Wanted: Hive hosts with honey in their veins

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By Hannah Wallace

We may envision beehives in open, country areas. But according to Sarasota Honey Co. founder Alma Johnson, the best honey comes from our own backyards — literally.

“By having our hives in residential areas, the bees aren’t exposed to big agriculture and monoculture,” said Johnson, who with her team oversees around 70 hives on private properties throughout the southwest Florida area.

But the company’s three former Siesta-based hives had to be relocated off the key last year after the hosts moved away and the properties were sold. Johnson hopes to find new hosts in the area so that her bees can take advantage of Siesta’s lush flora. The honey from Siesta hives would contribute to the company’s Bayfront Honey product, which includes hives from areas near Sarasota Bay, where the same types of plants flower at similar times of year.

In exchange, Siesta’s landscapes benefit from the bees’ pollination.

Hosts also receive a share of the honey produced, or a gift card for Sarasota Honey Co. products.

For everyone else, locally the honey is sold at the Phillippi Farmhouse Market, 5500 S. Tamiami Tr. The event kicks back into gear in October (9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday) after its summer hiatus.

The company is located at 2227 University Pkwy.

Larger honey companies typically keep hives in expansive farmland, where the insects’ food supply is limited to one or two crops that only flower at certain times of year. When those crops aren’t in bloom, the companies typically feed their bees corn syrup.

Bees in urban and suburban areas have a wide variety of food to choose from year-round. Johnson likened the big honey method to raising bees on canned soup; her bees get homemade chicken noodle.

While Sarasota Honey Co. often has a waiting list for prospective hosts, Johnson is keeping here eye out for viable Siesta properties. She likes to have hives in a variety of areas so that the bees aren’t competing with each other for food.

“Plus, if there’s a hurricane, we don’t want all of our eggs in one basket,” she added.

Prospective hosts should have a fenced-in property without too much shade. (Shade exposes the bees to pests and can make the insects more aggressive.) Pets, children and other variables affect a property’s suitability for hives.

Johnson employs special needs adults to help her tend to the hives and periodically harvest the honey. The operation is done entirely by hand, and the bees are not treated with chemicals. 

Anyone hesitant about hosting a colony of stinger-equipped insects need not worry; Johnson’s bees undergo extensive behavioral testing. She even utilizes a property in Palmetto as a sort of rehabilitation center for aggressive hives.

“If they’re due a major attitude adjustment, we replace the queen with one of ours, with known genetics. She has manners,” Johnson said. “We raise really nice bees.”

Interested in hosting a Sarasota Honey Co. hive? Visit sarasotahoney.com/host-a-hive.

Hannah Wallace
Author: Hannah Wallace

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