Making Pine Avenue in Anna Maria the “Greenest Little Main Street in America” is like putting together a puzzle, says Michael Coleman, operating partner for Pine Avenue Restoration.
Environmentally friendly practices are a major component of a development that combines old Florida-style cottages, professional offices and retail shops along one walkable street. And the latest puzzle piece — a bee apiary — fits perfectly with the native Florida plants and edible gardens already in place, Coleman said.
On Sept. 18, three honey bee hives that will be managed by a professional beekeeper were placed on private property off Pine Avenue. The exact location is not being disclosed to the public so the bees can work undisturbed, Coleman said.
Coleman didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago how vital honey bees are to the nation’s food supply, and how dramatically their population is declining.
Bees had been the subject of a conversation Coleman had with his wife, a son, and Mike Miller, the plant and landscape expert working for PAR. Coleman recalled it this way: Miller mentioned that Seminole pumpkins in the edible gardens weren’t doing well and the problem could be a lack of bees to pollinate them. Then, Jane Coleman said there were less bees on the jasmine in her garden this year. And then, Patrick Coleman, a chef, said, there’s a shortage of bees nationally and our food supply is dependent on bees.
A couple of days later, Coleman saw a story in The Islander about the declining honey bee population and what is being done to help the insects survive. He decided to take action, and called a beekeeper the next morning.
“I got educated,” Coleman said, learning that since 2006, beekeepers have lost 30-50 percent of their hives per year to a phenomena called Colony Collapse Disorder. Experts are trying to determine the cause, and every year beekeepers work hard to get the population back up, but they haven’t been able to reverse the trend.
“Bees are critical, they ensure the production of nearly 85 percent of the nation’s food supply and they are our first line of defense against the African or killer bees,” Coleman said.
By bringing honey bees to Pine Avenue, “The main idea is to get bees on the island to benefit our food gardens, but more importantly to have people realize how important bees are ecologically and then they might want some of their own.”
He points out the edible gardens started with seven planted among the shops on Pine Avenue, and those will grow to about 20 by the end of this month. Private homeowners have planted box gardens and the idea keeps gathering steam.
The gardens are “something people can do for a better quality of life and we think the bees are the same way,” Coleman said
Jackie Corley is the commercial beekeeper from Palmetto who supplied the Pine Avenue hives and will manage them. He said the bees will forage in a 3- to 4-mile radius of their home and he estimates each hive will produce about 80 pounds of honey a year.
A hive is 95 percent female bees, Corley said, and consists of a queen, worker bees, and drones. The drones are male and their only job is to mate with the queen. The female worker bees do all the pollinating and other work, while the queen lays all the eggs.
“Bees never sleep,” Corley said, “They work 12 to 15 hours a day collecting pollen and then they are in the hive tending to the young bees and building the honeycomb.”
Corley will make monthly inspections of the three hives, working to keep them free of disease and parasites and making sure they are not overcrowded, in which case they tend to swarm. He will take bees away or bring in more bees as needed, Corley said. He’ll also introduce new European queen bees once a year to keep them genetically strong.
European bees are the dominant honey bee in the United States, they were brought here by early settlers and have thrived in the environment — until now. They have become the “super pollinator” for crops nationwide, including almonds, apples, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, blueberries and onions, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Corley said the flavor of the honey made by the Pine Avenue bees will depend on the plants they pollinate, but the best-tasting will be produced in the spring. Coleman isn’t sure at this point if the honey will end up being sold on the island, but his working title for it is “Paradise Honey.”
Corley, Coleman and Miller looked at a few possible locations for the apiary before finding the right piece of property. Corley stressed, “Bees out of sight, out of mind, that’s my motto,” and he made sure the placement would comply with the state law that applies to backyard beekeeping.
“I love this. This is the best thing we’ve thought of so far,” said Coleman, “Ecologically, this is going to benefit everybody.”
The list of environmentally friendly initiatives in the Pine Avenue development includes green-certified construction, advanced water management systems, native plants for landscaping and the organic, edible gardens.
“Our commitment is based on not only doing the right thing, but doing it as an example for others,” Coleman said, “Steps taken must be practical, measurable and repeatable or no one but us will do them, which significantly limits the benefits of having done them in the first place.”
Cheryl Nordby Schmidt is a freelance writer based in Holmes Beach.