Gainesville Bee Keepers: For the Love on Honey

By Olivia Pitkenthly

The beginning of spring ushers in lots of sweetness — the smells of fresh-bloomed flowers, the sounds of happy, chirping birds and the taste of delicious honey. While you can find many brands of honey on the grocery store shelves, there’s something a little extra special when you take a spoonful of honey made from a local beekeeper.

Honey Health

Aside from helping out your local economy, honey provides many benefits to your health. Many parents opt to help their children grow accustomed to seasonal allergies by introducing them to local honey, which will alleviate these symptoms. Other parents use honey as a cough suppressant or to soothe a little one’s sore throat. Keep in mind that children younger than 1 should not be given honey as it can cause infant botulism.

Pregnant mamas can add a little honey to their tea to relieve morning sickness as it contains bacteria that aids digestion. It can also improve blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.

Local honey has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and antifungal attributes. In fact, if you make a salve using local honey, you can apply it to diabetic ulcers, eczema, canker sores and bleeding gums to help healing. It also contains phytonutrients shown to possess cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties. We’re not saying honey can cure any disease, but it obviously has its benefits.

Spring is the busiest time for beekeepers in north Florida, as many pollen-producing plants and flowers are blooming and ready for the bees. Bees start the honeymaking process by taking a trip outside the hive, visiting as many as 100 plants per trip. The most popular plants for bees in this region are tupelo, orange blossom, Spanish needle and Mexican clover.

They extract the nectar from the plant, and then the real work begins. Bees produce an enzyme that turns the sucrose into glucose and fructose. This enzyme is mixed with the nectar. The bee returns to the hive and drops the enzyme-nectar mix into the honeycomb — hexagon-shaped cells made of bee-created wax. Then the bee must evaporate the nectar, often by fanning its wings, leaving only about 18% water in the honey. When the evaporation process is done, the bee will cap the cell. This process may take several days to complete.

Once the bees have capped the cells, the beekeeper then gently removes the frames of the cells. There may still be bees in the frame, so the beekeeper must wear protective clothing to reduce chances of getting stung.

Local Bee Keepers Thrive

Even though we wear protective gear, we may be stung through our gloves,” said beekeeper Kyle Straughn. “I can be stung up to a dozen times a day with hundreds of stingers all over my clothing. That’s just part of the job.”

The beekeepers will then give the frame one or two strong shakes to remove the bees, then place the frames into a super, which is a commercially managed beehive.

We extract our own honey in a process that is not heated or filtered so that it is Grade A raw honey, said Straughn.

Straughn and his wife Kim have owned Kyle N Kim Straughn Honey since 2007. “We started with 100 hives, and now we are over 2,000 and growing,” he stated. They produce honey in central Florida, typically using gallberry, orange blossom and wildflower.

While his business continues to grow, so does Straughn’s appreciation for what he does. “I like how my job relates to the physical world around me, how it makes me more aware of the biology that surrounds us every day,” he said.

You truly begin to see the world through the eyes of the bees, which is completely dependent on the ecosystem that surrounds us all.

Olivia’s kids <3 bees!

“Bee Movie” is a kid favorite in my house! Honey bee Barry Benson, voiced by Jerry Seinfeld, sues the human race when he discovers they have been using bees to make, market and sell honey. Teaming up with florist Vanessa, voiced by Renée Zellweger, he soon realizes his efforts aren’t all they are cracked up to “bee.”

Where to find your local honey

  • Ward’s Supermarket
  • The Fresh Market
  • Haile Plantation Farmers Market

Want to know more about bees?

The University of Florida offers a Bee College every year

The full day of entomology and beekeeping curriculum is taught by UF Entomology staff.