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Pensacola Airport Buzzing With New Tenants

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Bob Barrett
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WUWF News
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Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF News
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Shelby Johnson unloading the beehives.

  Shelby Johnson was working on two bee hives in the back of his pick-up truck which was parked in a field on the east side of Pensacola International Airport last Wednesday afternoon. Johnson is the President of the EscaRosa Beekeepers Association, which is partnering with the airport to establish a bee colony on the site. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture released the results of its first ever Honey Bee Colony Loss survey. It showed an 8 percent drop in bee colonies in just the last year.  

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The smoker keeps the bees docile

That's why Dan Flynn, the Interim Director of the airport contacted the local association. He says the airport sits on 14 hundred acres of land. "Some of the property is developed, some of the property isn't developed and can't be developed because you have to keep it in its natural state. Because of that, airports are always looking to find ways to be a better steward for the property." Flynn said they were looking for something that would both help the community and be environmentally friendly. "Something as simple as honeybees. It's a good use of the property. It's not very intrusive, it doesn't impact anything we do and has a large impact on the surrounding area."

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Shelby Johnson and Alan Woods finish setting up the hives as Interim Airport Director Dan Flynn looks on

So Flynn, who is a beekeeper himself, reached out to the Beekeepers Association. Alan Woods, the vice president of the association says once the hive gets established the bees will start venturing out into the neighborhood. "The first thing they do, mostly when it gets to be summertime like this, (is) look for water. (Dan Flynn says) there's some swamp land and water and hopefully they will fly straight to that. in the meantime we're going to put a bird feeder out with maybe some rocks in it (and) keep water in it so they'll have something to drink."

While the hives are being set up, Woods and Johnson use a smoker, a metal container with a bellows that pumps out smoke and helps keep the bees docile. Each of the hives has a supply of sugar water, mixed at a one to one ratio, which feeds the bees while they are getting used to their new surroundings. Shelby Johnson says the bees should be getting their own food fairly soon. "This time of year, where they are here, they'll be bringing in pollen and nectar within about three to five days."

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Alan Woods holds up a protective head covering that can be used while working around bees. They didn't need it this day.

The bottom of each hive is coated on the inside with vegetable shortening, which traps and kills mites that can be destructive to the bees. At the airport, both hives have now been assembled and a few bees can be seen flying around the outside of the hives. And while the bees are settling in getting used to their new home, the work of the bee keepers is also just getting started. Alan Woods says "We'll probably come back in about two or three days to see how the sugar water is doing, see if they've eaten all of it and just keep replenishing their sugar water for them. Just feed 'em, feed 'em, feed 'em as they grow. Because they'll be multiplying exponentially for the next 30 - 45 days." Woods also says that when they see wax build up on the frames of the hive where the honey is made, then they will know it is time to add on to the hive.

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Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF News
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WUWF News
The hives are all set up and the bees are buzzing.

If these hives are successful, Dan Flynn says they may look to expand the project to other parts of the airport complex. "There are additional areas on airport property, as I said we have 14 hundred acres of property. So in the future, if this works out, we can look at (building) hives in potentially some additional locations."

The bees fly in about a three mile radius from their hive. That means a large area of plants, flowers, fruit trees and vegetables will be getting a little extra pollination.