Bee-liever -- Daviess County resident overwinters his honeybees in Florida

Photo by Don Wilkins, Messenger-Inquirer | dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com

Daviess County beekeeper Jake Osborne loads part of his 100 honeybee hives on a flatbed on Nov. 19 to be hauled to a warmer climate in Florida. Osborne will spend the next three months in Florida growing his hives to create smaller colonies to sell to small honeybee hobbyists.

Daviess County resident Jake Osborne has gone south for the winter.

Although he will spend the next three months in Florida, it's not because he's a snowbird.

It's for the sake of his honeybees.

About a week before Thanksgiving, he loaded his 100 hives onto a flatbed and moved them 837 miles away to Polk County, Florida, where he already has an additional 100 hives overwintering.

It's there that Osborne can grow his honeybee population instead of possibly losing a large portion of them by taking a chance on Kentucky's colder winter months.

"By taking them down to Florida, you essentially gain an additional three months into the year," the 31-year-old beekeeper said.

Honeybees, however, can survive Kentucky winters.

In freezing temperatures, honeybees cluster together in their hives to create heat. But if they run out of honey where they're clustered, they will not move to another part of the hive that contains food, causing them to starve to death.

"If I were to overwinter here, each hive would need at least 50 pounds of honey," Osborne said. "…They'll shiver their wing muscles to generate heat and they'll take turns on who's on the inside and outside the cluster. …I did a test one time with a thermometer and it was 9 degrees outside, but on the inside of the hive, it was reading 85 degrees."

For the second straight year, Osborne has made the trip with his honeybees to Florida. He stays with his friend and fellow Kentucky beekeeper Rick Sutton who has a commercial honeybee operation.

"While I'm down there, I'm helping him with his bees and in my spare time, I'll be working on mine," Osborne said. "…When I'm down in Florida, I'll probably make an additional two or three hundred starter hives, which I'll be selling to hobbyists," Osborne said. "That's so they can get started in beekeeping."

Osborne was introduced to honeybees at 8 years old by a neighbor. And he's been passionate about them since.

Currently, Osborne has about 200 hives. His goal is to become a commercial, full-time beekeeper with more than 1,000 hives.

Although he's trying to turn his love of bees into a business, he's also trying to increase the overall honeybee population. Honeybees play a major role in the pollination of certain crops and flowers.

Osborne said there are only about 5,000 commercial beekeepers in the United States.

"We've seen quite a bit of interest in beekeeping, especially over the past eight years," Osborne said. "The industry as a whole has really gained a lot of interest, especially with the decline of the bee population."

But with more and more hobbyists, Osborne believes the honeybees are making a comeback.

He'll return home to Daviess County in the spring with his starter colonies ready to sell to people wanting to get into beekeeping or to those looking to expand their hives.

"The starter hives will be ready for the customer probably about mid-April," Osborne said. "Mid-April in Kentucky is right when the blooms start to occur. And that's an excellent time to get started with bees."

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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