How I long for the day when I can open this newsletter with news that we have resumed all normal operations, but, sadly, this is not the case. Six months in, and little has changed with regard to COVID-19 and our program operations. Extension offices remain closed to the public, but the good news is that virus statistics are trending in a desirable direction. Perhaps we will begin to see the state authorities loosen restrictions on in-person trainings and gatherings soon. Meanwhile, all Clemson staff have been asked to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to university facilities and extension offices.
Extension is still operating at 100%, albeit mostly virtually. The Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program likewise has expanded its virtual repertoire. We have been hosting virtual meetings and delivering presentations for the state and local beekeeper associations, and we are working to offer more formal trainings through our Zoom meeting platform. Ben Powell, the program coordinator, has given several presentations on wax moths, pesticides and pollinators, hive beetles, and native pollinator conservation, and we have plans to offer many more in the coming months. Please contact Ben if you would like for him to present to your local association virtually.
The most exciting announcement is that we have coordinated with the South Carolina Master Beekeeper Program to offer a much-awaited Journeyman Prep Course in October. This will be a live, online series of lectures provided by South Carolina’s own journeyman and master beekeepers. These experienced beekeepers have successfully passed the journeyman exam and will teach participants what they need to know to pass the exam. Registration is open now for any certified beekeepers that aspire to take the journeyman exam. Register online at https://scstatebeekeepers.com/journeyman-online-prep-course-information/.
We also are working on an Introduction to Entomology course for SC Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners. This will be a condensed version of the Intro to Entomology course that is available to students enrolled at Clemson University. It will not be a college credit course, but it will cover much of the same material and counts towards advanced training for master gardeners and master naturalists. More information will be available once we set the dates for that program.
We hope that everyone can enjoy the cooler weather that comes with the approaching Autumn season and that your beekeeping operations are well prepared for the coming winter. This is my favorite time of year. Pollinators are most active, and outdoor activities are pleasant and bountiful. I hope that you can take some time to stop, reflect upon the year, and admire Nature as she hurries to prepare for the coming winter.
The only thing predictable about September in South Carolina is that it is unpredictable.
September marks the beginning of the transition from the sweltering heat of summer to the cooler, drier days of fall. From year to year and week to week, September can be unpredictable, and changes come abruptly. Some years September is no different than August, hot and humid. In other years, September is punctuated by cold fronts that bring cool air into the area after they pass and hot, humid tropical storms that remind us that the summer has not quite released its grip yet. One week can feel like summer and the next like fall, and this year September appears to be bringing cooler conditions across the state.
Cooler conditions and shorter days should be driving honey bees to work vigorously to prepare for winter. Colonies will make a mad dash to collect nectar and pollen this month and next, so this is a very critical time. Cotton and soybeans are already in peak bloom, and goldenrods and asters are ramping up in the coastal plain. The steady supply of moisture this summer should have supported the growth of fall-blooming plants and hopefully will result in a bountiful fall nectar flow for most areas in the state. The bees’ ability to collect winter stores and grow the winter workforce this fall will determine their winter survival, so the forager workforce active now will largely determine if the colony survives or starves this winter. Colonies that are weak now will be more susceptible to failure this winter. This is where the beekeeper’s management becomes critically important.
Beekeepers need to be checking the weights of hives. Most colonies should begin to add weight this month as the fall nectar flow begins. Also, beekeepers should watch the activity at the hive entrance. Foragers should be coming and going vigorously this month and next and should be carrying pollen. Low activity at the hive entrance may indicate a weakening colony, and further investigation is needed. It is best to avoid disturbing colonies during the fall nectar flow so as not to disrupt foraging, but if the colony is not adding weight and has limited entrance activity, then it is wise to inspect for pests, especially small hive beetles, and to check the egg and brood pattern. Although the queen is not normally laying as vigorously now as she did prior to the spring nectar flow, she should still be laying multiple frames of eggs, and the colony should have multiple frames of capped brood and eclosing young bees. The bees eclosing this month will be next month’s foragers, which will supply the food to get the colony through the winter. If a colony has a weak queen or is queenless this month, it will not survive unless it is either combined with another colony or is requeened. If a colony has gone queenless, it is too late to allow them to raise their own. The colonies will begin removing drones soon, and virgin queens will probably not be mated well if at all.
