Hey Reddit! In light of a few requests and CCD/neonics back in the news, a couple of us commercial beekeepers thought it would be a good time to do an IAmA! You can find both of us posting regularly in /r/beekeeping.

About Us

/u/beckeeper I'm Rebecca Wilson, current president of the Beekeepers Association of Southwest Florida, UF Master Beekeeper and commercial beekeeper! A few years ago, my husband and I bought a house and there were bees in an exterior wall, and that's when I decided to try my hand at beekeeping. It started out as wanting honey, and ended up being a love of bees. I'm a student with UF's Master Beekeeper program, including 2012 Apprentice MBP of the Year, I started out as a hobbyist but I've managed to weasel my way into the commercial end of things. Thanks to an internship I had to do for UF credit, I ended up employed with a large commercial pollinator for a while. I loved my job, but was forced to resign earlier this year thanks to severe carpal tunnel syndrome, which required surgery (one hand down, one to go...). My old mentor and very good friend asked me to team up with him, to go commercial on a smaller scale (and work within my current physical limitations), so that's what I've been up to lately.

Here's a pic I had my partner take for the AMA: http://imgur.com/pqcih84 My Instagram feed: http://instagram.com/beckeeper/ Florida State Beekeepers Association, Local Associations List (detailing officers of BASF): http://floridabeekeepers.org/localassociations.htm#d5

/u/Ciene Hey Reddit, my name is Donald Mendrala and I am a professional beekeeper! And by professional I mean I get paid to mess around with honey bees. A short introduction to help you see how I got started: I started in high school, it was the tail end of my junior year and we had to come up with a senior project, basically you need to learn a skill that can show that you are capable of learning a profession. I hated looking at all the cookie cutter cabinets or quilts or cookbooks so I wanted to do something new and interesting. In my English class we were reading a book called The Secret Life of Bees, so I said to myself, why not do beekeeping?

So I looked around and found a beekeeper that would mentor me. And BTW beekeeping is a great community in general, people are always willing to mentor or help others. In total I logged more than one hundred and sixty volunteer hours. That means I could not be paid for any of those hours what so ever, did I mention that the senior project only requires you only put in fifteen hours? So after the project was over I was offered a job and here I am!

This is me: http://i.imgur.com/Qhd7SIv.jpg And this is my blog: http://beekeeperdonald.wordpress.com

We've done just about everything you can do to earn a paycheck working with bees, AMA!

TL;DR: We get paid to play with bees all day. Yes, we get stung!

Edit: wow, everyone, thanks for all the great questions and interest! We've been at it almost seven hours now and I (Bec) have to try to get a swarm out of a tree that's like 30+ feet up, so we're gonna call it a day! We will go through and answer anything previously asked, so if we didn't get to you, don't give up. Plus I owe a couple stories!

We will do another one soon, since this one got such a great reception!

Comments: 2389 • Responses: 51  • Date: 

small_L_Libertarian1015 karma


Drahtmaultier560 karma

Whats up with the bees disappearing?

beckeeper658 karma

Well, no one really has a totally definitive answer yet, although research is showing that it is probably a result of a combination of neonicotinoid pesticides and viruses caused by the varroa mite, along with other stressors.

I personally haven't seen astronomical losses, but my previous employer, as well as my partner and I, are very dedicated to ensuring that our hives are as healthy as they can possibly be, which I'm sure helps to lessen colony loss, at least to a degree!

syntaxvorlon177 karma

What steps do you take to maintain colony health and prevent collapses? Is it activities you do or do you try to keep your neighbors from using harmful pesticides like neonicotinoids?

Or are you just lucky enough to live in an area with lots of organic farms?

beckeeper265 karma

I make sure to run strong colonies, and I keep a sharp eye on them, making sure they're free of pests and diseases. Of course I don't use pesticides.

My partner and I recently had to move all the hives out of a yard because the hives were doing really badly; it turned out that a nearby nursery was spraying aggressively.

my2penniesworth118 karma

Did you discuss your suspicions with the nursery and the actions you decided to take to protect the bees? How are those hives doing now?

beckeeper148 karma

The hives have improved greatly since we moved them.

