It was a beginning to a wonderful day, as I looked up and discovered a natural honeybee hive, nestled on a sturdy limb thirty feet up in a gumbo limbo tree. Hundreds of honeybees were thriving on the abundant resources of nectar, pollen, water and sunlight found in my Florida friendly yard.
Upon sharing the news with my husband Ted, as he sat sipping his honey sweetened cappuccino, he urged me to get the bees out of the tree so they’ll be safe, as the limb supporting their growing nest may break.
If you were the proverbial “fly” or “bee” on the wall, this is how the conversation went:
Make the bees safe? How would that would work?
He replied, "You put a box on the ground and the bees go in it."
“Really… to get bees, you need a queen... where would you get the queen?
"From the hive in the tree," he says.
Silly me. I thought, how could it be that bees, who have survived in the wild for millions of years, all of a sudden need my assistance to live? I thought this was capitalizing on the bees rather than saving them, so I rejected that idea, and the bees continued to grow their hive.
Then one clear September morning, I awoke to the sound of the mosquito control helicopter. Outside I found the honeybees were dying from the spray. I cried as I watched with awe as the bees were slowly dying due to the ignorance of people who should be preventing this type of carelessness. There must be a better way to control the mosquito population without indiscriminately blanketing everything with poison.
That’s when I learned that the only way you can protect a hive is by covering it in advance of the spray with a wet sheet. The bees encounter the wet sheet, think it is raining, and stay inside. But since the hive was high up, the sheet method was not practical. I devised a plan for saving the bees by creating a little artificial rain shower over their hive by using my garden hose. The next spraying event we had better results. Rather than a hundred plus bees dying, the casualties were reduced to a couple dozen dead bees.
Bees are important ... it goes without saying. Without bees there are no flowers to grace your dining table, no plants to eat. What is happening here? If I called a beekeeper to move the bees, who would pollinate the vegetables and flowers in my garden?
Crazy mixed up world where you have some “men” protecting nature from the actions of other “men”. The bees do need our help to survive. Beekeepers, "keep" the bees for their honey, pollen and wax and in return, cover the beehives during spray events.
Life is Tough. I found this out in 1988 when I spent a day with beekeepers Lois and Sid Tough who kept their hives behind the thick green walls of foliage lining old Card Sound Road in N. Key Largo. Tough kept his hives locally year round, at sites with names like “The Refrigerator” or “Broken Tree”, referring to landmarks in the area. He followed the blooms of the Keys mangroves, the Everglades palmetto, Florida holly and the Homestead farm crops and avocado groves. Tough moved his bees to different locations on Mondays, removed honey filled hives on Saturdays, and extracted the honey on Sundays, all while working five days a week at a Miami boat yard.
Taking life in stride is part of “Tough’s Law”, which states that some days working is hard and other days it’s even harder.
Tell that to the bees in my yard. Their hive rebounded after mosquito spraying, only to get whacked by hurricane Ian’s winds, which caused several “chambers” to fall to the ground. More bees died and the larvae contained within perished soon after.
Somehow I had an easier time reconciling the loss of bees from this natural disaster, than to the pesticide spraying event weeks earlier.
The Queen Lives!! At least in my bee hive in the Northernmost Territory of the Conch Republic. Thanks to Nelson Gordy whose passion for bees and the hobby of beekeeping is helping the likes of me and others who find themselves “keepers” of bees with great education and removal services.
Though I probably will not become an official “beekeeper”, I do hope the queen and her hive remain happy and thriving in my Florida friendly yard.
Calusa Indians, Spaniards, wreckers, pirates, farmers, Bahamian fisherman, Conchs, homesteaders, hermits, land developers, the U.S. Government, collectors and conservationists have all laid claim to the Upper Keys. Each in their own way have left their mark.
US1, the main route to the Florida Keys, contained the tourism and development for those seeking an exotic world of tropical adventure, and spared North Key Largo from much attention.
I arrived in the Florida Keys in 1984 in my red Pinto station wagon containing all my belongings, including a windsurfer strapped to the roof. I took a left at the intersection of US1 and CR 905 and headed northeast, eventually ending up in a small conch cottage in Gulfstream Shores named “Somewhere Else”. It was in the middle of future conservation lands.
The establishment of Crocodile Lake NWR in 1980, and the acquisition of Port Bougainville by the State of Florida in 1982 were pivotal events securing the future of a natural N. Key Largo. The CLNWR is home to the endangered Key Largo woodrat, Key Largo cotton mouse, Stock Island tree snail, Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly and American Crocodile..
There are many misconceptions about one of the protected species: the Key Largo woodrat. Very dissimilar from the black rat. the Key Largo woodrat is a nocturnal animal, that lives away from humans in the hammocks of North Key Largo. The woodrat is greyish brown, with a hairy tail, big ears and resembles a mouse. The black rat, a nuisance species, has a long scaly tail and is found in populated areas, around dumpsters, or even in your tool shed or attic.
Some people see black rats like the ones attacking a bird feeder, and claim they are woodrats,. A woman seated at the local bar was overheard saying: ”I don't understand why the government is building houses for those rats in N. Key Largo”. Her vision of woodrats occupying a three room dollhouse, complete with front porch, and a tin roof, is totally false.
Yes folks, they walk among us.
Prior to the 1980’s, on both sides of CR-905 there were wheel worn finger roads, about six ft. wide and as high as a pick-up truck, etched in the coral rock. These roads of formerly platted subdivisions, became the dumping grounds for old refrigerators, discarded vehicles and construction debris. With public acquisition came cleaning up of the trash, some of which included piles of sticks indicative of nesting Key Largo woodrats.
Ralph and Clay DeGayner signed on to volunteer at the refuge because they wanted to see a woodrat. They became curious as to why the woodrats were not piling sticks, but instead making homes in the hollowed out bases of trees and under debris.
It became obvious that supplemental nests were needed. Ralph’s idea of using discarded jet skis as nests was frowned upon by researchers, however he persisted, and jet skis were hauled into the woods, and covered with natural materials such as coral rock and tree debris. When they began working as nesting sites, Ralph says "some of my best breeders", it changed everyone's minds.
Rodents are at the bottom of the food chain and their natural predators include snakes and raptors, along with non-native predators such as feral cats, and Burmese Python. Cameras were placed in the nests, which provided researchers with valuable information pertaining to reproduction, and what predators were in the vicinity, and eventually implicated feral cats as a major predator, attracted by the commotion the woodrats made while building their stick nests.
Ralph, born during the Great Depression, dedicated two decades of his life toward improving a habitat, that during his lifetime was nearly destroyed, so that a future generation could see a woodrat. Ralphs most memorable moment as a volunteer, came while spending time with conservation icon Jane Goodall, visiting thriving woodrat nests in the hammocks. After the visit, Goodall wrote: “a small group of dedicated persons, even volunteers with little scientific training, can help turn around an extinction event just by persisting in intelligent efforts.”
Personally, I am not particularly bothered if I see an actual woodrat in my lifetime; I am just reassured by the passionate efforts of many, to ensure their survival
This photographic website provides me the opportunity for self-expression, for sharing