Honeybees have been a buzz word in Wewahitchka in recent months.

Honeybees have been a buzz word in Wewahitchka in recent months.

Last Friday, a meeting was called at the Gulf County Extension Office to discuss ongoing issues related to honeybees invading neighborhoods and swimming pools in Wewahitchka.

The meeting, hosted by Extension Director Roy Lee Carter, reviewed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s official apiary policies and a list of best management practices that beekeepers in the area should follow.

Carter’s intentions were to ensure that everyone “was on the same page” when it came to doing their part to avoid bee-related issues in the area.

A new version of the apiary policy will roll out within 90 days and will require that all area beekeepers follow specific guidelines regarding eligible hive locations, bear depredation control and beekeeper responsibilities.

The group included County Commissioners Carmen McLemore and Ward McDaniel.

Other attendees included Jamie Ellis of the Entomology and Nematology Department at the University of Florida, local beekeepers and members of the Plant and Apiary Inspection from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer services.

McLemore said that he’d been getting phone calls from Wewahitchka residents complaining of bee infestations. His concerns were for those in the community who are allergic to bee stings and are unable to go outside.

“There are more and more bees,” said McLemore. “We have to do something.”

Area beekeepers explained that bees naturally go to the closest water source if farmers do not provide it near the hives. Professional beekeepers know to keep small pools of water nearby their hives in order to keep the bees from traveling.

Best practices like these have been undertaken, but not all beekeepers follow the guidelines.

The group assumed that the issue was coming from out-of-towners who come in for a few weeks at a time, mainly during the “tupelo flow.”

Some beekeepers bring hives in from California, Wisconsin and Michigan. They stay for six to eight months before heading to another destination.

Beekeepers are supposed to register their hives with the Florida Department of Agriculture and even those with one hive are required to do so. A list of registered beekeepers is available on the agency’s website and beekeepers not on the list can be reported.

The beekeepers agreed that part of the problem is that the exact number of bees in the county is currently unknown.

According to Jeff Pippin with the Florida Department of Agriculture, area bees are on the decline.

In 1950, Gulf County had around 5.5 million bees, but 2013 estimates show the number closer to 2.5 million. Pippin is eager to bring new beekeepers to the area but wants to ensure that they follow the appropriate guidelines.

“People need to realize the importance of bees and the lack of them,” said Pippin. “Here, there are always bees, so people don’t realize that there are fewer.”

Pippin inspects and certifies hives for nine counties in Florida and said he and his team had already inspected over 24,000 hives this year. He said that bees are coming in at such a high rate that he’s making attempts to double the amount of inspectors.

There are 3,200 beekeepers currently registered in Florida and the number is climbing.

In addition to overcrowding, local beekeepers also face extreme competition. Several farmers reported having hives poisoned, destroyed or stolen. To help combat the behavior, new agricultural laws will fine offenders $10,000 for the molestation of one beehive.

In Wewahitchka, honeybees collect nectar from the blossoms of the white Ogeechee tupelo tree. These trees are distributed along the borders of rivers, swamps, and ponds in remote wetlands of Georgia and Florida.

These blossoms last two to three weeks in April and May and are the primetime for bees to create the unique honey.

Locally, that time frame is known as the “tupelo flow.”

Around 1,000 drums of tupelo honey are produced each year in Gulf County with a market value of $4 million. Tupelo honey is rare and makes up half a percent of all honey produced in Florida.

“Tupelo honey is the best,” said Carter. “We’re sitting on a gold mine.”