Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Jeff Wingate - Bee Keeper, Key Largo


“It was during an early mid-life crisis that I came to the Keys 24 years ago, the spring after Andrew.
I was married living in New York when it didn’t work out and I went back to Texas. I had been back in Texas for 2 weeks and I was tired of being in restaurant/bar management, so I decided to become a scuba instructor and move to paradise. Little did I know there was no way to afford a mortgage and all the other bills on a scuba instructor’s income, but I did it.
I came down and took all of my courses at Ocean Divers, then got a job with Captain Slate. I worked at Slate’s for a couple of years and got quite a bit of experience out on the boat and teaching.
3 weeks into being a dive instructor we had a fatality on the boat. I had to pull a guy back to the boat doing rescue breathing in 4 foot seas; he had had a heart attack. Welcome to reality! That was a horrible event, but that is the incident that made me realize what a great community the diving community is here. The story was on the VHF radio and everyone had heard about it. I went down to Sharky’s to have a beer and everyone and their brother showed up to pat me on the back and tell me it would all be ok. The support was wonderful and the support showed to me that day was a really cool experience.
Dave and Debbie Williams owned the small boat, Wreck Diver, at Slate’s and they decided to sell it, so I bought it and got my captain’s license. I worked with Slate for a while then went out as an independent.
We had a spring season in 2001 where the wind seemed to blow 25-30 knots out of the south/south east for what seemed like 2 months straight. No charters = no business = no money. I was burned out after almost 10 years in the biz and I began taking some classes to get some IT certifications. Then came 9/11 and the Scuba and Charter business dropped off again making 2001 the year that broke the camel’s back; I sold the boat and got an IT job with TIB (The Islamorada Bank). The rest, I guess, is history. I have been with TIB, now Capitol, ever since.
A few years ago I got into home brewing and have really enjoyed that hobby, so much so that I’m now president of the Upper Keys Home Brew Club and really enjoy brewing my own beer and exploring all the possibilities out there; making and experimenting with new beer styles. About 18 months ago I became interested in Mead a.k.a. Honey Wine, and that led me to the bees….
Bees are my newest hobby. But they are more than a hobby. I guess passion is the right word…I have truly fallen in love with the bees.
I have a friend in Houston that has been keeping Bees for years and who has regaled me with stories of his beekeeping exploits. When I decided to get into it I picked his brain, did some research online, and thought to myself “that doesn’t look too hard” and took the plunge and ordered the equipment and some bees and jumped in with both feet.
I have gone from 2 hives in the back yard the first season to 28 hives scattered around the upper Keys. I met Sarah Hamilton from the Electric Coop on a bee rescue up at Ocean Reef and worked with her up there. The electric concrete poles along the highway are all hollow and bees love them. No matter how hard FKEC tries, if there is one hole left open in the pole, bees will find it. The problem is, the linemen working on the poles get to either wear a protective bee suit or a high voltage protective suit, there is no such thing as a high voltage bee suit! When the Coop has to work on the poles that have bees in them, they have to kill the bees to have access. I wanted to save those bees and had Sarah’s blessing.
I started putting out swarm traps last spring. When bees reproduce, the old queen takes about 60% (10-15,000) of the bees and leaves, finding a new place to live. The old queen leaves behind queen cells; when the first new queen emerges, she kills the other queen cells and then you have a new queen with the balance of the bees left behind and a new hive started by the old queen. With the blessing of FKEC I put out swarm traps to catch the swarms as the colonies split to keep them from moving out of one pole and infesting another. Once caught, I relocated them to a safer place to live. Over the course of the spring and early summer I caught about 40 swarms.
I know people think the mosquito spraying is killing the bees and yes it does kill some and it always makes me sad to see it. It also affects the dragonflies and the lady bugs and all the little things flying around that time of day too, which is horrible, but that’s the price we pay for paradise. I was concerned when I started beekeeping so I met with mosquito control and they placed me on their notification list and advise me of when sprays are to occur and provide me with all sorts of information about what they spray and how it affects the insects. With all of the Zika hysteria you would think there would be a lot more spray activity this year but they have only sprayed 1 aerial spray more this year than last to date. There has been a lot of discussion about what chemicals are in use but what chemicals they are using are not really that important, and I’ll tell you why. They are putting the chemicals out in what is called a micro aerosol; little teeny tiny drops in a spray. They are targeting little tiny mosquitoes, not a big bee. The bees need way more spray for it to affect them and the spray becomes inert after 30-45 minutes. Once they spray it and it finally gets to the ground it has degraded enough that it just doesn’t have any affect anymore and has no residual affect. The spray is not lingering on the pollen or in the nectar like crop pesticides which are much much worse since they are engineered to have long lasting effects and the bees carry it back to the hive in the nectar and on the pollen and it can kill the entire colony, not just the bees directly exposed to it. I hate it, I won’t lie, but I have also been to the Everglades in July and August and know if we didn’t spray, we couldn’t live here and enjoy it like we do.
Bees have a lot of other challenges that are making it into the news and while there is some truth in most of the stories there are also a lot of reports that are colored somewhat by the author’s views and there are some really inaccurate statistics in the stories you see out there on the internet. Don’t be a sheep, don’t follow the crowd and believe everything they tell you. Not all of it is true. I see dead bees, sometimes a couple of thousand in front of a group of hives after a spray and I don’t like it, but it was that way last year and the year before that and according to some old timer beekeepers, it’s better than it used to be now that they are spraying chemicals that are less toxic. Another thing to remember, worker bees live about 45 days; the bees that are dying are at the end of their life span anyway and the sprays don’t affect the bees in the hive or the queen. Judging by the number of wild colonies out here, we are ok; just do your part.
Don’t complain about the mosquito spraying, do something. The Mosquito Control people don’t spray just to spray. They have traps and monitor mosquito levels and when they get to a certain level they spray. Walk around your yard and the empty lot next to you. Turn your planter dishes over, flip over your bird baths. Don’t let containers collect water and then sit. Don’t let standing water stay. It rains all the time here. It only takes 7-10 days from egg to flying mosquito. Bromeliads are terrible because they hold standing water inside the plant; unless you spray your bromeliads every couple of days to move the water out and get new water in it, they will hold water and mosquito larva.
One more thing to mention; the studies of the bees and where the numbers are coming from are all done through volunteer surveys. Think about who is filling out the surveys; is it the bee keeper who is having a great year and doing well and is busy, or is it the bee keeper who has lost hives and is not doing so well? The surveys are voluntary, so they don’t cover the whole span, only those areas and hives of registered bee keepers who decide to fill out the survey. There isn’t any statistical validity to them. Remember the part earlier about every colony splitting every year? If there wasn’t some death and colonies that didn’t make it we would be up to our eyeballs in bees and their population would double every year.
I do ‘host’ bee hives on people’s property. I am always open to that, but every yard is not a good fit. The yard has to fit the profile I am looking for; proximity to wooded areas, places with lots of plantings, places that are safe from pets and children. It’s a win win…the bees get a good home and the host gets a share of the honey! 
I like the idea of putting bees out there. It is a fascinating hobby and I love it, I love exposing and teaching others about bees! Bees are just so interesting.”

No comments:

Post a Comment