Hail to the queen: Sarasota beekeeper's success depends a lot on hive leader
Alma Johnson details how she cares for her queen bees and colonies at the Sarasota Honey Company.
| 10:59 a.m. May 11, 2021
Bee colonies are complicated — raising them, even more so.
Alma Johnson, the owner of the Sarasota Honey Company in northern Sarasota County, feels she’s figured out that process well. She’s devoted her time to managing the countless different castes, approaches, time tables and systems to continually raise bees in the most efficient way to produce honey.
Like many societies, bee hives typically come down to the leader. Raising quality queen bees is imperative. Johnson been at the process for years and has learned what to look for and what to avoid when tending to her colonies. She makes it a priority to pick inseminated queen bees with known genetics that won’t lead to an inbred hive that could eventually collapse.
Johnson raises each queen in individual mini hives, feeding off a special concoction in miniature baby bottles, then she introduces them to larger hives, where grow into their leadership roles. Mating, well, that's another thing all together.
"The bees tend to be a little bit more anxious as the queens go off to mate," Johnson said. "We want to make sure that the garden is nice and zen short of playing Barry White."
Most of the company’s backyard hives now have fully-fledged queen bees. Johnson walked us through how she cares for her hives.
Part 1: Preparing to enter the hive area
Johnson dons her beekeeping suit and lights her bee smoker to emit a smoke that will calm the bees when she’s inspecting each hive.
Part 2: Inspecting the Hive
Johnson then removes the top of a hive container and begins to look for the queen. Without the calming smoke, this can be a dangerous proposition, even in protective clothing.
Part 3: Searching for the Queen Bee
The queen is considerably larger than the worker bees. On recent inspection, Johnson was hoping a late bloomer queen bee would have returned to the hive and started laying eggs, but checking the hive revealed no eggs or queen, neither of which were good signs.
Part 4: Accepting the Unexpected
Eventually Johnson discovered the queen bee had returned to the hive but hadn’t even grown in size or started to lay eggs — hence the trouble she had finding it in the first place — which was more perplexing than anything. She decided to give it a few more days and see if the queen bee would eventually develop and support a healthy hive.
Part 5: Returning the bees to their hives
Johnson ends her weekly inspection by collecting the baby bottle nutrient drinks and letting the bees return to their busy work.
Extra: The Finished Product
The Sarasota Honey Company has plenty of honey products that are the result of Johnson’s work tending to her hives.