HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!
Clemson’s Apiculture and Pollinator Program is steadily moving forward, even while uncertainty looms. South Carolina has slowly moved towards reopening, and citizens are growing tired of virus restrictions. Meanwhile, the Corona virus that has altered our way of life for the last eight months lingers and has been resurging in recent weeks. Conversations about further restrictions make the future uncertain, so planning traditional trainings at least through the spring of next year has become tenuous at best.
Clemson University is underway with fall classes, albeit mostly virtually, and I have had the pleasure of teaching students in both horticulture and biological sciences about apiculture and pollinator conservation. Many of the students expressed interest in a field day in the spring where they can learn more about keeping honey bees, so perhaps we will draw some new recruits into the ranks. We have a tentative plan to hold field days in the Clemson apiary next spring.
I had the great pleasure of working with the SC Master Beekeeper Program committee to offer a virtual Journeyman Prep Course in October. It involved many late nights, but we feel it was a resounding success considering the limitations on offering the traditional in-person style trainings to which we have grown accustomed. Sixty-three students registered for the program, many of which are undergoing journeyman testing in the upcoming weeks. We hope that this program laid the foundation for a new cohort of advanced beekeepers to help the whole of South Carolina’s beekeepers move the trade and industry forward. Good luck to all of beekeepers that are testing. We appreciate your desire to develop yourselves professionally and be the leaders for our next generation of beekeepers!
It has been eight months of working remotely, and I am longing to return to the normal social activities and in-person programs that make Extension work so rewarding. Engaging new people, finding ways to help them, sharing knowledge and building relationships are the hallmark components of a successful cooperative extension program, yet these seemingly simple tasks become exponentially more difficult during an epidemic. I have taken time to reflect on the apiculture program and its focus, and one striking observation keeps jumping up and down demanding attention. “It takes a village!” I cannot overemphasize how important our local, state and regional beekeeper associations are to the advancement of apiculture and the protection of pollinators, which by its very practice involves the overall protection of productive ecosystems, to which we are intangibly linked. Kudos to the beekeepers associations that have found creative ways to stay linked together and continue meeting during this time of uncertainty. We need cooperative groups of beekeepers to build the future of apiculture in South Carolina, and we all should show tremendous appreciation for the men and women that volunteer their time to serve their fellow beekeepers in leadership roles locally, at the state level, and regionally.
The South Carolina Beekeepers Association has been meeting regularly to discuss and plan for the future. At the top of the list are planning for the spring and summer meetings in 2021 and updating the bylaws. The shift to virtual meetings because of virus restrictions and public building closures has made doing the business of the Association difficult, and bylaw revisions are needed to allow the executive board to maintain operations. State association members should reach out to your district director and club representatives to learn more about proposed changes. Information about your representatives is housed at the SCBA website https://scstatebeekeepers.com/about/. Also, planning for next year’s meetings is underway. The venues have not yet been chosen because it has been difficult to find locations that are large enough to accommodate the membership while maintaining social distancing plus provide the other amenities needed. The search is narrowing, and the Association expects to announce the meetings in the near future.
The Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program has been steadily delivering public education. I made another appearance on Making It Grow to discuss what pollinators do in the Winter and the importance of nesting habitat to their survival. We’ve built a few more presentations and have been presenting them to garden clubs and local beekeeper associations. We have several more fact sheets in the works, and the website will have more content added soon. Also, stay tuned to Florida’s Two Bees in a Podcast where yours truly was interviewed recently and discussed the controversial topic of pesticides and honey bees. Last, the pollinator focus group met recently to catch-up and discuss planning programs for the near future. We will be adding content to the pollinator conservation side of the website, planning spring field days, and compiling the resources and procedures we already have in place for pollinator protections in South Carolina. The spring should be blooming with new pollinator information from our program. Stay tuned!
“You’re hot, then your cold. You’re yes, then you’re no. You’re in, then you’re out. You’re up, then you’re down.” Listening to those lyrics, you might think the Katy Perry must have experience as a South Carolina beekeeper in November.
