Fresh, local honey is something to buzz about
By Carrie A. Mizell
If you didn’t know he was referring to flying insects with stripes running across their back, you might raise an eyebrow over Bob Ryan’s reference to “his girls.”
A former postal manager and member of the National Guard, Ryan has found a passion for animals since retiring to Gilchrist County, more specifically a love for bees.
Bob Ryan shows the centrifuge he uses to extract honey,
while working in his honey house last week.
Though his neighbors jokingly refer to his property off County Road 232 as “Bob’s Ark,” Ryan said there is a lot of truth to that label, especially when you consider that his acreage is home to goats, chickens, turkeys, dogs, rabbits, ducks, geese, guineas, bees and pot belly pigs.
“…And a partridge in a pear tree!” Ryan said, with a laugh. “I started out primarily raising goats.”
Clearly this Wisconsin farm boy has a soft heart for animals. Why else would he accept animals from people in the area, who have come to him and explained that they have fallen on hard financial times and can no longer take care of their animals.
“I can’t say no,” Ryan explained.
Though the majority of the animals live in individually fenced in areas on his property, Ryan does allow his turkeys, dogs, ducks and guineas to roam freely within the perimeter fencing.
Ryan’s 12 beehives, which contain primarily female bees, also live in their own fenced in area, which reportedly keeps deer that visit his property at bay. When the weather is good, the bees dash out of their hives and fly around foraging, though each hive boasts a large glass bottle atop the lid filled with sugar water.
“The bees will roam within a two-mile radius,” Ryan explained. “The nearest beekeeper I know of lives on 337, which is four miles from here, so our bees just bump into each other.”
The thought of being a beekeeper was completely foreign to Ryan before he moved to north Gilchrist County five years ago and planted the first garden on his property.
“That first garden didn’t do so well,” Ryan explained. “I tried three more gardens unsuccessfully.”
Weary over his failed attempts, Ryan visited Dadant & Sons, a family-owned business established in Illinois, but with a local branch in High Springs. Dedicated to serving the beekeeping industry, Dadant staff helped Ryan get set up with four hives. That was three years ago, and today Ryan said the difference the bees have made on his property is quite noticeable.
“The bees have really helped my garden,” Ryan said. “I have also put in some fruit trees so they can pollinate.”
The beekeeper also admits that the practice is addictive, saying that his bees are pretty much domesticated at this point.
Unlike some local beekeepers, Ryan said he does not rent out his bees as a side line to area farmers, who use the bees to pollinate watermelons.
Instead, Ryan keeps the beehives on his property year-round and harvests the honey twice a year in June and then again in August or September. On average, Ryan estimates that he gets 60 pounds of honey per hive.
“There is a notable difference in the color of the honey as to when it was harvested,” Ryan said. “The honey is darker in the spring because of all the wildflowers and it is amber colored in August or September.”
When he started out bottling honey at his home, Ryan said he gave it away to friends. But then one day a man by the name of Don Hartley realized that he could not only buy eggs from Ryan to sell at his stand on County Road 232, but also honey.
Besides, the beekeeper enjoys the process, which goes from collecting the honey from each hive to separating, bottling and labeling the locally produced honey inside Ryan’s own honey house.
“From the hive to the kitchen table, where I do all my labeling, it takes about six hours,” Ryan explained. “Bottling and selling the honey helps offset my costs, which are for the bottles and labels.”
Ryan explained that by law his hives must be inspected once a year by University of Florida IFAS officials who visit the property. Ryan said he welcomes the inspections and usually learns something from the officials who come out.
Not so welcome visitors to the beehives include mites, wax moths and hive beetles, who according to Ryan can devastate a hive. Pesticides used for farming practices will also cause a colony to collapse with disease, Ryan explained.
The beekeeper said he has to be very careful what he uses, going so far as to say that he uses only organic de-wormer on his goats as a precautionary measure.
“I’ve only been doing this three years, and I stub my toe an awful lot,” Ryan said, before saying that he enjoys attending classes that are offered for new beekeepers at Dadant.
Bob Ryan sells his honey for $3/pound.
For more information, call (386) 454-9327.