He has been stung so many times he can't keep track. The worst was when he got stung on his tongue. "I was talking to somebody and the bee flew in my mouth," Ben Blocker said. Even after the countless stings, however, he said you never really get used to it. "It always hurts."
Blocker, 32, is a third-generation beekeeper, fifth-generation Floridian and the southern operations manager for W. Fisher Bee Farm, a company that is split between Lewistown, Pa., and Dade City.
The company handles about 10,000 bee hives between its two locations. Each hive usually houses around 30,000 to 50,000 bees during peak times. Potentially, that's up to 500 million "employees."
W. Fisher Bee Farm wholesales honey by the drum, but most of its revenue comes from paid pollination — hives for hire to farmers looking to improve their crops. Each February about 8,000 hives are shipped to California to pollinate almond trees. The remaining hives usually stay in Florida to help boost the watermelon crop and harvest the nectar of citrus trees.
Raising and tending to these seemingly tireless insects is a labor-intensive endeavor, but Blocker said the beekeepers' greatest challenge is not avoiding being stung. It's keeping the bees alive. Everything from mites to intestinal diseases can threaten the insects' health.
The next season runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 31, when the bees will produce local honey mostly from the Brazilian pepper plant.
The farm sells the honey to independent retailers. Some buyers believe the raw honey can, over time, immunize them from seasonal allergies because it contains pollen from local plants.