Sarah Karakoudas is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of bees at her hidden hive location, nestled in what’s left of a thicket of Pinellas County woods. It may be an expensive career, but for Karakoudas, beekeeping is a passion.
A Georgia native, Karakoudas has been removing “pest” hives for six years; she relocates the buzzing nests to one of her wooden, artificial hives and rehabilitates the bees and help them rebuild.
She suits up for a closer look at the hives, but the beekeeper makes one fact clear: Bee stings are a defense mechanism; if you steer clear of a hive, chances are, you won’t be stung.
“It’s proven that they even recognize faces; I hope they recognize mine,” she said. “They’re fascinating little creatures…the poster children for all pollinators.”
Most of the bees stick around for years to make local honey she collects and sells in her family’s shop, Spiro’s Pasadena Produce & Deli, at 6801 Gulfport Blvd. S.
Karakoudas holds up a pelican-stamped glass jar of her local nectar. It takes about eight million flowers, 75,000 miles of foraging and 10,000 bees to fill the 16 oz jar.
“Bees are considered livestock, and we try to keep our managed hives happy and healthy,” Karakoudas said. “But the hive has a mind of it’s own.”
Some emigrate away in the hopes of finding another hive. The queen stops eating to gain mobility before she takes flight, and the hive follows. For the beekeeper, months of rehabilitation, honey collection and dodging stingers can disappear in hours.
“Whatever money I make, I put it right back into the business, so that I can keep doing this,” Karakoudas said. “You can make $150 to 170 [selling] a box of honeybees, but I haven’t had to do that just yet.”
The Pinellas Beekeepers Association offers a list of beekeepers skilled in relocating hives on people’s property, public land and businesses.
Relocation, according to the PBA website, “is a skilled service requiring time, equipment, gas and other expenses, which most beekeepers need to recoup by charging for relocations.”
Relocation can cost $250 to $350. Removal is the same, but the cost of losing natural pollinators has a negative effect on the environment.
Typically, the desire to remove the hives stems from fear, and in the case of municipal property, the liability of stings. However, the tiny insects keep crops and natural plants pollinated and blooming. They are vital to the ecosystem.
“That’s the most frequent question people ask me: ‘Do you get stung a lot?’” Karakoudas said. “No, really no. I mean it happens, but normally the bees are just doing their thing. It’s rare that they go out of their way to sting.”
Without pollinators, the agriculture industry faces a quick collapse.
Removal from city or public school property may be the best bet, but a backyard hive does not necessarily require a relocation.
According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, “The western honey bee is conceivably the most important pollinator in Florida and American agricultural landscapes.”
Looking for a Home
A hive looking for a healthy new spot to settle can have around 80,000 bees circling an area.
If you don’t see them, you’ll definitely hear them. But, says Karakoudas, a bee swarm is not necessarily something to be afraid of.
“They look really scary, swarming around, but without a permanent hive, they’re actually very docile,” Karakoudas said.
One of her most recent rescues was a broken nest that fell out of a tree in Gulfport on Thursday, March 18. The hive is now buzzing in one of Karakoudas’ wooden hives – queenless, but still kicking.
“I couldn’t find the queen,” Karakoudas said. “I collected the broken parts of the hive that were literally driven over by cars, and we’ll see what happens.”
Karakoudas is the top beekeeper for the public school system in Pinellas County. She doesn’t charge for the service, and the bees avoid death by vacuum.
“This is my way of giving back,” Karakoudas said. “Sometimes I get calls from people that found my number somewhere, and I try to do those too. If I can’t, I’ll get in contact with someone who can.”
In the last couple of years, she’s gained an assistant, Joshua Burdette, a South Carolinaian who works at Spiro’s and has an interest in sustainable farming.
Wearing a French beret and suspenders under his bee suit, he helps Karakoudas with removals and managing the hives they care for.
“I always wanted to do beekeeping,” Burdette said. “I was just about to head back to South Carolina when I was given this opportunity, and I needed it.”
A Spot in the Woods
Beekeepers in the county may have a few hives in their backyard – the legal limit is three – or they pay for a spot at the Pinellas Beekeepers Association’s communal hives. Karakoudas has come a long way from her early years of tending to other beekeepers’ allotments in the communal hives.
She and Burdette received a patch of land for their own hives – hidden off-trail in an addressless location – in exchange for the cost-free relocations for schools.
“This is kind of a big deal, because it’s hard to find land in St. Petersburg nowadays,” Karakoudas said. “Life in the communal hives can be tough because there are literally hundreds of hives, and disease can happen just like in humans.”
Games of Chess
With a thickly gloved hand, Karakoudas points to a bee, a little bigger than the others that swarm around her hand.
A huge body and tiny wings characterize the queen, and without her, the hive is unhealthy, lacking direction or drive.
“I remember the exact moment I saw my first queen during a removal. It was like, ‘There she is,” Burdette said. “It was a weight lifted, ‘There she is.’ I still remember it.”
Six years ago, before her hidden hive spot and public school connection, Karakoudas removed her first hive from her sister-in-law’s attic.
Being a rookie, it took Karakoudas 12 hours in the rafters to locate the queen, and draw the remaining bees in with her pheromones, which have a smell similar to bananas.
“At one point I was asking myself, ‘I’m a mother; should I be in this attic with 80,000 bees?’” Karakoudas said. “But it worked out; it’s always like a game of chess, and that hive became my hive.”
The Buzz on Bees
A queen bee’s only job is to lay eggs. She can lay up to 2,500 a day.
Worker bees, the females that forage for pollen outside the hive, live for six to eight weeks.
There are about 20,000 species of bee. The most common are honey bees, bumblebees and sweat bees.
Only female bees can sting, but not all female bees can sting.
Bees drink nectar using a straw-like tongue called a proboscis.
Inside the hive, it’s completely dark. The queen bee is in darkness for most of her lifespan.
If you have a hive in your yard, you may not need a removal, however you can find a list recommended beekeepers at pinellasbeekeepers.org/need-bees-relocated.