By Mare Contrare

Not surprisingly, there are several beekeepers in Mandarin; the large lots filled with lush tropical landscape and myriad flowers and fruits blooming year ‘round make it a bee paradise. Keeping honeybees has become the “in” craze all over the country and Florida is no exception.

Keeping bees is not a new phenomenon. In fact according to melittologist (someone who studies bees) Eva Crane, people began keeping bees 20,000 years BCE. Beekeeping actually predated farming and through pollination made farming possible.

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Bees have had it rough over the past decade with colony collapse disorder, the Varroa Mite and insecticidal spraying, which may increase dramatically with the Zika virus threat.

What would happen if honey bees became extinct? Humans would not die out, but diets would change dramatically. Many staple foods, such as wheat, rice and corn are among those crops that require no help from bees, but almonds wouldn’t exist. There might be coffee, but it would be rare. Apples, avocados, onions and several types of berries rely heavily on pollination. There would still be sugar from cane or beets, but no honey.

Karen Wassmer of lives in Mandarin and keeps several thousands of bees at her home. She has an organic medicinal farm where she grows herbs, lots of vegetables, pineapple bananas, that taste as awesome as they sound and many medicinal plants and weeds. She has a plethora of knowledge of both plants and bees and their benefits.

Wassmer resembles an earth mother. Her pale blue eyes sparkled as she spoke about the benefits of bees and how they saved her life. She came to beekeeping in an unorthodox manner — about 10 years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live. According to a CAT scan she had a tumor the size of a quarter behind her right eye that was going to burst any moment. Wassmer rushed to make her final plans and decided she couldn’t wait for the inevitable. She was deathly allergic to bee venom and it seemed to her that they were the answer to her prayers. On the small pond outside her home she stood across the water from her family as they stood watching and released a swarm of bees. She was stung many times by the bees, but the venom didn’t kill her. In fact she attests that the venom saved her life. She heard God telling her he had plans for her.

She now practices apitherapy and purports the many health properties of bee venom. A year or so after she was stung by the bees she ran into the physician who diagnosed her tumor and he was shocked she was still alive. He paid to have another CAT scan and found that her tumor had disappeared. Since then she has devoted her life and her garden to bees.

Wassmer is an active member of the Northeast Florida Honeybee Association and the Jacksonville Beekeeper Association and explained Florida has statutes to protect both the bees and neighbors who may not be so crazy about having thousands of bees nearby. For instance, if you want to keep bees you have to be registered. This is so your hive can be inspected annually for unwanted pests and diseases. The hive must be more than 100 feet away from tethered or confined animals, students, elderly or the public and spaces such as roadways or walkways.

Equipment needed to get started includes a beekeeping suit, which is not sting proof, but sting resistant and lets you get close to the bees. A smoker is also needed. The smoke alarms the bees making them think there is a fire so they fill their bellies with nectar, which calms them. Most importantly you’ll need a hive. The most common is the Langstroth Hive, invented by the Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth in 1852 and remains the industry standard. It is a simple design of a series of stacking boxes, or supers, each outfitted with eight to 10 waxed frames on which bees build their combs and a hive tool. Lastly to pry open the hive you need a hive tool. This is like a small thin metal crowbar that opens the hives and helps get the frames out.

Wassmer says the climate in Florida is wonderful for bees. Depending upon the health of the bees and amount rainfall, she can have four honey harvests.

Beekeeping can be a relaxing and fascinating hobby, plus the rewards are sweet. Wassmer believes she is living proof that “all things work together for good to those who love God and to those who are the called according to his purpose and that God has plans for us.”

To find out more about becoming a beekeeper, visit, the website of the Jacksonville Beekeepers Association. They have all sorts of events and classes to get started. Then visit your local area beekeepers. They will fill you in on all the secrets indigenous to your area, and be more than happy to help.

Photo courtesy Mare Contrare

Karen Wassman with a frame of honey bees.

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