The buzz of a beehive has been ringing in Tom May’s ears for most of his life. The proprietor of Naples Finest Honey is a third-generation beekeeper; his grandfather and father tended bees in Illinois, and the tradition has lived on with May in Southwest Florida. He also serves as a cellist in the Naples Philharmonic, and if the pandemic has brought any silver lining to his businesses, it’s that the cutback in concerts has meant he can spend more time with his hives. “It’s kept me busy—especially these days,” he says with a laugh.
Honey is a year-round endeavor in Florida. May has 120 hives spread out on different plots across Southwest Florida that will generate about 10,000 pounds of honey per year. Unlike the mass-market honey found on store shelves, local honey comes with a lot more nuance in its flavor—the taste varies depending on what’s in bloom, as the bees return to the hive with pollen from nearby owers. For May, prime season starts in March when orange blossoms are in season, then continues into the summer when saw palmettos are blooming. Fall and early winter bring wild owers, then there’s a short lull in late winter before spring is once again in full swing.
May mainly sells at farmers markets. In season, he’ll go to about four a week with help from his wife. Several retail outlets including Wynn’s Market and Nature’s Garden carry his honey, too. Online ordering is minimal; he’s preferred to keep the operation simple. The family legacy has been a hobby that’s evolved into nearly full-time work. “There’s a lot of planning, a lot of organization. But I like that,” he says. “It’s been a passion ever since I can remember.”