Small hive beetles have been very problematic this year as reported by numerous beekeepers across the state. This can probably be attributed to the high soil moisture from high humidity and excessive rainfall this summer. August and September are the peak months for small hive beetle activity as the eggs laid earlier in the summer have completed development and are now adults seeking new hives to infest. We have learned a lot about small hive beetles since they first arrived in South Carolina in 1996. The full extent of their biology and management is too much to cover here. Thankfully, due to the work of my predecessor, Dr. Wm Michael Hood, and several other dedicated researchers and inventive beekeepers, we have very detailed publications and management guides available. There is no need for me to rehash the knowledge these publications already contain. For the most complete review of small hive beetle biology and control, I encourage beekeepers to obtain a copy of Dr. Hood’s book, “The Small Hive Beetle,” which is available for purchase from several bee equipment vendors. There are also a number of free Extension publications provided by apiculture programs at most of the southeastern land grant universities (U. Florida, UGA, NC State, etc.), but the first and most thorough was Clemson’s Handbook of Small Hive Beetle IPM available in the Bee Health section of eXtension.org (https://bee-health.extension.org/handbook-of-small-hive-beetle-ipm/). This publication is in need of updating (I’m working on it) because it pre-dates the use of entanglement cloths and some of the new IPM bottom boards, but it still contains an excellent review of this pest’s biology and general control. I encourage every South Carolina beekeeper to download and read this publication.
Last, varroa mites, the ever-present threat, will have peaked in late summer. Beekeepers should have been monitoring mites and treating or managing for them to disrupt their population growth in the summer months so as to enter the fall with strong colonies ready to take advantage of the fall nectar flow. Treating for mites during the fall nectar flow may disrupt the bees, so beekeepers might consider waiting until later in the fall to treat for varroa mites unless the colony is already experiencing severe Parasitic Mite Syndrome as evidenced by high mite counts (more than 3 mites/100 bees), deformed wing virus, and snot brood. Delaying mite treatments until later in the fall (oct/nov) works very well with organic acid treatments (oxalic or formic) which are much more effective when mites are not concealed under the caps of sealed brood. Frosty nights will slow brood production forcing the mites to become phoretic, meaning that they will be exposed on the adult bees and no longer protected under cappings. While on the adult bees, varroa mites are much more susceptible to treatments. Learn more at the Honey Bee Health Coalition website https://honeybeehealthcoalition.org/varroa/.
If you are not aware of how hard Susan Jones, Rosalind Severt, Hank Smalling, and Larry Coble have been working for South Carolina’s beekeepers, then you need to visit the SC Master Beekeeper Program webpage (https://scstatebeekeepers.com/master-beekeeper-program/) and look at the revisions and guidance documents they have been posting.
The South Carolina Master Beekeeping Program (SCMBP) deserves the conservation spotlight this month because of the significant strides it is making to revise and enhance the program and to overcome the severely restricting COVID-19 regulations. Initiated in 1995 by Dr. Wm. Michael Hood (Mike) of Clemson University in coordination with the South Carolina Beekeepers Association and key beekeepers such as David Macfawn, the SCMBP was developed to provide training to aspiring beekeepers and recognize their experience and achievements. The SCMBP is a four-tiered certification program: Certified (beginner), Journeyman (intermediate), Master (advanced), and Master Craftsman (expert). Each tier requires the candidate to gain active beekeeping experience and demonstrate proficiency through a progression of tests. Each successive test covers more advanced beekeeping topics in greater detail. The ultimate purpose of the program is to provide a way for South Carolina’s beekeepers to objectively review their peers to determine who among them is knowledgeable, serious, and reliable. It also encourages the candidate to seek professional development and share what they have learned to advance the trade across the entire state.
