Saving the bees

Librarian spends time as a backyard beekeeper


Melody Royster, an urban beekeeper, holds a frame full of bees Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Gainesville, Fla.

ANDREA SARCOS / Special to The Guardian
Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 3:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 20, 2014 at 3:24 p.m.

When Melody Royster of Gainesville learned that honey bees were dying off, she decided to do something about it.

Facts

BEEKEEPING CLASS

* What: “Becoming a Beekeeper — Beginners Short Course”

* When: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday

* Where: Extension Office, 2800 NE 39th Ave.

* Cost: Free, but register in advance and bring a beekeeper suit, which can be purchased at Dadant & Sons Inc. in High Springs (386-454-0237)

* Information: Call 352-955-2402.

So she prepared to help support and provide a habitat for bees and other pollinators by doing research and getting self-educated to become a backyard, or urban, beekeeper.

“I kept hearing about bees not doing well and that something is killing them off,” Royster said. “Researchers are trying to find out why.”

So for one year, Royster read books about the biology of bees, joined bee clubs, attended programs at the IFAS/Alachua County Extension Office and asked lots of questions.

For four years now, she has been a beekeeper.

Royster, 37, is a librarian at the Marston Science Library at the University of Florida. She was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and raised in Daytona Beach. Royster holds a bachelor’s degree in food and resource economics from UF and a master’s degree in information science from Florida State University. She also is an apprentice in the UF Master Beekeeper Program. Part of her training includes teaching beekeeping classes at the Extension Office.

For Royster, who lives in an apartment, a major obstacle was not having a yard.

But she was persistent, and through word of mouth, found residents in the community to let her place her beehives in their yard. Currently, she has four backyard beehives, which are where the honey bees live, including two active beehives in east Gainesville — one in the Duckpond Neighborhood and the other near Howard Bishop Middle School.

And Royster doesn’t sell the honey.

“I don’t desire to sell the honey,” Royster said. “I’m not interested in making a profit, but to help the honey bees thrive.”

She harvests honey about twice a year, which yields about 40 pounds per harvest. Royster shares her honey with the residents who provide her with a place to keep her beehives. She keeps some for herself and leaves a lot of it for the honeybees.

Royster said the type of honey produced by the honey bees depends on the nectar they consume. Her bees produce wildflower honey because they take nectar from a variety of plant sources and can travel three to five miles from the hive to gather resources, which include pollen, nectar, water and plant resin.

During a recent visit to one of her beehives, Royster wore a beekeeper veil to protect her head and face as she worked. Although she is not allergic to bee stings, Royster usually carries an EpiPen, or epinephrine injection, for emergency treatment in case of a life-threatening allergy reaction.

Armed with a bee smoker to calm the honey bees, which currently range around 90,000, Royster inspected the hive, which she does every 10-14 days.

“Moving very slowly is the secret, but if you’re going to be a beekeeper, you will get stung,” said Royster. “I’ve been stung multiple times.”

Royster said the financial investment to get started in beekeeping with at least two hives ranges from $500-$1,000 and includes the bees, boxes, veils, a bee smoker, a beehive stand and other supplies.

To get started, Royster recommends doing research and attending beekeeping classes and beekeeper club meetings to meet other local beekeepers.

“Get plugged into the local beekeeper clubs and get local knowledge,” Royster said. “It’s fun to go to the club meetings and learn.”

For more information about bee clubs, visit www.gainesvilleareabeeclub.com or www.alachuabees.org.

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