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Beekeeper takes the sting out of swarm at Clearwater church

Andrew Wolfe produces and bottles honey in Largo.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Andrew Wolfe produces and bottles honey in Largo.

Jan Brubaker stepped outside her church on July 27 when she first saw the swarm.

Bees, thousands of them, had begun to cluster around a column outside Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Clearwater.

"Just hundreds of bees flying — all of a sudden," Brubaker said.

Some members of the congregation at the midweek prayer meeting were startled by the sudden swarm, unsure if the insects would become more aggressive.

Largo City Commissioner Mary Gray Black, a member of the church, also was surprised.

"I never in my life saw so many bees!" she recalled later.

Concerned that the swarm was beginning a colonization effort at the church's front doors, Brubaker, wife of pastor Bob Brubaker, dialed the right man for the job: her honey dealer.

The next day, Andrew Wolfe, proprietor of A Taste of Freedom Farm in Largo, visited the church with his equipment: a cardboard box and a brush.

Stings didn't phase the 28-year-old. His knowledge of bees — that they are actually more docile when in a cluster as they were outside the church — boosted his confidence.

"I just took a brush and swept them into that box," Wolfe said.

For Wolfe and the church, his visit was win-win.

"I scooped up some more employees," he said.

Wolfe brought the bees, including a queen, home with him and added them to his rooftop apiary. He estimated there were 20,000 in the cluster.

And for the church: "We wouldn't have been able to let the bees stay, it was such a threat. So we probably would have hired an exterminator," Jan Brubaker said.

Wolfe met the Brubakers through his honey business. The couple take daily doses of Wolfe's honey, produced and bottled in Largo, for allergy relief.

While not proven by medical studies, thousands of years of anecdotal evidence speaks to the allergy-relieving effects of honey.

According to HowStuffWorks.com, fresh honey from local hives acts as an allergen inoculation, as the honey contains small amounts of pollen from whichever flowers happen to be in bloom.

It's a trend in natural medicine he says is catching on.

The St. Petersburg Times profiled Wolfe and his honey business in early July. Since then, he says, he has increased his number of hives from nine to 12 and is inundated with orders.

"The business is actually increasing by leaps and bounds. I can't keep up," Wolfe said.

The swarm not only meant good news for Wolfe, but for all bee-kind — given the pollinators' dwindling numbers worldwide. Wolfe said he suspects the swarm was caused by a hive expansion.

"Basically the reason a swarm happens is it's a natural thing — when it gets too crowded inside the hive, they'll say, 'Hey guys, we need more room,' " Wolfe said. "They make another queen, and the existing queen will decide to take about half of the workers with her."

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 580-2951.

Beekeeper takes the sting out of swarm at Clearwater church 08/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 6, 2010 7:44pm]
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