For local clubs, the SCMBP is extremely valuable because it develops leaders and provides knowledgeable speakers to teach other aspiring beekeepers. As candidates advance through the program, they are required to obtain service credits which they can achieve by giving presentations, writing articles, serving in leadership or other tasks that help to support local beekeepers. This encourages SCMBP participants to give back not only to their local associations and communities but also to the apiculture industry statewide.
Since its inception fifteen years ago, the SCMBP has had several thousand beekeepers participate in the certified level courses many of which have gone on to complete certification. In general, fewer than 5% go on to achieve journeyman certification, and presently only 14 active South Carolina beekeepers have achieved Master level certification. Only three beekeepers are Master Craftsmen. These advanced beekeepers are vital to South Carolina’s apiculture industry. They provide immeasurable benefit to their fellow beekeepers and the industry as a whole. In a time when anybody can write a blog or post a YouTube video about “their” beekeeping secrets, the SCMBP strives to ensure that its candidates provide real, practical, science-based and objective beekeeping advice and recommendations through peer reviewed education programs. For this reason, South Carolina’s beekeepers can count on their colleagues in the SCMBP.
The rigor of testing and commitment to service in the SCMBP develops industry leaders that are extremely helpful to the Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program. Master beekeepers advise our Extension programs, serving as the voice of South Carolina’s beekeepers. They also serve as surrogates for Extension, supporting and delivering public education and engaging local communities and beekeepers. When local news or community leaders have questions related to beekeeping, our program will involve local SCMBP participants because they are trusted to represent beekeepers well and engage the public with the same science-based, unbiased, and objective approach that the University and Extension Service use.
COVID-19 has made operating the SCMBP very difficult. Traditionally, trainings and testing events are held in person. The virus restrictions on gatherings have prevented these events, so the Program is shifting gears. First, Susan Jones, the program coordinator, is scheduling testing for students that were prevented from testing in the spring when the State shut-down. If you started the program this spring but were unable to test, you need to contact here to arrange for testing. Also, the Program is pleased to announce a Journeyman Online Prep Course that will be offered in October. You will be able to attend that journeyman training from the comfort of your home or wherever you can find internet access. Registration is open now at https://scstatebeekeepers.com/journeyman-online-prep-course-registration-now-open/.
South Carolina needs more beekeepers to consider participating in and advancing through the SCMBP. The knowledge that our experienced beekeepers have needs to be handed-down and built-upon to ensure that this trade remains vibrant and sustainable. Our beginning beekeepers find great value in the certified level trainings, but the candidates that have advanced on to higher levels can attest that the motivation, the education, the recognition, and the service have made them not only better beekeepers but also better members of the beekeeping community. Hopefully you will consider taking your beekeeping education to the next level by taking part in the South Carolina Master Beekeeping Program.
Thars gold in them thar hills (and in the flat lands too)!
The rustling of dried corn stalks, stacks of pumpkins at the roadside stand, Halloween costumes at your local general store… all are signs that Fall is lurking, but none of these announces Autumn as loudly as Goldenrod, the plant that, like a restless toddler, seems to think that its playtime when most other plants are winding-down before their winter slumber. For beekeepers, the splashes of yellow goldenrods along roadsides and field edges are welcome signs that the fall nectar flow is underway and that bees no longer must suffer the summer dearth. For the bees, this is crunch time, the last major push to prepare for winter and overcome the thievery of humans.
Although goldenrods are generally acclaimed as both nectar producers and medicinal plants, they are often poorly understood, even among the scientific community. Goldenrods are members of the genus Solidago, which includes more than 100 species native to North America. The exact number of species is unknown because botanists have difficulty developing a consensus. Some species exhibit extreme polyploidy, meaning that they have many more than just two copies of each chromosome which results in highly variable traits. Modern molecular tools are showing that our understanding of goldenrods is weak at best. That being said, the primary point is that goldenrod is not just one plant but rather a collection of many species of plants with highly variable traits. Some, like Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima, the SC state wildflower), grow up to 6 feet tall, while others, like Wreath
Goldenrod (S. caesia), grow to only 2 feet. Some species like wet sites, while others prefer dry, well drained soils. A few species prefer shady understory habitats, but most prefer mostly direct sunlight. While we usually associate goldenrod flowers with fall, a few species bloom in the spring.
