Toby, a honey expert from the Middle Keys, is pictured with the fresh “catch” of local Brazilian pepper honey. NELE KIRT/Keys Weekly

Isham (“Toby”) Holding explains:

Short answer: No. As long as the temperature remains at 50 degrees or above, the bees in the Keys keep working — collecting nectar and pollinating crops. So, if you have citrus trees in the back yard or tomatoes in your small vegetable garden, all of these need to be pollinated to produce fruit. For the Florida bees spring starts in December and local bee keepers are busiest in winter.

But the bees we have in the Keys are descendants of the European honeybee. When settlers from Europe established their colonies in America, the beekeepers brought their hives with them. There, the bees hibernate during the winter. 

Florida honeybees collect most of their nectar from the flowering blossoms of mango and avocado, tupelo, eucalyptus, oranges, saw palmetto, Brazilian pepper, black mangrove, Jamaican dogwood, sea grape and cabbage palm. In summer and fall there are also a number of wildflowers that the bees use to produce honey. 

In spite of the damages from hurricane Irma, South Florida and the Keys beekeeping is very much alive. While hardest hit in Big Pine Key, most of Key Largo hives survived the disaster relatively untouched. There is a large number of beekeepers in Florida ranging from the hobbyists to the commercial level.

The bee population has experienced its challenges over the years with a variety of parasites and diseases that hinder the ability of the hives to grow, but beekeepers are constantly experimenting to minimize the bee loss.

Always choose honey over sugar — its antioxidant compounds can improve your health and, thanks to the masterful work of the bees, honey is the only food that doesn’t really have an expiration date.

So, Ohev Devash! Or, “Love honey!” in Hebrew. 

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