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For the Love of Bees

Beekeeper with honey hivesGeorge Sares has spent the past 10 years of his retirement caring for bees. During that time, he has enjoyed learning about beekeeping and believes that “the more you learn, the more you want to learn.”

Wanting to foster that same curiosity in students, Sares recently donated two wooden beehives to the University filled with thousands of honey bees.  These new campus residents have been placed in a fenced area of the Ogier Gardens, where they can continue to do what bees do best — pollinating the flowers and vegetables around them.


What’s the buzz?

There’s no doubt that beekeeping has become trendy, though people often underestimate the commitment. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, beekeeping is not easy,” Sares said. With 15-20 hives of his own, he knows that these hardworking insects require a great deal of human assistance in their fight against the parasites, pests and diseases that typically plague beehives. Sares has offered to assist with the care of the bees and mentor students who recently joined the UNF Beekeeping Club. He has already had several club members in his kitchen extracting honey from the frames he took from his own hives.

“First of all, I’m going to let the students drive the train,” he said. “But I hope they can get out of it what I do and that is you learn a little bit about nature and how things work ... it’s an appreciation for nature and the patience required and the understanding that you’re not in charge, they’re in charge, and you’re working with them.”


Why bring more bees to the Gardens?

Kevin Anderson, Gardens coordinator and adjunct professor of Public Health, has wanted to bring beehives to Ogier Gardens for several years. With a background in agriculture, Anderson worked on several farms and with beekeepers before joining the University in fall 2013.

He said he always believed that having the hives at the Gardens would provide an educational opportunity for students, especially in highlighting the contribution bees make to our food system. “About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, including apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli and almonds, just to name just a few,” Anderson said. Academically, there is also a tie-in with

UNF’s Food Systems and Sustainability minor, which explores the entire food system as well as current and proposed strategies related to food sustainability. 

To make the project a reality, Anderson wrote a proposal outlining the steps needed and continued to push for its acceptance. In addition, he recently began online training to become a master beekeeper. He also was the motivating force and organizer behind the beekeeping club, which he hoped would get more students involved and trained.

“In addition to the actual value of the George’s donation, the care that he’s offered to provide and the ongoing mentoring — in my opinion, that’s pretty priceless,” Anderson said. He hopes to gain experience working with Sares and will continue his goal of becoming a master beekeeper, which is a four-year process.


How do we care for our newest residents?

The priority for the club will be to buy protective gear and equipment. Sares said he will help in that effort by providing his own honey so club members can sell it to earn money for supplies. From there, the club will move the project in the direction they choose, he said.

For Faith Bean, bee club president, the hives will present an ongoing learning experience. “Our hope for the club is that it can become a resource for students to learn about bees and beekeeping through workshops and have hands-on experience through our hive inspections and honey extraction events,” she said.

And, of course, there will be much for students to learn. Sares hopes they will take advantage of knowledgeable people at the Jax Bee Club as well as the UF Extension Service. And he’s sure that beekeepers will be willing to help. “I have a saying,” Sares said. “You get a beekeeper started talking, and you can’t shut them up.”

Here is some information that Sares shared about bees:

  • In a hive, 95% are female worker bees, maybe 12-15 drones or male bees, and typically one queen.
  • A worker bee only lives 40-45 days.
  • Queens may live a year and a half to two years.
  • When a Bee stings you, it dies almost immediately.
  • A queen returns to the hive after a mating flight and lays about 800-1,200 eggs every day; over her short lifetime, she will lay about 250,000-280,000 eggs; drones die soon after mating.
  • For a variety of reasons, beekeepers across the nation will lose about 40% of their hives each year.
  • Ever heard the expression “make a beeline”? Bees go out from the hive looking for nectar. When they return to the hive and communicate their find, the other bees fly directly to the nectar, or you might say, they “make a beeline” for it.

Note: Though Webster’s Dictionary shows “honeybee” spelled as one word, we discovered that entomologists insist it is actually “honey bee” and that it is incorrect to put the words together.