Queen Bee

Queen Bee

Alecia Crauswell’s Business Buzzing at Lakeland’s Red Roof Farms

by MARY TOOTHMAN

After 24 years in military service, it was quite a career switch when Alecia Crauswell found her way into the beekeeping life at Red Roof Farms.  But once a family member got into beekeeping, she found herself drawn to the fascinating world of the honeybee. Now, she’s a walking encyclopedia of bee facts and lore, and she’s clearly loving her role.

“My dad’s much older brother-in-law had hives when my dad was a young’un,” she says. “When Dad retired from the Army and we started planning a move back to my parents’ home state of Florida, Dad mentioned his interest in bees from his childhood. Being a daddy’s girl, I became interested as well. We started attending beekeepers meetings together and I became smitten.

“Every single one of these bees is an organism, but together, they are a super organism,” she explains, as she tells details of how the bees live, work, and buzz through their busy lives.

“I am passionate about honeybees. They are incredible little bugs. A honeybee hive is a community of sisters working together.  Each bee is an organism, but they will not survive alone.”

They need each other, she says of the bees. “None of them can survive alone — they have to be together, like cells in your body work together to keep your body functioning. All these bees work together in a community to keep the hive functioning. The hive is a superorganism. So it does all the things that need to be done, by the hive, to keep it working properly.”

It’s actually a very complex community. “Every bee has a specific job that works in conjunction with her sisters,” she says. 

“Brand new baby bees start out being a cleaner and nurse bee. As she ages, she matures into other hive jobs — like the engineers who secrete wax and build honeycomb, a temperature regulator who vibrates to create heat or fans water droplets to cool the hive, a trash collector or undertaker to enforce hygiene and avoid encouraging pests like roaches and ants, guard bees, and the members of the Queen’s court. Worker bees only live about six weeks. Her final job is a forager or grocery shopper.  She will hunt for and collect pollen and nectar until she can no longer fly.”

 

Honeybees are a big part of our food production, she says. “But they, like most of our other pollinators, are struggling to survive. Wanting to be part of the solution is what drew me into beekeeping and a big part of why I remain passionate. 

Bees sometimes find themselves in places where they are not appreciated. For example, under someone’s mobile home, in their shed, or in the wall of their hot tub. Many people don’t realize that they don’t need to call the exterminator to handle wayward bees.  “I remove and relocate them, strive to make them healthy and eventually put them to work pollinating crops or making honey,” she explains. 

“I think most people see a flying insect and assume it wants to sting them. Honey bees only get one sting, and then they die. It is certainly not in their best interest to sting, but they will sting to defend their hive.”

Crauswell says some bees don’t have stingers at all. 

“When I see people swing, swat, or run away from honeybees, I just cringe.  Poor girl just wants to get the grocery shopping done and get home.”

Bees have plenty of obstacles, she says. A big issue? Mites. A big killer of bees, mites carry at least 20 different viruses and diseases into  hives. Mites — along with lack of nutrition — are among the primary killers of bees. 

“Every hive in the world, except in Australia, has mites in it,” she says.

The University of Florida even has a whole team working on how to take care of mites, she says. “A lot of the things that kill the mites kill the bees, and we don’t want to kill the bees.”

Bees have other problems, as well. They need clean nectar and pollen sources to remain healthy, which is why systemic pesticides used on flowering plants and trees can be harmful to them.

Lack of plentiful and clean forage is one of the many reasons bees are in decline, not just honeybees, but also native bees. A way to help would be to plant more flowering native shrubs and trees to support honeybees, and other beneficial insects and songbirds.

Crauswell also is there for bees when she steps up to rescue them. Yes, bees need to be rescued sometimes. 

“When people find a hive in a tree or somewhere in their yard, they can call us and we will come move them so they don’t get exterminated,” she says.