Honey in the Hood
Some folks seem to know almost as soon as they come out of the womb what they want to do in life. They set their paths, make their goals and rarely waver as they march into the future. For most of us, however, the exact opposite is true as life's path twists and turns, each experience opening into another. Such is the case with Corinne Batista, a 35-year beach resident who parlayed the successful raising of three daughters into successfully raising bees - bees who in turn provide her with her income in the form of the honey she sells at farmer's markets throughout the season. What does she think of the new business she literally started only one year ago? Well, it's the bee's knees, of course!
"I was born in Delaware and came here 35 years ago with my boyfriend - he went home and I stayed,” Corinne told us on Tuesday from her booth at Santini Marina Plaza's Sunrise Market. "I ended up getting married and became a full time mom, raising three daughters on the beach - which was no easy feat! After that, I worked for ten years at Trader's on Captiva, then on Sanibel.”
It was about that time that Batista, a lifelong gardener who continues to take classes through Lee County's Extension Services, decided on a whim to take a 'Beekeeping 101' class that is offered once a year.
"This was about 2010-ish,” she said. "I absolutely fell in love with bees! I was so excited that I bought my first hive and nurtured it until it was strong, but the bees turned out to be Africanized so I had to give them back to the guy who sold them to me as they were so mean - they tore me up with stings and even chased me down the road.”
Undaunted by what would be a horrifying experience for many people, Corinne toughed it out and got another hive three months later, educating herself on how to keep her hives from becoming Africanized and doing her part to keep Florida's European bee population in production.
We did a bit of research on the University of Florida's Extension Services website and found that African honeybees are the species that have been called 'killer bees' in the media. Much more defensive and aggressive than their European counterparts - which have been bred for docility - they first came to the United States in 1990 in Texas and migrated to Florida around 2001. Thanks to the efforts of beekeepers like Batista they have not affected honey production in this state as the European colonies provide the necessary competition for resources.
Corinne was very happy with her second hive, which contained a 'beautiful golden queen'.
"To get good hives, you have to get good queens - who have nice, gentle, DNA,” she told us. "I even started doing 'bee rescues' to collect my queens.”
For her second attempt at beekeeping, Batista got her hives just before the start of the winter dormant season, so she really had to put her 'mom' skills to use during the first few months.
"There are two blooming seasons, one in April and the other in September and October,” she said. "During the winter, I really had to baby them as the queens stop laying so many eggs, production goes down, and you have to make sure they don't starve.”
By May, however, Corinne's bees started producing so much honey she had to begin bottling it up.
"It really snowballed - I had so much honey I could never eat it all,” she told us, laughing. "So I started my business - 'Honey in the Hood'.”
Batista's honey comes in different flavors based on the time of year it was produced.
"Black mangroves bloom in the spring - most people don't even know they have flowers but the bees do and they are a huge nectar source,” she said. "That produces a really light, mild honey. Then in the fall we get a lot of Brazilian Pepper which makes for a stronger flavor.”
Corinne now has 17 working hives on her property, and sells her honey every Tuesday at Santini's Sunrise Market from 9am to 1pm, Thursdays at the Faith Fresh Market at the Methodist Church on the corner of McGregor Boulevard and Thornton from 8am until 1pm and Fridays at the Farmer's Market under the Matanzas Pass Bridge from 7:30am to 11am. She told us that she has been doing some research and has discovered that honey can be used to help with everyday ailments such as sore throats and mosquito bites, as well as serious afflictions like tooth decay and cataracts.
"What I love about my bees is that every day I learn something new,” she said. "This started as a hobby, turned into an obsession, and now it's a career!”
For more information about getting your hands on some of Corinne's delicious honey, call her at 239-340-4718 or email her at email@example.com.
Keri Hendry Weeg