All goldenrods, as with other members of the Asteraceae, are referred to as “composites,” meaning they have flowers clustered together into a composite flower that contains both ray and disc flowers. The most recognizable composite is the sunflower which has a ring or broad, petal-like flowers (rays) around a disk of dozens or hundreds small, tightly packed flowers (discs). Upon close inspection, you will find that each goldenrod “flower” has these samy rays and discs, but they also bear dozens or even hundreds of these composite flowers which gives them their dazzling show of color. In general, composite flowers are highly attractive to a wide array of pollinators, including honey bees, and goldenrods provide a substantial nectar source for fall foragers. An array of different beetles, flies, butterflies, wasps and bees vigorously forage on goldenrods when they are blooming, and fields containing goldenrods will be bustling with insect activity. Another feature common to all goldenrods is that they are perennial, meaning that they survive the winter as root stock. Because they are also hardy and tolerant of disturbance, they can be transplanted and subdivided.
Goldenrods sometimes get a bad reputation among the general public. They are often accused of causing hay fever and allergies, but that accusation is undeserved. They have large sticky pollen grains which are carried by insects, but because their showy blooms coincide with the inconspicuous ragweeds, they sometimes get blamed for peoples’ discomfort. Also, goldenrods are frequently referred to as “weeds,” because they are quick to colonize disturbed areas such as agricultural fields or powerline rights-of-way. Generally, though, they take two to three growing seasons to get established at new sites, so “weed” might be a little too harsh a term.
Goldenrods have received some attention recently among horticulturists and gardeners, and several ornamental varieties are now available as seed or seedlings. These include ‘fireworks,’ ‘golden sun,’ ‘golden fleece,’ ‘baby sun,’ and a few others. These ornamental varieties do not spread as quickly as wild types, and are less likely to become weedy in small gardens.
I have yet to meet a beekeeper or entomologist that is not intrigued by a walk through a blooming field of goldenrods.
Drs. Humberto Boncristiani and Jamie Ellis of the University of Florida along with a cadre of collaborators announced in the journal “Bee World” that they have compiled a list of the pests and diseases afflicting Western Honey Bees worldwide and produced maps illustrating the worldwide distributions of the afflictions listed. While many of the pests and diseases will be familiar to US beekeepers because they occur here, many of the health challenges listed are only reported in other countries, and the maps help depict where they occur. The website they created very usefully provides a succinct list of honey bee maladies and provides references. This makes learning and teaching about honey bee pests and diseases faster and more efficient. You can view the maps and references at the website http://worldhoneybeehealth.org.
Humberto Boncristiani, James D. Ellis, Tomas Bustamante, Jason Graham, Cameron Jack, Chase B. Kimmel, Ashley Mortensen & Daniel R. Schmehl (2020) World Honey Bee Health: The Global Distribution of Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera L.) Pests and Pathogens,Bee World, DOI: 10.1080/0005772X.2020.1800330
Just about everything, including honey bee research, has been impeded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Raffaele Dall’Olio, Tjeerd Blacquiere, Maria Bouga, Robert Brodschneider, Norman L. Carreck, Panuwan Chantawannakul, Vincent Dietemann, Lotta Fabricius Kristiansen, Anna Gajda, Ales Gregorc, Aslı Ozkirim, Christian Pirk, Victoria Soroker, Geoffrey R. Williams & Peter Neumann (2020) COLOSS survey: global impact of COVID-19 on bee research, Journal of Apicultural Research, 59:5, 731-734, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2020.1799646
Tues. and Thurs., Oct. 6th – Nov 3rd Journeyman Online Prep Course
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