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Beekeeping is creating a buzz

Jessica Sullivan, an Osceola Extension Office agriculture education faculty member, also is a beekeeper.

Jessica Sullivan is an agriculture education faculty member at the University of Florida – Osceola County Extension Office.

She’s also a beekeeper.

Sullivan has been teaching the community about the unique hobby for a few years through seminars like “Beekeeping: Is it Right For Me?” – a free class offered by the extension office earlier this month.

The Osceola News-Gazette sat down with Sullivan last week to discuss some of the rewards and challenges associated with beekeeping and to learn why it’s creating such a buzz for people across the country.

ONG: Why do you think there has been this growing interest in beekeeping?

Sullivan: I think because people are beginning to realize bees are under a lot of pressure, as are all pollinators. All of them are under a lot of pressure due to habitat lose, potential pesticide use, natural diseases that spread and invasive species that compete with them.

As this is being studied more by science and the word is getting out, a lot of people become more interested in insects, and you’re naturally drawn towards beekeeping. You watch a few videos online and they’re absolutely fascinating. There’s a lot of documentaries out right now on beekeeping and pollinators, so I think that’s how a lot of people are introduced to the concept.

But it turns out there’s actually a lot that goes into being a beekeeper, which is why we thought it would be a good class to offer at the extension office.

ONG: What is the first piece of advice you give people when they show interest in beekeeping?

Sullivan: We go over the legalities of beekeeping, what an appropriate site would be and then we talk about cost - because like any hobby or business - you have to invest a bit in it. It’s important for people to know up front that it’s not just buying a box and throwing some bees into it. There’s a bit more to it than that.

We also have to go over the physical requirements, because sometimes you have to lift things and grip things, so there’s a certain amount of physical ability you need to have.

Other than that, it’s just a willingness to learn and having the right space for them.

ONG: You mentioned the legality of beekeeping. What are some things people should be aware of?

Sullivan: If someone’s in a homeowner’s association, then whatever their covenant codes restrictions say is what they need to follow. Some homeowner’s associations may allow it, and others may not. If they’re in a homeowner’s association, the HOA makes the final call on that.

Everybody else, including residents that are in cities, are governed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. They oversee all beekeeping activities and register beekeepers.

Even people in urban areas are allowed to have bees as long as they’re following the best management practices the Florida Department of Agriculture has.

ONG: You also mentioned costs. What would you say are some of the start-up costs associated with beekeeping?

Sullivan: I would estimate between $800 and $1,000 to get even a small, little hobby beekeeping operation up and going. You’re talking about the beehives themselves – the wooden boxes – the bees, and then things like your beekeeping suit, your smoker, things like that.

ONG: And where can people purchase things like this?

Sullivan: In this area, we work closely with D&J Apiary who comes to our monthly meetings with the Kissimmee Valley Beekeepers Association. They bring a supply via their big mobile beekeeping supply store with them, so it makes it pretty easy for beekeepers, at least  once a month, to stock up on everything they need.

Other than that, you can mail order a lot of things or go online.

ONG: What are some challenges and advantages of practicing beekeeping in Osceola County and Central Florida?

Sullivan: We’re lucky in Osceola County that we still have quite a bit of conservation area, natural lands and ranch lands that provide adequate habitats for bees. We also have a high demand in the area for local honey, so this is a motivating factor for people who want to do beekeeping as a business because you can make a little bit of money just selling honey directly to consumers.

ONG: How many beekeeping classes does the Osceola County extension office offer each year?

Sullivan: We usually do them a couple of times a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. For example, the class we offered earlier in the month, “Beekeeping: Is It For Me?” is kind of our free, introductory class, and then we follow that up for the serious people with an intro to beekeeping. That one is being offered on

Sept. 22.

It’s an all-day workshop, and we show people the tools they need, we let them try on bee suits and show them everything they’re going to need, and talk to them about how you get your hives up and going and where to find all of your supplies.

Our turnout can vary quite a bit, but we usually have people from other counties who come to check it out, too. There’s a pretty high demand for beekeeping education, I’ve come to find out.

ONG: So how did you come to bring this class to the extension office?

Sullivan: I was very lucky to have a doctored beekeeper who was volunteering with the extension office about five years ago, and he was actually the one who approached me and said, “OK, I’m ready to help you teach.  Are you ready to learn? OK, let’s do it.”

So, we did, and he mentored me for a few years. Now he’s moved on, and I’m still at it and have recruited volunteers and have a lot of fun with it.

ONG: Were there any interesting things that happened when you were first learning about beekeeping yourself?

Sullivan: I think some of the best adventures have come about when I’ve had to move bees at night, because that’s when they’re all in the hive. When you have to relocate a hive from one place to another, some interesting things can happen.

You can’t really see what you’re doing, or if you’re accidentally dropping the hive on the ground. But you know, it was fine. Everyone survived. Bees and people alike.

For more information about the upcoming beekeeping class and other programs, call Sullivan at  321-697-3040.