LAND O’ LAKES — Jim Johnson’s first attempt at beekeeping proved to be, as he puts it, a “miserable failure.”
A swarm of bees appeared in his mother-in-law’s grapefruit trees and, with just a vague notion of what he was doing, Johnson volunteered to relocate them to a box.
“I got stung a bunch,” he said.
Soon after that, his mother-in-law spotted a notice for an upcoming seminar conducted by Tampa Bay Beekeepers, an association whose members held the knowledge Johnson had been lacking. He attended the seminar, and now bees have been part of his life for about nine years.
Not that all that experience has made him immune from injury.
“I get stung all the time,” he told Land O’ Lakes High students this week during the Great American Teach-In. “It’s part of being a beekeeper. I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t hurt, but you get used to it.”
Johnson was one of numerous speakers who descended on Pasco schools this week to share information about their careers, hobbies or interests. The Teach-In happens all week, but most schools schedule the bulk of their activities for Wednesday.
Brian Corley, Pasco’s supervisor of elections, used the Teach-In to encourage high school students to vote while at the same time honoring veterans. For his office’s “Vote in Honor of a Vet” program, military veterans were sent to high schools across the county along with an elections worker.
The veterans told their stories and the students were given dog tags to remind them to vote as a way to show appreciation to veterans for their sacrifice. Students also were provided voter registration forms. Students can register to vote when they are 17 but can’t cast a ballot until they are 18.
John Mitchell, 78, a Navy veteran, spoke at Land O’ Lakes High, covering not only his time in the military, but also his later work in electronic intelligence under contract with government security agencies.
The students in government and economics teacher Jeff May’s class were just as impressed, though, when Mitchell told them there have been 13 U.S. presidents in his lifetime, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama.
He urged the students to research political candidates, learn as much as they can, then make a decision.
“Make sure you vote so your voice is heard,” he said.
Meanwhile, the students of English teacher Ashley Duncan got a lesson in nature and a chance to sample honey when they heard Johnson’s bee discussion. Johnson said he runs about 100 hives, mostly in Pinellas County. He sells honey and other products and also contracts out his bees to farmers to pollinate their crops.
The size of his operation makes him a “sideliner” in the world of bees. Full-time commercial beekeepers have a greater number of hives, and hobbyists might have just one or two.
The students peered at an observation hive Johnson set up in the classroom. Inside were about 20,000 to 30,000 bees, he said, though not all were in view.
He told the students to look for the queen bee, which is larger than the other bees. Johnson said searching for the queen “is a beekeeper’s version of ‘Where’s Waldo.’ ”
A determined Brittany Flowers, 17, finally spotted the queen.
“It was pretty distinctive from the other ones,” she said.
Taylor Melching, a 17-year-old junior, said she might like to try beekeeping and would consider attending a Tampa Bay Beekeepers seminar. She is undeterred by any thought of those stingers.
“I’ve been stung before,” Taylor said. “It hurt. I got over it.”