The landowner is considering litigation, so that's all I can say about that!

Drahtmaultier337 karma

If you were to open a Bistro, would call it Beestro?

beckeeper328 karma

Very possibly! Bec's Beestro has a nice ring to it...

hextree104 karma

Would you hyphenate it as Bee-stro, or just Beestro?

beckeeper384 karma

Probably just Beestro. I'd serve honeycomb in the frame with cheese, fruit and crackers and it would be epic.

Sysher309 karma

How do you start beekeeping? Can you set up something in your back yard with the necessary know-how?

beckeeper312 karma

That's exactly how I started! Take a class, join your local association, get your feet wet and jump in.

phobos55158 karma

What's the approximate start up cost? Also what's the best season to get started?

beckeeper215 karma

It's not cheap. I forget the ballpark for starting out, TBH....a few hundred bucks at least.

Best season? Early spring, but here in SWFL I've started hives in November or December that did just fine.

IllegalMonk99 karma

How quickly did you recoup your capital cost? Haven't broken even? Or is it just a hobby?

beckeeper108 karma

We're getting close now. But we both went into it with a lot of stuff that we already had.

pengu12252 karma

How do you like your coffee?

beckeeper847 karma

Like my women, COVERED IN BEES!

But seriously, as strong as I can make it, with avocado honey and a healthy splash of whole milk.

Frajer248 karma

I've been told I'm allergic to bee stings, what exactly am I allergic to?

dlagPwls180 karma

Are there any natural ways to deter bees that won't hurt them or damage the environment? They really seem to like our swimming pool...

beckeeper269 karma

Yikes. Sorry about your pool!

Bees need a close water source, and for some reason they really love chlorinated water. If they're not bothering you (and they shouldn't), don't worry about it. If it's a managed hive (like, it belongs to your neighbor) let them know, and if they're a responsible beekeeper, they'll provide a water source closer to the hives. The only problem is, bees get used to one water source and it'll be tough to break them of the habit of using your pool (plus, yummy chlorinated pool water is way more awesome to a bee than most other water sources).

ImSomebodyNow144 karma

Does the chlorine hurt them?

beckeeper209 karma


Carr0t64 karma

What is it about the chlorine they love so much? To me (and, I would imagine, most other humans) chlorinated pool water tastes minging. If I accidentally swallow too much I feel like i'm going to throw up. Is there some component in chlorine that bees need and find harder to get from other sources or something?

beckeeper104 karma

I wish I knew, I don't though! This was actually a huge discussion at our last association meeting!

SFWRedditor1165 karma

What's the one thing most people probably know least about your profession?

beckeeper247 karma

All the little things. How one company will do things totally different than another. Working bees is really rigorous and fun; certain times of year, there's not much to do, and other times you're working 18 hour days. I've done both. Right now is one of those not-so-crazy times.

Also, a lot of people don't know the difference between honey bees and yellow jackets!

portugalthephilosoph113 karma

Also, a lot of people don't know the difference between honey bees and yellow jackets!

So what's the difference?

2948337834 karma

Yellow jackets are assholes.

beckeeper416 karma

Other than the physical differences, you're absolutely right about that.

010skillz010142 karma

Are you guys used to getting stung by bees?

beckeeper224 karma

Haha, absolutely, I am. You build up an immunity after a while. I got stung in the nose the day before yesterday, and barely had any reaction other than "OMFG ow" at the time. A few years ago, I would have swelled up like crazy and looked like I was a victim of bad Botox!

Ambitionlessness71 karma

Wait I thought you had on a protective suit? You still get stung frequently?

beckeeper76 karma

I don't usually wear gloves, and suits are hot. See my pic in the opening AMA text, that's what I wear most days! Columbia fishing shirt, river pants and a veil. Bees can sting through shirt and pants, and sometimes they crawl up my pants....

SecularMantis101 karma

As appealing as you make the profession sound I'm really not into having bees crawl around my junk

beckeeper9 karma

Can confirm, that sucks ass. But I'd rather pick bees out of my pants than fire ants (and I did just take a bunch of fire ant stings a little bit ago when I unknowing walked through a pile of those evil things while answering questions).

randomlurker22132 karma

I have heard of beekeepers that will come and collect swarms when the public finds them. How do you go about collecting wild swarms, and is there a beekeeper registry or something so people can find a local beekeeper for assistance when they find one?

beckeeper159 karma

In my area, yes, we have a directory of sorts through UF IFAS.

