower pot. I lifted the pot up up and smoked underneath it. I then proceeded to pick the pot up and dump and shake the bees into the hive. There were a lot of disturbed bees flying around, but they were not at all aggressive.
The honey comb that was in the pot I detached from the terra cotta and rubber banded into empty frames. These I put into the open spaces between the frames I spaced out earlier. To calm the ball of bees down a little, I sprayed them with sugar water. After an hour or so the bees calmed down and started walking between the honey comb frames. I was even able to see the queen in the side window after about 20 minutes.
I found it interesting to interact with the bees. After a few days I felt comfortable enough to approach the colony wearing just a pair of shorts and bee gloves. Then after a while I did not bother with the gloves. I would approach the colony and they would do what they do, coming and going, paying me no attention. I would use the quick check windows to peek in on the bees and be able to catch a glimpse of the queen bee every once in a while.
After a couple of weeks with my bees disaster suddenly, or maybe I should say, finally struck. Our back yard had been under construction for over a year to put in a pool. Work had stopped for several months because the pool company we contracted stole our money and fled to the Ukraine with it. We found another pool builder to complete the work. It seems my bees did not appreciate the sudden activity of construction in the yard and absconded. A handful of worker bees stayed behind to tend to the eggs in the cells. I chased the refuge bees out of the hive and blocked off the entrance until they left. Now my Summerhawk Ranch Mason Jar Beehive stands empty waiting for a new swarm to discover and inhabit it.