A close up photo of a honeybee on a white and yellow flower with green plants all around.

In what some might call a debilitatingly single-minded passion that seized me somewhere in the first wave of the pandemic, I’ve grown increasingly local-minded. This has little to do with the plague and more to do with having a lot more time in my head. But this one grand idea had many rippling repercussions, not the least of which was my fascination with pollinators: specifically, bees. More specifically, Florida bees. According to the University of Florida researchers, of the 4,000 different types of bees that call the United States home, more than 300 of those species make their home in Florida (and who can blame them; despite our sometimes-sensational press, Florida’s pretty great). Of those 300, you can find 29 species only in Florida. 

There’s no doubt you will find at least a few of those in Doug O’Dowd’s Old Northeast backyard. Actually, he estimates his hives have about 45,000 bees. O’Dowd, a CFO for World Product Solutions, a Largo-based skin- and hair-care manufacturer, started reading about threats impacting bees, and he knew he wanted to do something. After reading about “all the problems with bees” (see our short guide), O’Dowd reached out to David Schneider with the Pinellas Beekeepers Association and told him he wanted to help.

A photo of a bee hive on the roof of a house with palm fronds and an upstairs window.
Doug O’Dowd’s Old Northeast bee hive lives on the roof of his house. Photo by Cathy Salustri.

“If we don’t have them, we lose everything,” O’Dowd said one spring night as we look at the hive living at his guest house. Not in the guest house, but on the roof. Think of it as an “airbeeandbee.” 

It’s not really his hive, but one Schneider hooked him up with. The hive started with an estimated 15,000 bees; now the beekeeper who manages the hive thinks as many as 45,000 bees call this Old Northeast hive home. Bees travel, too: While they may feast on the tropical sage or other plants in his landscape, the first honey harvest – which came in late summer 2022 – produced an almost-clear honey, which O’Dowd says could have come from mangroves along the shoreline.

That harvest produced roughly 20 bottles. Largely due to tropical storms, a fall harvest only yielded half, but the hive has more honey on the way. And yes, you can buy it. O’Dowd participated in the Art in the Garden Tour in April, and along his stop, anyone could buy the honey; part of each bottle sold goes to HONNA’s tree-planting initiatives. That’s a pretty sweet deal.

A photo of a man seated at an outdoor display table smiling at a man and woman standing.
David Schneider of the Pinellas Beekeepers Association, seated, talks about HONNA honey at the neighborhood garden tour on April 15. Photo courtesy of Rick Carson.

The Weird Life of Bees

Since getting involved in the apiarist arts, O’Dowd’s learned about the more unusual – and sometimes humanizing – life of bees. He’s learned, for example, that bees have a death ritual. No, not the ages-old “telling of the bees,” where someone tells the hives when the beekeeper or a loved one has died, but what bees do with other dead bees. O’Dowd says they will bring dead bees to specific places in his landscape, like a little bee burial ground.

O’Dowd also calls his bees – save the queen and the odd drone – “girls.” But what about the drones? O’Dowd says they serve a specific purpose. The queen will seek out a drone, mate with him, then go back to the hive, where she will stay for the rest of her life. 

“Who rules the nest is not the queen,” he says, “but the girls.” When the queen stops laying eggs, the girls will kill her. Then, he says, “they’ll feed the larvae queen juice,” and, if several bees could be the next queen, it’s whoever emerges first. 

So, the next time you see a bee in your Old Northeast yard, know that not only do they have their own special culture, they might also be making the neighborhood’s very own HONNA honey.

A photo of a bear-shaped bottle of honey with a brown label that says "HONNA"
A bottle of HONNA honey with its custom, Old Northeast label. Photo courtesy of Rick Carson.

Missed Art in the Garden, or want another taste of Old Northeast honey? Email info@honna.org to learn more. Find more about bees and beekeeping at pinellasbeekeepers.buzz or entnemdept.ufl.edu/honey-bee.

Threats Facing Bees: A Short Guide

Climate change. As weather patterns change across the globe, flowers don’t bloom at the same time. For bees dependent on that consistency, irregular weather patterns can mean a colony starves.

Habitat loss. All these years later, the Joni Mitchell song still rings true: We paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Or a high-rise condo. You get the idea. As we do, bees lose much-needed ground for foraging, which means colonies can’t survive. 

Invasives (plants and bees). Yep, both invasive species of plants and bees can hurt native bees. Certain bees need the chemical compounds found in certain plants for their eggs to hatch. In addition to that, if a bee tries to pollinate a plant it isn’t physiologically evolved to pollinate, it might not get it right. Similarly, invasive bees can’t properly pollinate plants designed to grow in a certain area ­– bad for the bees and the plants.

Insecticides. The problem here is baked right into the name; insecticides, also called pesticides, kill insects. Bees are insects.