By Jennifer Stahl
MALABAR - Lyndon Jones' "hobby" gives him hives.
The Malabar bee farmer and owner of Trevena Bee Farm has raised bees for 42 years. For him, it all started when his wife told him he needed something to occupy his time.
"My wife told me I needed a hobby," Mr. Jones said. "So I bought one hive, and became so enthralled with it I went out and maxed out my credit card and bought 50 hives."
Mr. Jones bought his first hive in Georgia, a 2-pound box of about 3,000 bees and one queen. There, the seller gave him a rudimentary lesson on the art of beekeeping. The rest of Mr. Jones' knowledge is self-taught.
"It was trial and error, with a lot of error," he said. "And bees are very unforgiving. If you do something wrong, they'll tell you about it."
He built a hive out of frame wood, put the bees in their new home and settled back to watch the magic happen. The bees got to work, creating wax to build a home, raise their young and store honey. Roughly a year later, Mr. Jones was able to reap the sweet reward.
More than 40 years later, he has 150 hives, each containing approximately 60,000 bees, for a total of approximately 9 million bees.
Each hive has a queen, who lays between 1,500 to 2,000 eggs a day. All of the other bees in the hive are female worker bees, which fall into two sub-categories: foraging bees, which pick up nectar and pollen; and nurse bees, which care for the young. When the queen lays an egg, just 21 days later, a young bee emerges from its cell.
The male bees, or drones, mate with the queen. After a short-lived love affair, the males die.
Mr. Jones raises Italian honeybees, with a mixture of the more assertive Russian honeybee.
Bees are important to the environment because they perform pollination, the transfer of pollen from the male structure of a plant to the female structure of a plant, or fertilization.
"Bees are fascinating creatures," Mr. Jones said. "They're so important for pollination. If they didn't pollinate, fruit would be smaller and more expensive."
In fact, Mr. Jones estimates that if bees didn't pollinate, a small apple would cost $5 to $6. Pollination, he added, is a $10 billion-a-year industry.
Bees manufacture numerous products, including honey, beeswax, honeycomb and royal jelly, which is fed to the queen and young bees. Royal jelly is rich in vitamins and minerals and is consumed by some humans as a health food. Royal jelly is so rich in nutrients, it actually increases the life span of the queen. Most bees live eight months; however, queens live an average of five years.
Mr. Jones said the bees are also known to protect their own environment from bacteria by harvesting sap resin, or propolis, from nearby trees. Bees use propolis to whitewash the walls of the hive. Propolis is an antibacterial substance, which bees use to combat ideal bacterial growth conditions in their 90-degree hives.
Interestingly enough, honey is the only food on the Earth that does not spoil, Mr. Jones said.
"It lasts forever," he said. "They've taken honey out of pharaoh's tombs that's still edible."
Honey can also be used as an antibacterial agent, as it contains hydrogen peroxide, Mr. Jones said. It can be applied to a wound, cut or burn for more rapid healing.
In the past, Mr. Jones said his bees have been very docile. But in the last year, they have become more aggressive. Mr. Jones was once able to work with his hives without a protective suit, risking up to 20 stings a day on average. He believes changes in the environment have made the bees more aggressive, and he is now forced to wear protective clothing. If he did not, Mr. Jones estimated he would be stung on average 200 times a day. He admits although he's been stung thousands of times, each and every sting is painful.
"It still hurts, but it is just part of the job," he said.
His bees have not yet bred with the aggressive Africanized honeybee, commonly referred to as the "killer bee." They have not infiltrated the area yet, but they are known to be in Florida.
When the day comes that the African bee infiltrates his hives, he said he would introduce a Russian honeybee queen into the hive in order to attempt to breed a more docile bee.
Mr. Jones produces between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds of honey a year on his farm. He also harvests and sells bee pollen, royal jelly, creamed honey, propolis and beeswax.
Trevena Bee Farm is at 2885 Corey Road, Malabar. Customers are asked to call before stopping by. For information, call (321) 956-7850.