Florida is abuzz about beekeeping.
The number of Floridians who’ve started beekeeping has increased by over 500 percent in the last 14 years.
The demand has gotten so large, that the University of Florida’s Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab recently added more to the Master Beekeeper Program that’s open to the public — online.
Beekeepers John and Teresa Coldwell of Broward County take UF's advanced beekeeping course. One of the public apiaries — that's a collection of hives — they helped start around the county is located at the Deerfield Beach Apiary, behind the city's recycling plant.
“Good mornin' ladies, how you doing?" Coldwell said to his bees, as he squirt smoke on them and lift the lid of a hive.
There's about 25,000 to 30,000 bees in each hive — and at the Deerfield Apiary, there's 15 hives.
"They’re all nice bees," Coldwell said.
The Coldwells have been keeping honey bees for about eight years — after they tried gardening.
“We found out that we’re good beekeepers and probably forever, not the best gardeners," Teresa Coldwell said. "So we focused on bees instead of the gardenin’ it’s just mushroomed from there.”
They’re both really involved in local beekeeping associations. John Coldwell is the president of the South Florida Beekeepers Association, as well as the Broward Beekeepers Association. He also sits on the board for the state Beekeepers Association.
They’re passionate about bee education. Other than Deerfield Beach, the Coldwells have added public apiaries in Oakland Park, Tradewinds Park, Heritage Park, Treetops Park, and, most recently, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, along with even more private apiaries.
"John always says you’re going to find your bee philosophy," fellow beekeeper Sarah Blackburn said. She calls the Coldwells her mentors. "My philosophy is always natural. Kind of let the bees do their thing."
Blackburn's an apprentice beekeeper in the UF program.
“Once you see that you have an endless supply of honey and how messy and sticky and what a job it is to harvest honey, that love and passion for that part goes away — and it's just the bees," Blackburn said.
You can start the UF Master Beekeeper Program without having your own bees, but eventually you need to actually keep a hive to advance in the certification. To take both parts of the apprentice level, the cost for the public is $250.
The first part of the Apprentice Program was put online in 2018, and the full course was made available online in June 2019. The Advanced Program is expected to be online in full by this summer, according to UF.
UF Entomology Professor Jamie Ellis created the Master Beekeeper program and directs the university's Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab, which falls under the university's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
"What honey bees really do for us is, they pollinate our plants," he said. "And so we get fruits, vegetables and all kinds of things from the pollination efforts of honey bees."
Ellis said there’s a back-to-farming movement, especially in urban settings such as South Florida.
"This awareness of bees and beekeeping — awareness of the importance of beekeeping — and a growing awareness of people who say, ‘Gosh, I could do this’ — all of these things contribute to people’s interest and desire to get into beekeeping," Ellis said.