A BRIEF HISTORY OF FLORIDA BEEKEEPING
Honey bees are not native to the Americas. They were brought over from Europe by colonists. They were recorded as being in Virginia in 1622 (Nelson, 1971). Native Americans called them "white man's flies." It is not known when the first honey bees were introduced into Florida. It is also not known whether they were of English or Spanish origin.
Prior to the turn of this century many colonies in Florida were kept in sections of hollow logs called "bee gums." It was reported in 1879 that almost everyone in the Daytona area kept several (McIntyre, 1879). However, commercial beekeeping was practiced before this time by a fruit company from New York. It was reported that they operated one of the first apiaries of any consequence in the state on the west side of the Halifax River, where the city of Daytona now stands. This apiary was established in 1872. The production of lemons, oranges and honey made a very good combination. The company would sail back to New York City in the spring with a cargo of Florida fruit and honey. This practice excited considerable attention around New York as well as in certain Florida towns. W. S. Hart, located at Hawks Park in Volusia County, began producing honey and fruit in like manner soon after.
Along about this same time another apiary of importance was started near the city of Wewahitchka in Gulf County by S. S. Alderman, who also grew oranges along with the production of honey. This early development of beekeeping in Florida took place between 1872 and 1888. Florida at that time had few inhabitants and virtually no roads. The pioneer beekeepers had a hard time of it. They obtained their bees from the forest, lived in remote sections of the country which, could be reached only by small vessels and lived a very lonely life.
The success of S. S. Alderman and W. S. Hart soon caused reports to be widely circulated that an average of one barrel -- or about four hundred pounds -- of honey per colony was being secured in Florida. This report meant much to Florida in beekeeping, for almost at once people began to establish apiaries all over the state and to put in modern equipment (Wilder, 1928). A Mr. Wiggins was reported as operating an apiary and small trading post at Wiggins Pass in Collier County in 1881 (Tebeau, 1966). Progress has continued down to the present time.
Frank Stirling, in a speech to the Florida State Beekeepers= Association on Dec. 3, 1920, quoted a statement by P. J. Wester, former Florida Experiment Station Horticulturist, AIt is worthy of note that the world record for honey production is held by the sub-tropical state of Florida. The 103 colonies of an apiarist there, known to the writer, averaged 208 lbs. of honey per colony one year, and one produced the astonishing amount of 496 pounds (Stirling, 1920).
Although Florida was known for high honey yields around the turn of the century, it was not a Utopia of beekeeping. An article in the January 1901 issue of American Bee-Keeper magazine by M. W. Shepherd is titled "Bee-Keeping In West Florida - A Letter From A Land Flowing With Malaria And Honey." He mentions that the only way to get from place to place was by boat and that accessible high ground is scarce (Shepherd 1901).
Early Florida beekeepers moved their colonies from one honey flow to another long before migratory beekeeping was practiced elsewhere. These movements were by boat. Bees moved from the tupelo swamps to the farm land by steamboat. They also moved from the mainland to the keys by boat. Migratory movement has always presented a risk. Truck loads today may be lost to a wreck. A beekeeper at Pensacola was reported to have lost a boatload of bees when a sudden squall caught him in Pensacola Bay (Hawkins, 1920).
Apiary Inspection was created by Legislative Act on June 9, 1919. The Plant Commissioner in 1919, Dr. Wilmon Newell, was experienced in bee diseases, having been in charge of the Texas program for five years. He appointed Mr. C. E. Bartholomew as the first State Inspector and assisted him with inspections the first year (Morse, 1955). Initial inspections were in the Apalachicola river region which was reported to have more bees than any other area of the state. The tupelo honey produced in this region was valued at this time as a good honey to blend with other varieties of honey to retard granulation (Newell, 1920). Beekeeping in this area was also enhanced by steamboat transportation and bees were routinely moved into Alabama and Georgia for the summer and back into Florida for the spring. The number of colonies in the area coupled with the migratory nature of beekeeping there made the spread of disease a major concern. The finding of disease in one large apiary in 1918 caused beekeepers there to petition the legislature for an apiary inspection program with laws that would help prevent the movement of diseased colonies into Florida.
The Florida State Beekeepers Association was organized at Gainesville on October 6, 1920. It was anticipated that it would make for rapid improvement in the beekeeping industry of Florida ( Newell, 1921). A report of the organizational meeting states that a group of 100 enthusiastic beekeepers from all over the state were in attendance. The first officers were: J. W. Barney of Bradenton, President; F. K. Isbell of Wewahitchka, Vice President; K. E. Bragdon of Cocoa, Secretary; and J. R. Hunter of Wewahitchka, Treasurer. It is also stated that the establishment of the state association followed the organization of several strong local associations. On the same page is a classified ad for 2 or 3 frame nuclei from the Sarasota Bee Company, the beginning of a segment of the beekeeping industry that became a major part of the industry here in later years (Anonymous, 1921).
On July 1, 1957, an Act of the Florida State Legislature became effective which provided to beekeepers compensation for bees and equipment destroyed by the state because of American foulbrood (Martin, 1960). Florida was the first state to implement such a program. The compensation program increased cooperation between the Department of Agriculture and the beekeeping industry and contributed to a steady decline in the incidence of American foulbrood in the state.
Between 1920 and 1940 tupelo honey shifted from a honey for blending to a specialty honey recognized as one of the premier honeys of the United States. Since then beekeepers have exercised care to produce and market as pure a product as possible. In 1962, the Florida Department of Agriculture initiated a program to certify tupelo honey as a marketing tool for those who produce a quality product (Packard, 1962). This continues to be the only program of this nature in the United States.
