Brad Byerly turns his John Deere cap around backwards and puts on his beekeeper helmet and veil. Armed with his smoker and prying tool, he goes out to check the progress of his hives.

As he begins smoking a hive with lit straw in the smoker can, the bees go into a feeding response, as it is a natural instinct in a bee to load up on as much honey as it can carry in case of fire destroying the hive.

“That keeps them busy so they don’t sting you,” Byerly said. “They are not as likely to be defensive.”

Byerly, who has been in the beekeeping business since 1976, said that it is a process that requires patience.

“Your biggest challenge is just keeping the bees alive,” he said.

Once the bees are completely through producing the honey and honeycomb, they will put a wax capping across it. Byerly then takes the honeycomb and puts it into an extractor that removes the wax and then spins the honey out.

“Following that, you strain the honey and then pump it into a tank to let it settle,” he said. “Then, you wait for two or three days so that any remaining wax and pollen can float to the top so you can skim it off.”

Following the skimming, the honey is stored in barrels until it can be put into jars for sale.
“The best honey comes from the bees getting pollen from clover,” Byerly said. “Clover doesn’t last long here though, so the main source for bees in our area is the tallow tree,” he said. “And, we have plenty of those.”

Byerly said that he has about 80 hives currently, but that is far less than what he had before 2005.

“Before Hurricane Katrina, we had 550 hives in operation,” he said. “We lost a lot of them because of the mosquito population being so bad following the hurricane. FEMA sprayed the area with military planes to kill off the mosquitos.

“They killed off a lot of the bees as well.”

This past year, Byerly said that they extracted 12 barrels of honey, but that is simply a drop in the bucket to what they used to produce.

“We used to get anywhere between 150 to 200 barrels a year,” he said. “The number of bees being down, plus the pollution in the air, makes it harder now than it was before.”
Byerly said that most of the honey is collected from May to July, which is a hot time of the year most years.

“With it being hot, when you get a rain it brings down whatever is in the atmosphere,” he said. “The pollution weakens the bees and makes them more susceptible to disease.”
Byerly said that varroa mites and nosema fungus are the biggest nuisances to a beekeeper’s population.

Varroa mites attach to the body of the bee like a parasite and feeds off of it for sustenance, which leave open wounds on the bee, according to a study by the University of Florida. Nosema fungus forms in yellow stripes on the outside of the hive, sometimes inside, and can lead to disjointed wings which keep the worker bees from flying.

“You can treat them for the disease, but you can’t do anything about the pollution in the air,” he said.

During a productive period of spring and summer, Byerly said that bees generally live about six weeks, while they can live for as long as six months in the autumn and winter.

“Each hive has their own queen and she will lay about 1500 eggs a day,” he said. “As she is the only one laying eggs, if anything detrimental happens to the queen the hive will cease to exist.”

Byerly sells honey in bulk at the Farmer’s Market in Orange.

“I used to work in the oil field, but I haven’t done that in a long time,” he said. “There isn’t much equipment involved in beekeeping and it’s not that hard. Basically, you just have to sit back and wait.”