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Botanical Gardens gets buzzing to save bees, make honey

USF’s Botanical Gardens was buzzing about bees this weekend, not just to save the drastically declining bee population, but also for its sixth annual A Taste of Honey event.

The Botanical Gardens hosted its sweetest fundraiser Saturday to debut USF’s honey and raise funds to keep the apiary updated and support the education programs the gardens provide. Proceeds in the past have gone to an extractor, which is used to extract the honey from the frames. 

At the event was live jazz music by a trio group that has been performing at the gardens since the first honey event. Kaleisia Tea Lounge donated four different teas to pair with honey, and there was a mead drink presentation for those who were interested in learning how to make honey wine. The event even featured almost 100 types of honey.

“The purpose of this event is to encourage people to be more familiar with the plight of honeybees and pollinators in general and to help educate people about how important our pollinators are, but to also support our beekeeping program,” said Laurie Walker, director of the Botanical Gardens.

The bee population has been declining since the ’90s, but it wasn’t until recently that it became a nationally discussed issue. According to the Washington Post, there has been a 40 percent decline in the bee population in the past year due to colony collapse disorder, which is a phenomenon that causes honeybees to suddenly abandon their hives. This disorder has been  caused by a set of factors, including pesticides, parasites and other environmental influences. 

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, bees and other pollinators help produce a third of the world’s crops. 

Certified Florida Master Bee Keeper Brent Weisman, who is the beekeeping teacher at the gardens, set up a booth to educate people about honeybees and spread the word to save them. He first started working with bees in his 20s, and has been doing so for about 40 years now. 

“Growing up, I always had a basic curiosity about how you could put insects in a box, and get them to do good things for you,” Weisman said. “How you could put them in a box and open that box and get honey out of it was a mystery and a curiosity and something I wanted to try. I was interested in livestock and animals — I had all those things, but large animals are not quite as mysterious.”  

Since then, he hasn’t stopped working with honeybees and has had many rewarding situations as a beekeeper. 

“When you raise your own queen bees and you’ve grafted that queen and put in a cell, and the colony nurtures that and raises it and makes it their own queen — the moment that queen hatches out of her cell and you see a new queen out for the first time, that’s a very rewarding experience,” Weisman said. 

Weisman said the queen bee is the most important bee in the colony because she is the leader and keeps the colony alive. She is also responsible for laying eggs and is the only female in the colony that can do so.

USF offers beekeeping courses at the Botanical Gardens and classes are open to anyone in the local community. The course was designed to be a community outreach  to connect to the community and educate them in becoming local beekeepers. This is a 12-month course that meets once a month, and goes through the steps of beekeeping. 

The course begins with learning about basic bee biology and understanding how colonies work together. Students build their own beehives and eventually get their own colony of bees to put in it and take them home. The remainder of the course concerns identifying problems within the colonies they took home, extracting and bottling honey from the USF hives and how to properly treat pests without introducing chemicals into the colony. 

The main goal of the course is to promote education and get more people accustomed to becoming beekeepers in their own backyards. Becoming accustomed to keeping bees — by realizing that they do more good than harm to the community — would help increase the bee population. 

“We are promoting healthy environments for bees and we do our little part to stem the decline of bee populations,” Weisman said.