Florida beekeeping reached its peak in the late seventies and early eighties with over 360,000 colonies, often ranking number one in the nation in honey production. With the discovery of tracheal mites in 1984 and the Varroa mite in 1987, Florida beekeeping declined, as did beekeeping nationwide. In recent years the state had around 250,000 colonies and dropped to as low as number five in honey production in the U.S..
Florida beekeeping has now become almost totally migratory. Most bees in the state are moved from two to six times annually, either interstate or intrastate. About half of Florida=s bees move to northern states in the summer for pollination or honey production. They pollinate everything from blueberries in Maine to almonds in California.
Florida=s orange blossom and tupelo honey are known world-wide. Although a considerable amount of honey is imported into the United States, these honeys are exported throughout the world.
Addendum by Dr. Malcolm T. Sanford, Professor Emeritus, University of Florida:
The Florida beekeeping industry has traditionally been aided by both a bee inspection program and unsurpassed educational commitment from the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), part of the University of Florida. These have been especially important during the last twenty-five years as the industry has faced challenges from exotic bee mites and the most recently introduced small hive beetle.
A line of bee inspectors can be traced back to the law providing compensation to beekeepers in the late 1950s. Chief apiarists of note included Phil Packard, followed later Jim Herndon (who retired and was brought back into service due to tracheal mite introduction and the death of his successor Leroy Putnal). He was succeeded by Inspector Emeritus Laurence Cutts, who shepherded the industry through perhaps its darkest time as Varroa was introduced, changing beekeeping forever in the Sunshine state. Mr. Cutts retired in 2003, to be replaced by Jerry Hayes, who now finds himself confronted with perhaps even a greater challenge, what appears to be a growing spontaneous, indigenous population of Africanized honey bees.
In the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps as many as six faculty members in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, IFAS, University of Florida were involved in beekeeping efforts, including Milledge Murphy, who some old time students still remember as one of their premier professors. The last of this cadre, was Frank Robinson, who retired in 1985. He was followed later by Dr. Harvey Cromroy, a prime player in acarology (mite) research, and most recently Dr. Jim Nation (bee nutrition) in 2004.
The first beekeeping specialist in the Florida Cooperative Extension Service was John D. Haynie. "Honey Haynie" began a newsletter called Hum of the Hive in the 1950s. It was regularly published until his retirement in 1971. Mr. Haynie also began the Florida Beekeepers Institute in 1957. Hum of the Hive was taken up by Dr. Danny R. Minnick in September 1971. His "last issue" was written in August of 1972. At that time, 1,800 hundred persons subscribed. Thereafter, Dr. Freddie Johnson sporadically authored the newsletter along with Frank Robinson, until July 1981. The following month's issue was written by Dr. Malcolm T. Sanford, the author, who retired and became "Professor Emeritus," in 2001.
In February 1983, APIS-Apicultural Information and Issues evolved from Hum of the Hive, taking on a different format with an upgraded logo. The first electronic issue came out in February 1984 on BITNET. Since then, APIS has been available worldwide via the INTERNET and World Wide Web. Parts of it have been archived across the Web on different sites. In 1989, the author published issues from Italy, in 1992, from Egypt, and a special collection of letters from France in 1997.
In 1994, the story of APIS was featured in the FARNET publication, 51 Reasons: How We Use the Internet and What it Says About the Information Superhighway, the lobbying document used to educate the U.S. Congress about the value of the National Information Infrastructure (NII). This formally recognized the newsletter as a pioneer on the Internet, the first information organ of its kind available on World-Wide Web.
In August 2006, Dr. Jamie Ellis joined the faculty of entomology as Florida's next extension specialist in apiculture. The combination of a strong beekeepers= association, Cooperative Extension effort and apiary inspection program should help Florida=s beekeeping industry continue to rank among the best in the nation.
Anonymous, 1921. American Bee Journal, Volume 61, No. 1, p.33.
Hawkins, Kenneth. 1920. Beekeeping In The South. Hamilton Illinois: American Bee Journal. 120 p.
Martin, Russell A. 1960.AApiary Inspection Department. Bulletin, State Plant Board of Florida, Volume 2, Bulletin 14. p.50.
McIntyre, R. H. 1879. Apiculture In Florida &c., American Bee Journal. Vol. 15. No. 6, p.266-267.
Morse, Roger. 1955.AThe Work of the State Plant Board of Florida. State Plant Board of Florida, Volume I, Bulletin 8, p.93-96.
Nelson, Eric V. 1971.AHistory of Beekeeping In The United States from Beekeeping In The United States, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Agriculture Handbook No. 335, Issued August 1967, Revised June 1971. Page 2.
Newell, Wilmon. 1920.AQuarterly reports: Bee Disease Eradication. State Plant Board of Florida, Quarterly Bulletin, Volume 5, No. 1, Oct. 1920, p.32.
Newell, Wilmon. 1921.AReport of the Plant Commissioner for the biennium ending April 30, 1920." State Plant Board of Florida Quarterly Bulletin Volume 5(2) January 1921. p.104.
Shepard, M. W. 1901.ABEEKEEPING IN WEST FLORIDA - A Letter From A Land Flowing With Malaria And Honey American Bee-Keeper, January 1901. p.7-8.
Packard, Phillip M. 1962. Apiary Inspection Section, Bulletin of The Division of Plant Industry, Volume 1, Number 2. p.67.
Tebeau, Charlton W., 1966, Florida=s Last Frontier, University of Miami Press. Page 116.
Temme, Bill, 1999, Assistant Librarian, St. Augustine Historical Society, 271 Charlotte St., St. Augustine, FL 32084. Personal communication.
Stirling, Frank. 1920. [A Speech Presented To The Florida State Beekeepers Association]. Located at: Division of Plant Industry Library Archives, Gainesville, FL.
Wilder, J. J. 1928. Beekeeping in Florida. State of Florida Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 5, New Series. p.5.