Deerfield Beach abuzz with efforts to save bees

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. – This Saturday is World Bee Day, but our global bee population is facing daunting challenges. Here in South Florida, though, residents are stepping up to protect bees, and urban hives are on the rise.

These days the city of Deerfield Beach is all abuzz.

It is one of 12 South Florida cities and towns with micro-apiaries on public land as a response to the dramatic decline in the nation’s bee population.

“There are needs everywhere,” said Hillary Silverstone, Sustainability Coordinator for Deerfield Beach. “The issue in South Florida is that there’s no space, and so we had a space, we had an opportunity.”

That’s why the DFBee Apiary was created as a refuge for rescued bees on the central city campus of Deerfield Beach.

“We just thought it was the perfect sanctuary for our bees to come and thrive,” said Silverstone.

The man who made it happen is urban beekeeper John Coldwell.

“All we’re doing is we’re going into Deerfield Beach and pulling bees out of places where they don’t belong,” he said.

Coldwell brings feral colonies he rescues to the DFBee Apiary where he cares from them after saving them from extermination. He loves bees so much that for the past 12 years he and his wife Teresa have made this their passion project.

“It’s like this Zen ethereal moment when you open that box up,” he said. “I watch what they’re doing on the comb, I can tell if they’re strong, I can tell if they’re healthy, I can tell how old they are, and you can just watch every one of them doing their job. It’s just amazing.”

Bees are one of the planet’s most prolific pollinators. About one-third of the food we eat comes from flowers and plants that bees pollinate, representing billions of dollars in agriculture each year.

When their numbers around the world began to rapidly decline in 1990, alarm bells went off.

Dr. William Kern is a honey bee expert at the University of Florida. He said since 2008, the state has seen an 800% increase in the number of registered beekeepers, with many of them small scale backyard beekeepers.

“Many of our native bees are suffering because of habitat loss, it is the main problem, but honeybees are actually doing okay in Florida,” said Kern. “We’ve also increased the number of hives in Florida by 400% in that same period, so I think we’re now over half a million hives, I think 600,000 hives in the state of Florida.”

That’s good news for our honeybees, which are facing increasing threats due to climate change, habitat loss, pesticides and the invasive Varroa mite from China, which is infecting and killing whole hives with a deadly virus.

It is the backyard beekeeper who is saving our bees.

“You’d be amazed how many backyard beekeepers there are, like 6000 in the state of Florida,” said Caldwelll. “Probably 25 to 30% of them are from Lake (Okeechobee) down.”

That is the goal of these urban apiaries like the DFBee, to inspire and educate future beekeepers who will make sure our Florida hives continue to thrive.

There is even a livestream camera inside the apiary to show residents what the buzz is all about. It’s Bee TV.

The public is also encouraged to visit in person, no matter what age.

“At first kids are very nervous to come out, but we give them veils to put on and then once they get out here, they love it,” said Silverstone. “They think it’s so cool, and it is so cool.”

One well-managed hive can produce 40 lbs. of honey a year.

There are about 15 thriving colonies at the DFBee Apiary, home to some 350,000 honeybees that are pollinating trees, plants and flowers within a three mile radius.

“These bees from South Florida will end up and all of Florida will end up throughout the entire country, pollinating the food that ends up back in your grocery store,” said Caldwell, who said now, more than ever, it’s time more Floridians step up to help our bees.

“If you want to be a beekeeper, come here, and we’ll teach you to be a good beekeeper,” he said. “And we’ll help you make strong healthy bees.”

Even if beekeeping is not for you, there are things we can all do every day to help our bees, such as planting native plants, flowers and trees that bees like in our yards and gardens.

South Floridians can also cut back on pesticides or use organic ones that are bee friendly.

Most importantly, don’t kill bees. If you have a bee infestation, contact a licensed beekeeper that can try to save the hive and not exterminate it.

For more information on bee keeping, the University of Florida offers a crash course with their bee college. To visit their website, click here.


Deerfield Beach DFBee Apiary

Florida Department of Agriculture: Honey Bee Protection in Florida

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.