From inside a miniature yellow house, a small humming sound joins the soft scratch of mango and papaya trees swaying against a backyard fence.
Ual Bradley lifts the roof of the three-and-a-half-foot-tall house, and looks at the honey-coated frames filled with happy bees.
He cooes, “Good morning, girls.”
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The particular type of hum means they recognized his scent and know he’s taking care of them, he said. When he lifts the frame to check the honeycomb, he apologizes softly as they buzz in protest.
In April, Bradley co-founded Honey Bee City, a company that designs hives specifically for small urban spaces like patios, to make life easier for urban bee lovers. The hives come with everything they need — minus the bees — and are made in Doral. He along with former Marine Rick Cousins and Navy veteran Juan Cobo created the company to help increase the bee population.
“I got into it to save the bees and do my part to help the environment,” the 62-year-old said. “But they’re also helping me. When you’re out there working with them, you forget about all the rush of the day. It’s peaceful. I like to just sit by the hive and listen.”
Beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their honeybee colonies between April 2015 and April 2016, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership. To save the insects responsible for most of the world’s pollination, Bradley, of Princeton in South Dade, and other urban beekeepers are popping up around the U.S.
Bradley’s love for bees didn’t start until Cousins revealed his own secret passion. But for 20 years while they worked together off and on in law enforcement, he never mentioned his bees. Then, after they retired, he let the bees out of the bag.
“He never even mentioned them before. Then, it was always bees, bees bees,” Bradley said, laughing. “Normally guys talk about things like women, cars and movies. But the girls he would talk the most about were bees.”
Helping the retired Department of Homeland Security special agent tend to his bees is his 8-year-old grandson, Ezequiel Bradley.
“I hold the frames while grandpa gets the honey,” he said.
This summer, after spending weeks running around the hive playing catch with his father in the same backyard, he was stung for the first time. Still, Ezequiel plans on making candles from the honeycomb, he said.
“I like them 10 percent less now,” he mumbled.
Although getting stung is inevitable, Cousins believes all it takes to stay safe is proper training.
“If you have a horse, a cat, a dog, you’ll get bit, scratched or stepped on,” he reasoned. “The only thing you have to worry about is if your kids are allergic.”
The Florida Backyard Beekeepers Association and others offer courses to help novices get their hives started. Associations provide members with educational resources and keep them up to date with beekeeping legislation, he said.
Beekeepers are required to register their apiaries with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. While Miami-Dade County and several municipalities within it have regulations regarding bee colonies, Broward Senior Assistant County Attorney Michael Owens said colonies are generally allowed provided the resident has enough space in the backyard or patio.
Colonies are not allowed in residential districts in unincorporated Miami-Dade, said Tere Estorino Florin, communications manager for the Miami-Dade Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources.
Beekeepers are also required to check on their hive once a month to make sure it is healthy, according to Section 193.461 of the Florida Statutes. Beekeepers are also required to have a fence or barrier to keep the bees from flying directly into their neighbors’ yards.
How much work does a beehive take? According to Owens, not much.
“It’s more work than a goldfish but less than a cat or dog,” he said.
Laura Hernandez agreed. With a little work and patience, the Homestead resident gets a new batch of honey for her kids to fight over every three to four months. Her family thought beekeeping was crazy at first, but now she said they have an appreciation.
“People don’t know that [bees] are not that bad,” she said. “I didn’t even know that they were so important. Now my neighbors love it because they get honey.”
Each time, the honey’s unique flavor changes depending on the blossoms visited by the bees. One batch will be more robust and tropical while the next may be light with a lingering citrus aftertaste.
“When a pet scratches or bites you, that doesn’t mean they don’t love you,” she said. “It’s the same with bees.”