POLK COUNTY – People who are interested in becoming a beekeeper are “wannabees.”
Those who are just getting started in beekeeping are “newbees” and those who have retired from beekeeping are “ustabees.”
No matter what stage of beekeeping someone might be in, Ridge Beekeeper’s Association members are available to help.
Based in Bartow, the professional group meets monthly for discussion, an educational component and a potluck dinner.
A member since 1980, Bert Kelley, past president and owner of Kelley’s Apiary’s in Lakeland, said that being a member of the Ridge Beekeeper’s Association has been invaluable to him.
“Just starting out, I learned a great deal from talking to the other beekeepers and listening to what they were saying,” Kelley said.
Topics like honeybee health, different flowers that are blooming and their locations and pesticides are discussed, and questions are answered among all the attendees – beekeepers and guests.
“Everyone is invited and included, from commercial to sideline to hobby and those who might just have questions,” Kelley said. “Folks don’t have to have bees – just be interested in them.”
Winter Haven resident and association member Rick Thornton found the group a couple of years ago. He said he helped a friend remove a hive about 25 years ago and had been interested in beekeeping ever since.
“Everyone in the group has a vast knowledge of information. I pick their brains … everyone is willing to help,” Thornton said.
Thornton currently performs extractions and said that people interested in the field should just come to a meeting.
“Start meeting people, get their numbers and go from there,” Thornton suggested.
The Saturday after the monthly meeting, members are asked to meet at the Association’s apiary in Homeland to harvest honey and provide maintenance and care for the bees and hives. This is also a good time for those who might be considering becoming a beekeeper to see a hive up close.
Money raised from the sale of the honey and the rental fees for the bees’ pollination efforts goes directly into the group’s treasury.
In the spring, a day-long seminar is held with various learning topics like nectar sources; building bee equipment; wax rendering and honey extracting.
“This past April, we had about 100 people show up” Kelley said. “We have members and attendees from all walks of life – from run of the mill folks to a retired judge.”
Overall, each event the Ridge Beekeepers Association holds is dedicated to learning.
“For those who want to start their own businesses, it’s about rubbing elbows with the guys who are making the money,” he said.
The group is part of the National Honey Board Association that is dedicated to being the voice of beekeepers all over the country. The NHBA is financed through mandatory donations from keepers who deal over a certain tonnage of honey.
Kelley said it isn’t clear exactly when the Ridge Beekeeper’s Association started, but he knows it has been fulfilling its mission since he joined nearly 40 years ago.
Anyone interested in beekeeping is invited to join the Association at the meetings, held the third Monday of each month at 6 p.m. at 2250 South Floral Avenue in Bartow.
For more information, visit the group’s page on Facebook: Facebook.com/ridgebeek.