School's accusations sting neighboring beekeepers

Brother says wasps are the likely culprits.

By S.I. ROSENBAUM, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008

BRANDON - When one of the Grande brothers' bees sets out from her hive, she has just one goal:

Find pollen.

From across town, maple flowers beckon the young female worker. But Limona Elementary School lies directly in her path.

And that's a problem for Limona principal Karen Pierson.

Pierson says the Grande bees have become a menace, stinging students and teachers and leaving corrosive droppings on cars.

So now the School Board wants the Grandes to corral their bees.

"It's the same thing as if they were having cattle roaming around," said School Board member Jennifer Faliero.

But bees aren't cattle, said Steve Grande. You can't fence them in.

"It's a ridiculous argument," he said.

Steve and Michael Grande have kept bees on their property off Telfair Road since the 1970s, about as long as the school has been there.

They sell honey out of their house, keeping sample bottles on display on the hood of an old car in the driveway.

Michael said he doesn't believe Pierson when she says his bees are stinging people.

"We have gentle bees," he said. "We don't have mean bees."

Besides, said Steve, "Bees don't sting when they're that far away from the hive. That's not their behavior."

A more likely culprit, they said, were the wasps that have built nests in the eaves of the school, currently under a major renovation.

The school has exaggerated bee-sting complaints, the brothers said, as an excuse to shut down their business.

"They're trying to create a hysteria about the bees being overly aggressive," Michael Grande said.

The Grandes believe the real issue is bee droppings, which can ruin a car's paint job.

Pierson agreed that bee droppings are definitely a problem. Teachers have taken to covering their cars with tarps, she said.

But she said it's the stings that worry her most.

On Thursday alone, Pierson said, three people were stung on school grounds.

"My concern is for the safety of the children," she said.

She said she's talked with Michael Grande about the bees several times during the past three years.

"We had a nice discussion, but we're still in the same place," she said.

So she appealed to the School Board.

Board member Faliero said she believes the bees have to be controlled, like any other animal.

"What if they had dogs that were getting onto school grounds and bit someone?" she said.

"You can't keep things that are a danger and a threat to people in a residential area."

The board was even planning to consider litigation against the Grandes, but the item was tabled before Tuesday night's meeting.

Meanwhile, the Grandes continue to tend their hives.

"Bees go where the flowers are," Michael Grande said. "That's the way they were created, to go out and pollenize the plants and trees."

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at srosenbaum@sptimes.com or 661-2442.