Collecting wild swarms is easy (assuming it's a swarm and not an established colony). Get a box under the swarm and shake, close it up and take them home!

siqlad101 karma

What would you say is the best type (in terms of taste) of honey?

beckeeper138 karma

My personal favorite is blueberry, with Tupelo as a close second.

Edited to add: it really depends on what I'm doing with it. I have avocado in my coffee just about every day, as the rich flavor holds up to really strong coffee!

alexxerth51 karma

Have you tried palmetto honey? I've had some local palmetto honey and it was possibly the best honey I've ever had.

beckeeper59 karma

I get it all the time, it's very prevalent where I am (SWFL). It is tasty stuff!

Ciene68 karma

Fresh from the hive served on my hive tool. I dont know what it is but truly fresh honey is to die for. Its like coke in the can, it just tastes better. But depends on what I am using it on/in. I personally love gallberry. To me it tastes some what like chocolate.

beckeeper46 karma

Fresh from the hive served on my hive tool. I dont know what it is but truly fresh honey is to die for. Its like coke in the can, it just tastes better.

You nailed it here. First time I tasted blueberry was off my hive tool.

Dwebb26084 karma

What is your favorite part of the job?

beckeeper246 karma

Getting lost in a hive. Beekeeping is better than Xanax. You have to be very deliberate, calm, centered...if I am in a shitty mood, I go work bees, it's like an instant attitude adjustment! Kind of like meditation.

jhyue73 karma

If starting beekeeping in a residential area, how do the neighbors usually react?

beckeeper150 karma

Mine were awesome about it. A jar of honey goes a looooong way!

If you're responsible about it, it's really no big deal, most of your neighbors won't even realize that they're there. I could write an essay on how to be a good beekeeping neighbor.

-clementine-59 karma

I think it's also important to check your local municipal bylaws. In my city, beekeeping is illegal unless you live in a rural zone, and even then you will require a permit.

beckeeper31 karma

Here in Florida, you can keep bees anywhere as long as you follow the state's Best Management Practices. You also have to be registered with the state as a beekeeper (which is easy, the apiary inspector comes out and makes sure you have an idea of what you're doing, and visits you annually after that to keep your registration current).

soylent_purple72 karma

Thanks for this AMA! Just went to a lecture on honeybees last week, so I have a few questions:

  1. What are your thoughts on eating raw honey and bee pollen? Any serious health differences/benefits?

  2. I've learned that the Africanized honey bee has made it's way into Florida. Have you seen them firsthand? Are they hurting your populations? Are they as big of a concern as they're made out to be?

  3. How can an average person help our honeybees? I was told that this year we barely had enough to pollinate the almond crops in California!

Thanks so much for your time!

beckeeper123 karma

Thanks for asking stuff! We're glad to see how much interest there is!

Honey is good for you, thanks to it's antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, so it's definitely not going to hurt you. There isn't scientific evidence that honey or pollen consumption helps allergies, but there is anecdotal evidence. I don't have allergies (coincidence?) so I couldn't say for sure!

Africanized bees: I deal with them constantly. IMHO, a little bit of Africanized genetics is no big deal, it's when there is a large amount to the point of the bees being super-defensive (like, killer bees), it's a total buzzkill (I couldn't help myself). They make it hard. Huge concern, well...it's getting better, you just have to be cautious. We run established European genetics to dilute the gene pool as much as we can, that's the best thing we can do.

Help bees: if you find a colony has established somewhere undesirable (like under a shed, in a wall, etc.) call a beekeeper to do a live removal as opposed to having them exterminated. I'm at a loss as to what else, from a non-beekeeper standpoint, but if I think of something, I'll edit!

goninzo60 karma

Do you deal with many brewers making mead from honey? Because it is delicious.

beckeeper83 karma

Yep, and I'm good friends with the local brewery. They get honey from me regularly!

