According to Ray Portu, Marco Island’s premier beekeeper, the honey bee was brought over to America by European settlers hundreds of years ago. Ray is full of bee factoids. He can tell you anything you need to know about their biology, their habits, and the honey that they produce. For instance, similar to the human body, the average honey bee hive maintains an internal temperature of about 93 degrees Fahrenheit year round.
Together Ray and his younger brother, Dr. Carlos Portu, own and operate the Marco Island Honey Company. Dr. Portu is an internal medicine doctor out of NCH on Marco Island. He tends to works behind the scenes, balancing his time between patients and bees, while Ray does the “everyday on the ground kind of work.”“I’ve always had inclination towards farming and agriculture,” Ray said.
The honey company started out as a hobby. It was born from the brothers’ desire to grow, farm and produce their own products. Over time it slowly matured into a small business. Ray and Dr. Portu also own a few agricultural farms in North Carolina, one of which is certified USDA organic.As for the honey their bees produce, it’s 100% local. The hives are located exclusively on Marco Island and on a farm in Naples.
One of the benefits to beekeeping in Southwest Florida is that the area rarely experiences freezing temperatures. Here on the island we have three seasons: fall, spring and summer. Due to our subtropical climate, the bees are able to feed and produce almost year round.
“The bees are very fortunate because there’s always food around, sometimes more plentiful than others” Ray said.
Each of our three seasons brings with it diverse and unique flavors in terms of honey production. This is, of course, the result of seasonal plants, trees and flowers that are in bloom during the different times of the year. For instance, spring honey has sweeter, fruitier notes while a summer honey tends to be a little salty. Even the viscosity and color are subject to change.Unlike mass produced honey, the Marco Island Honey Company’s bees aren’t bound to one crop. They’re free to roam the diverse landscape that encapsulates Marco Island and Naples. This creates more complex and variable honey flavors.
“When you taste spring it’s very floral. It’s fruity,” Ray said. “And it’s because they’re (bees) going to mangos and avocados and lychees. After the spring goes away, then the next set of trees come in, which is like mangroves, palms—it’s a whole other set of characters that come into play.”Conversely, the autumn honey is peppery and rich. It’s comprised mainly of saw palmetto, Brazilian pepper, Florida mahogany, willow, red maple, gumbo limbo and Mexican clover.
“If you taste our honey from 2016 versus 2017, collected at the same time of the year, it’s similar but it’s never the same,” Dr. Portu said.
Besides honey production, the Marco Island Honey Company also runs a bee removal service. They don’t kill the bees that they remove from local properties. They’re not exterminators. Instead, Ray will relocate them or incorporate them into his own hives. The only time he can’t relocate a hive is if it’s in an electrical box. This is due to safety/logistical concerns.Many of the relocation calls Ray receives are in regards to an infestation of a type of bee known as the Africanized honey bee, or “killer bees.” You may have heard about them in the news. The Africanized honey bee is a defensive hybrid of the European honey bee. They’ve been known to chase people for long distances and are generally faster and more protective than the average honey bee.
“If you ever encounter one of these and they’re after you, run,” Ray said. “Get inside of a house or inside of a car. They say don’t get inside of a pool because they’ll wait for you.”
Though the Africanized bee tends to be defensive in nature, Ray says that by incorporating them into his own hives they can become tamer.
“In essence you dilute their aggressive natures,” Ray said.
It terms of helping our local bee population there’s one simple thing you can do: plant flowers.
“They want the nectar because it’s the sugars, the carbohydrates that they need to live,” Ray said.
If you would like to try some local Marco Island honey, visit Marcoislandhoneycompany.com. There you can purchase a jar (or two) of honey or pure beeswax. Their website also offer recipes, food pairings, drink and cocktail combos, and smoothie ideas. You can also purchase jars in person on Marco Island at Summer Day Market & Café, 1069 N. Collier Blvd. or at Wake Up Marco, 912 N. Collier Blvd.
Coastal Breeze News recently interviewed Ray’s wife, veterinarian Dr. Carrie Portu, of the Marco Island Veterinary Hospital. You can read about her online at Costalbreezenews.com.