Beekeeper Bradley Stewart minds his own beeswax, although you’ll find him doing that in other people’s yards.
Condos just aren’t the place to set up beehives, he points out, so thanks to friends and neighbors throughout the county, he farms his 17 hives out for production of his “Backyard Honey,” which he often gives away. “When people come back for more, sometimes they insist on paying me, so I call that a donation,” he said.
But for him, not only are honeybees a hobby (he has about 60,000 in each hive), they are serious business.
“Bees are so important to our wellbeing,” the South Palm Beach resident said. “If you go to Publix and look at the produce, without honeybees, one-third of those shelves would be empty.”
Take almonds, for example, he explained. “Sixty percent of the world’s almonds come from California and almonds need honeybees for pollination. The acreage in California dedicated to almonds is greater than the entire acreage of the entire state of Massachusetts, and there aren’t enough honeybees to do the job.”
Stewart became interested in bees when he was about 12 or 13 and had a neighbor who had bees. As a Boy Scout, he pursued a merit badge for beekeeping. He did give up beekeeping (obviously) when he was in the Navy, where as a yeoman he learned to be a very fast typist on the staff of Adm. Chester Nimitz in Hawaii after the United States entered World War II.
But he has worked with bees on and off all through his life. “I’ve been close to nature,” he said.
As a single young man, he traveled, eventually ending up in Florida where he met his wife, Gloria, who died six years ago.
“I hitchhiked to Florida from Kentucky and haven’t had enough money to get out of the state yet,” is the joke he likes to tell. But here’s the real story. He had come occasionally to Florida with his family. “The first time was in 1936,” he recalled. Stewart returned to Florida right out of teacher’s college and taught in Indiantown at Warfield Elementary.
“Then I went to California and did all kinds of stuff. I had a car wreck and came back to Florida to recuperate and met Gloria. She was a nurse. We were married for 50 years.”
He has two children: Bradley III, who lives in Pompano, and Sara Watson, who lives near Washington, D.C.
Stewart says his senior citizen groups refer to members as “active seniors,” and he tends to agree. “I am 86, feel like I’m 96 and plan to live to be 103.”
— Christine Davis
Q. Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A. I grew up in Bowling Green, Ky., where I attended public school. It was an excellent system with good teachers. Then, I went to Western State College, also in Bowling Green. It was primarily a rural community, where people are closer to nature. I’ve been close to nature all my life, although I don’t consider myself a “green” person.
Q. Have you had other careers (or hobbies); what were the highlights?
A. I worked for Delta Airlines for 30 years in marketing. I’ve also done all kinds of part-time jobs. I was a bartender in college, worked on a shrimp boat one summer out of Fort Myers, was a teacher for two years right out of school, and I also went out to California and worked in a factory.
I’m a ballroom dancer. In elementary school, we had folk dancing. My wife, Gloria, and I started taking art in the senior citizens center — it was free — and they also had a dance class, and the rest is tragedy. I’ve been dancing for four or five years. You can legally hug the girls.
I take lessons on Monday and Friday and I go once a week to the Gold Coast Ballroom in Coconut Creek and there’s also the Grand Ballroom in Delray Beach. Jane Mueller teaches locally. She charges five dollars an hour and at the Mid County Senior Citizen’s Center in Lake Worth. We need men.
For art lessons at the same center, the teacher is Chief Joseph and he’s a superb artist. He teaches for free. We have a little dance/artist community and we go in groups to do things.
Q. How did you choose to make your home in South Palm Beach?
A. We lived in West Palm Beach, and after retiring from Delta, we moved to South Palm Beach. My wife didn’t want to do yard work, so she said she wanted to live in a condo and I found this one for $85,000, and that was 25 years ago.
Q. What is your favorite part about living in South Palm Beach?
A. I know people here. It’s very convenient living in a condo. Although I don’t like condos, this is a great place to live, but I can’t keep bees here. I am, though, raising a tomato plant on my porch.
Q. What book are you reading now?
A. I don’t read very much and fiction doesn’t grab me too much. I do like to keep up with my magazines on the honeybee world.
Q. What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
A. I’m not a student of classical music, but I was exposed to it in elementary school, so I do enjoy classical music when I want to relax. For inspiration I listen to my cha-cha, rumba, ballroom samba, merengue and big band music. I feel the beat.
Q. Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?
A. I tell my kids, “moderation,” but I don’t practice it.
Q. Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A. I had a regional marketing manager at Delta, Ed Bishop. He had a staff of about six sales reps and he was always on the go and ahead of the pack with all sorts of new ideas, so I tried to pattern after him. He got lots accomplished in short periods. I’ve always had energy, too, but it was channeling my energy that I had to learn to do, so I’d observe him.
Q. If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?
A. Johnny Carson. He asked questions and gave people a chance to answer them. He was funny and he enjoyed people. He never swore and he poked fun at himself. He didn’t sacrifice other people to make himself appear popular.
Q. Who or what makes you laugh?
A. People, particularly politicians. Break it down one more time, Democrats.
The buzz on bees:Interesting facts about the “bee” part of the birds and bees lecture:
* During its lifetime, a honeybee will produce a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey, so if you eat a teaspoon of honey, you’ve just enjoyed the life work of 12 honeybees.
* Beekeepers buy bees by the pound with a mated queen. To produce worker bees — the females — the queen fertilizes the eggs. Non-fertilized eggs become the drones (males).
* Stewart can’t say how long bees live. “Up North, they hibernate in the winter. In Florida, when there are lots of flowers in an orange grove, the bees will work themselves to death in three or four weeks.
* “A queen will live for five years, but we replace her every year or two because her productivity to produce may diminish.”
* A hive is made up of three separate groups of bees: the queen, 50,000 to 60,000 female worker bees, and a few hundred male drones.
* “The hive doesn’t need many drones, only enough to impregnate the queen. They can’t feed themselves. They are real couch potatoes,” he said.
* A colony is a matriarchal society, he added. “The queen on her maiden flight puts out pheromones and the drones are attracted to that. 18 to 35 drones will catch her at a high altitude, will mate with her and then she kills them. The drones deposit up to two million sperm in her body. She’ll lay up to 2,000 eggs a day. After she’s mated, the other drones are pushed out of the hive.”
* A beehive looks like a box. The bottom section is called the brood chamber and that’s where the new bees are raised. In the top sections, supers, there are a series of frames (looks like drawers) that hold a sheet of imprinted beeswax — the bees build on top of that. You take each frame out, and scratch the honey off, put the frames in a centrifuge, and then drain the honey into a bucket. “We don’t strain or heat it — that’s what makes it organic.”