I looooove mead....

stinkywizzleteets657 karma

Have you ever seen nicolas cage in a bear suit punch one of your employees while yelling NOT THE BEES!!!!!!? (Serious)

beckeeper34 karma

Haha, nope. I wish. I've seen some stuff though, this industry draws all kinds!

Tenglishbee47 karma

Can you tell the difference in bees from different states?

beckeeper77 karma

Not really. They're all derived from European honey bees (Apis Mellifera). There are different breeds though, such as Italians, Carniolans, Russians, etc. and many of the breeds do better in different climates and have different colorings (some are more yellow, some are dark, etc.).

greyhound441 karma

Is the honey business profitable. Also what are some lesser known uses for honey in cooking/as a condiment?

beckeeper55 karma

Honey can be profitable, but the real money is in pollination and selling bees.

Edited to add: I put honey on/in anything I think it might be remotely good with.

quickstop_rstvideo41 karma

Were these your bees on Oprah? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAhuSDRIDHE

PS my Fiance thinks I am weird since I love honey so much!

beckeeper32 karma

Nope, but I love that gif, it makes me laugh every time I see it!

Tell your fiancรฉ that honey is good for you. It's got antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

quickstop_rstvideo19 karma

You are my first reply in an AMA! I bought a big bottle at our state fair last year, raw local honey and was reading the pamphlet I got with it out loud to her.

Serious question if I get another one: what insects are predators of bees? do you have to worry about any insects or small creatures taking out your hives?

beckeeper9 karma

Wow, I feel special! Thanks! I'm glad I could answer a question for you ๐Ÿ˜Š

There are a lot of natural predators. The second year I had bees, I had a mockingbird that loved to sit on top of my backyard hives and eat the incoming foragers. I scared him off after a while...

At work, we've had issues with boar and bears, also cows knocking boxes over...

There are other things that can make a mess of a hive. If it's weak, small hive beetles and wax moths can really tear things up!

Fun fact: in spite of what we think we know (think Winnie the Pooh), it's not honey that bears go for, it's the brood (eggs and larvae)!

tragic-waste-of-skin34 karma

Albert Einstein was once quoted:

If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live

What's your expert opinion?

beckeeper55 karma

I do believe that is a misquote. Also, we'd still have food, much of it would just be prohibitively expensive, and some things we might lose entirely.

speeb32 karma

I was surprised that you were doing an AMA, then realized you aren't the same Covered in Bees that I know. So...Are these guys your new favorite band now? http://coveredinbees.bandcamp.com/

Ciene41 karma

Cant say we are but they are more likely to get on the calendar then we are.

beckeeper21 karma


beckeeper28 karma

I haven't heard this band, I'm bookmarking this for later! Thanks!

Dr-Sardonicus30 karma

How does one go about becoming a beekeeper?

beckeeper38 karma

Take a class, read some books, join a local association, get a mentor, get some bees. Not necessarily in that order, and everything is optional (although recommended) aside from getting some bees!

thezebra9630 karma

Thanks for this AMA! How has CCD affected commercial beekeeping, and overall would you say that CCD is as bad as the media is making it out to bee?

beckeeper36 karma

You're welcome, thanks for asking questions! ๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ

My previous employer (and now my partner and I, as well) are very aware of the issues presented by CCD and colony losses in general, so we go to great lengths to ensure the best in colony health we can. It makes a huge difference, as I haven't personally witnessed a lot of losses. I'm not sure about the media, they put such a spin on everything, plus not every commercial outfit does things at the high standards that I'm used to, as far as care of the hives. So I can't say one way or another for sure!

On_Icarus25 karma

Is it actually common for a whole brood to die from microencapsulated parathion, or was my professor just exaggerating?

Also, how often do you bee beard and is it as amazing as it seems?

beckeeper35 karma

I'm going to have to look into that...It's been a while since my pesticide courses.

