Marion Lambert definitely knows when spring arrives -- and so do his bees.
Lambert, South Tampa’s sole commercial beekeeper, works on his farm in
Pete Times Publishing Co. Mar 26, 2004
In the far corner of his tiny farm, Marion Lambert endures a tornado of
bees and eases a slim wooden frame from a box of hives. Beneath a clump of
insects, an amber goo glistens.
"Oh yeah," Lambert says. "That's all honey."
Lambert calls his crop "spring honey," but "Tampa honey" might work, too.
Lambert is a beekeeper. In Tampa.
In densely populated South Tampa.
He's among a dwindling group of Florida beekeepers who mine flowers in
In the same way that rural beekeepers tap orange groves and pine
plantations, urban beekeepers rely on the things that blossom around them
- in yards and parks, in front of strip malls, in the middle of road
Weeds produce the nectar that bees transform into honey. So do backyard
citrus trees. So do millions of pretty plants cultivated by a booming
And yet, in Florida, urban beekeepers are fading away.
Bee-killing pests and foreign competition are a big part of the problem.
So are freaked-out residents.
For people who buy honey in the supermarket, maybe it doesn't matter. But
if they only knew what beekeepers know: Nothing captures the essence of a
place better than a jar of honey.
Lambert, 56, began keeping bees in Tampa 30 years ago, when he left his
native Pensacola for construction work at MacDill Air Force Base. He began
leasing four acres in Ballast Point. A mile west, cars stream down Dale
Mabry Highway. Next door, a row of houses backs up to his farm.
For making honey, "You can't beat this place," Lambert says.
He keeps about 150 hives, right there past the pig, the pony, the two cows
and the 11 goats. The bees zip over the turnip greens in the organic
garden and buzz past the barns with tin roofs. They rev around the
wood-frame house that Lambert and his wife live in and scoot under the
Confederate flag that flutters from a pole.
In February, they start the heavy lifting.
Lambert hauls most of his hives to Plant City and Manatee County, where
orange groves drip with barrels of nectar. But in April, after the orange
trees have been plundered, he'll bring the bees back to South Tampa. Here,
they raid palmetto at MacDill, azaleas along Bayshore and bougainvillea,
bottle brush and honeysuckle wherever they can find them.
"They work from here to Kennedy Boulevard," Lambert says.
In the groves, Lambert's bees can make 70 pounds of honey per hive per
month, a pace that can be sustained only for a couple months. In South
Tampa, the bees might make 30 pounds a month, but they make it steady from
mid-February to October.
Development hasn't hurt, Lambert says. Landscapers and homeowners looking
to spruce up yards bring in gobs of plants that offer overlapping blooming
The result: Honey just keeps flowing.
Beekeepers realize the landscaping industry is "a hidden giant," says Dave
Palmer, a horticulture expert with the Hillsborough County Extension
Service. A study Palmer did in 2000 found the horticulture industry in
Hillsborough County topped $500-million in sales, a figure that rivaled
the county's huge farming industry.
Urban beekeeping is hardly confined to Florida.
In Manhattan, hobbyists keep hives on top of apartment buildings, where
bees can dart back and forth to community gardens and Central Park. In
Boston, there are hives on top of a museum. London has a beekeeper's
In Florida, bee experts estimate up to 40 percent of the state's 1,300
beekeepers are based in urban or suburban areas.
In the late 1980s, the state had 2,600 beekeepers. Most of those still
plugging away are hobbyists who keep two to 10 hives, just enough to make
their own personal stash for sweetening coffee, dribbling into recipes and
giving away to friends.
Usually, they operate in peace - until the neighbors find out.
In Leesburg a few years ago, city officials called emergency meetings
after a beekeeper parked a trailer full of hives outside his home. Elderly
customers at a nearby restaurant panicked when bees buzzed them. In
Gainesville, an anonymous complaint in 1998 led authorities to shut down a
four-hive operation in a couple's back yard.
Most of the time, the fear is unwarranted, bee experts say.
"Bees are not aggressive, they're defensive about their hives," says Dave
Westervelt, a state apiary inspector based in Gainesville. "They're just
like humans. If someone bothers your house, you're going to defend it."
In Tampa, farming operations including beekeeping were outlawed in the
1950s. The property Lambert leases was grandfathered in because it had
been farmed before he got there.
Until two years ago, Lambert wasn't South Tampa's only beekeeper.
Don Nores kept about 10 hives behind his woodworking shop in Virginia Park
for almost 50 years. For a time, he kept another handful in friends' yards
in Beach Park.
"People didn't even know they were there," says Nores, 77.
He called his product "neighborhood blossom" and put his own brand name on
jars: "Tampa Natural."
Honeys differ in flavor, color and consistency, depending on the plants
they're made from.
South Tampa honey is no different: If citrus is in bloom, the honey will
taste like oranges. Palmetto adds a native richness; hibiscus, a dash of
tropical; Brazilian pepper, a touch of exotic.
When mangroves flower, the honey has a subtle saltiness to it, Lambert
Most of Lambert's crop is destined for corporate bakeries around the
country, but some is sold at the roadside stand in front of his house.
His South Tampa spring honey should be available in early June.
Lambert's farm is at 6101 S Second St. Take Bayshore Boulevard south, then
Interbay Boulevard west, then Second Street south. His stand is at the end
of the street.
- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or
How Bees Make Honey
Flowers often have special glands, called nectaries, that produce nectar.
Worker honey bees suck up nectar from the flowers with their long tongues
and store it in their honey stomachs. In the stomach, a process called
inversion breaks down the sugar in the nectar into two simple sugars,
fructose and glucose. When the worker bee returns to the hive, it
regurgitates the nectar back through its mouth. It either gives the nectar
to other bees or puts it in an empty cell in the hive. As the water in the
nectar evaporates, the nectar changes into honey. Workers then put wax
caps on the honey-filled cells. Beekeepers collect honey from the combs.
But they leave enough in the hive to feed the bees.
Source: World Book Online Reference Center. Compiled by Times researcher
Marion Lambert definitely knows when spring arrives - and so do his bees.
Lambert, South Tampa's sole commercial beekeeper, works on his 5-acre farm
in Ballast Point.
As busy as, well, bees, some of Marion Lambert's charges work to fill up a
hive with the amber gold Lambert will bottle and sell.