I have not yet done a bee beard, but I'm female, so it might look a little weird on me. Accidental bee beard somewhere other than my face, sure. Queens in pockets tend to do that.

random--user25 karma

What's your favorite be related story?

beckeeper29 karma

I can't pick a favorite, I'd write you a novel. I'll think on this and come back. Awesome question though!

somewhatfunnyguy23 karma

I once heard that if you take out a bee Queen from it's hive the worker bees will still continue working as long as the Queen is alive, however if you kill the Queen they will stop. Is there any truth to this? How does the Queen communicate to the worker bees?

beckeeper32 karma

Mmm, I don't know if that's entirely accurate...great question though!

Basically, bees communicate via pheromones. So, if there is queen pheromone in the hive, they go about things business as usual. If suddenly there isn't, or she has died and they spread the word (again, via pheromones), they will take steps to rear a new queen. All they need is a fertilized egg that has hatched into a larvae at the right age to make a new queen.

So, looking at it knowing this, if you take a queen out of a hive, they realize that they're queenless. Kill a queen in the hive, they're queenless. Same outcome.

moctarzarma22 karma

Do you market the beeswax that is produced from your hives? I am considering entering the beeswax refinement & processing business (outside the US) and wondered if there are uses for beeswax in the United States that are currently being missed in international markets? Any other tips? It's ok if you want to tell me that it's none of my beeswax :)

beckeeper18 karma

Yes, we sell it in blocks. I use it to make lip balms, lotion bars, that kind of thing. I wish I had more advice for you!

HGpennypacker21 karma

I've been interested in beekeeping for years, done plenty of ready and research but always hesitant to make the jump and get myself some hives. Do you have any experience with top-bar hives? I don't want to keep bees for commercial gain, simply to have some bees in the backyard. From what I've read a homemade top-bar hive could full this, any thoughts?

beckeeper25 karma

I don't recommend TBH's to beginners, they have challenges that are better suited to an experienced beekeeper. I would advise that you start with a Langstroth hive, and when you have a few seasons under you, if you'd still like a TBH, get one. (For the record, I've never had a TBH and I never plan to...they're too much work!)

Cavotwo17 karma

Are there any particular misconceptions people have about bees or about what you do as a beekeeper that irks you? If so, please feel free to set the record straight for us!

beckeeper35 karma

When I tell people I'm a beekeeper, and they ask, "Have you ever been stung?" That's like asking a seamstress if she's ever pricked herself with a needle. I get stung often, it's par for the course.

Fortunately, most of the questions I'm asked are really intelligent!

TonyMontana013 karma

I cannot think of a job I would want less than yours. Why do you voluntarily do this?

beckeeper16 karma

Because it's like being in a whole different world. It's pretty amazing.

JiiiiiZZZZzZZZzzz12 karma

Can you tell the difference between bees and wasps or other horrible things that looks like bees?

beckeeper35 karma

Absolutely. Although since I don't care that much about the other stuff, it's mostly "bros/not bros" to me (although that's so inaccurate, the workers are all female)!

SteddiEddie11 karma

Why dont queens stay in one place? What causes them to move with a swarm of bees in their wake?

beckeeper21 karma

Queens do stay in one place, unless they feel the need to move on for whatever reason. A swarm happens when the colony decides it's too big for it's current home, and it kind of splits like an amoeba...the colony starts rearing queen cells, and before the new queens hatch, the old queen leaves the hive with about half the colony to seek a new home.

dragon56710 karma

I'm a hobbyist beekeeper and I've been having trouble overwintering my hives. Do you wrap your hives to insulate them or not? I live in NY state, as a reference.

beckeeper15 karma

Yikes, seeing as that I'm in SWFL, I don't have any good advice for you. Subscribe to /r/beekeeping and make a post, there are some really helpful folks there (and many northern beekeepers)!

swefpelego4 karma

Do you guys have bee paraphernalia in your houses like bee potholders, bee towels, or bee art? How have your friends reacted after learning about your interest and involvement with bees - do they treat you any differently or make bee jokes around you? Do you guys dream about bees? Have any strange or funny bee stories?

Awesome AMA!!! :D

-Oy also you guys might like these subreddits:







and of course...


beckeeper3 karma

I have bee art, antique smokers, a bee Tiffany lamp...the list goes on!

I've had some weird bee dreams, certainly. I'd describe the weirdest one but it would take forever to type out.

Thanks for the subs, I know a few but some are new to me!