November is THE major transition month in South Carolina. Days of summer-like warmth can be punctuated abruptly by cold fronts, and our first intense frosts usually occur this month. The bees have been preparing for this all season long, taking advantage of food resources and packing them away for the lean months of winter. There are still some floral resources available, but the surpluses of the growing season are gone. Bees will take advantage of warm spells in November to forage, but they are usually not bringing in more than they are consuming at this point. For this reason, it is critical for beekeepers to check food stores. There are three lean months ahead of us, and the food they have stocked away now will be what they use to survive the winter and build-up before next spring’s nectar flow. We usually have a few warm spells left this month, which affords the beekeeper some final opportunities to inspect colonies and to feed those that may be a little light on stores.
In South Carolina, honey bee queens tend to continue laying eggs all the way through the winter, but November and December are the months with the lowest brood rearing rate. Pollen consumption is low, but sugar/honey consumption remains high because the workers consume honey to generate the heat needed to maintain the brood temperature. For this reason it may make sense to feed colonies a 2:1 sugar syrup that can both be consumed and stored for future use. As winter deepens, a solid sugar feed such as fondant or candy will be more suitable.
It is time to help the bees maintain warmth inside the hive. For those of you that use screened bottom boards, now is the time to insert the solid bottom partitions, sometimes called the “IPM boards.” It also is best to reduce entrances. If weather remains relatively warm, the wider opening (second stage) of reducers can be used, but after the first deep frosts, it is wise to flip reducers to the smallest opening (first stage) to help keep-out pests such as mice and minimize drafts through the hive. The hive still needs to be able to vent moisture, so do not close top vents. If you do, you will begin to notice mildew developing on the inner cover.
It is very important to avoid disturbing the brood chamber at this time. Bees will begin forming a loose cluster below 60 Fº to maintain warmth in the brood area. Although foragers may be observed coming and going, the house bees are hard at work maintaining the 93-95 Fº needed for rearing the brood. Disturbing them creates stress and increases metabolic costs. To inspect if the hive needs to be fed, beekeepers can check the weight of the hive or can pop the cover to check for food reserves, but it is not advised to enter the brood chamber at this time unless daytime temperatures exceed 65 Fº.
Now is the time to begin spring preparations. If you plan to make increases, you should be placing your orders for woodenware and bees now. Perhaps you plan to build swarm traps. Now is the time to draw plans and begin building them. I plan to graft and rear about 30 queens next spring, so I will be building mating nucs this winter. I will share the designs in next month’s newsletter.
Bringing Life to Solar Farms (and Other Industrial Sites)
Under the authority of the Solar Habitat Act, which was signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster in 2018, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), with support from stakeholders including other state agencies, nonprofit conservation organizations, utilities and solar developers, established Technical Guidance for the Development of Wildlife and Pollinator Habitat at Solar Farms. Working with Clemson Cooperative Extension, Clemson’s Department of Fertilizer Regulation and Certification Services and Audubon South Carolina, the SCDNR has developed the S.C. Certified Solar Habitat Program.
Although renewable energy development is positive progress towards environmentally-friendly energy production, the increase in solar generation means the expansion of a land use on South Carolina’s landscape that competes with the needs of natural resources. Solar farms can adversely affect valuable natural resources if they are not properly planned and constructed. Through the newly developed S.C. Certified Solar Habitat Program, solar developers have an opportunity to provide increased benefits to the state’s natural resources by siting and developing their solar sites wisely and managing them to create habitat suitable for a wide variety of wildlife. The guidance developed provides for the planning, establishment and management of pollinator-friendly habitat at solar sites in South Carolina.
Spurred from an initiative by Audubon South Carolina with the support of SCDNR, the South Carolina Solar Habitat Act (S.C. Code of Laws §50-4-10) provides a voluntary framework to encourage owners of ground-mounted commercial solar energy generation sites to follow voluntary site management practices that provide native perennial vegetation and foraging habitats beneficial to gamebirds, songbirds and pollinators and reduce stormwater runoff and erosion at the solar generation site.
A self-paced online training is now available for landowners, solar developers, utilities, county planners, zoning administrators and others who are interested in solar habitat development. The online training and all the information regarding the S.C. Solar Habitat Program may be found online at www.dnr.sc.gov/solar.
Solar sites are not the only industrial sites where pollinator habitat can be created. Grounds around industrial facilities, buffer zones and utility rights-of-way such as power and gas lines provide suitable sites for installing pollinator habitat. Many states are developing guidance for planting pollinator friendly landscapes at these types of sites. To assist this effort, the Pollinator Partnership has created regional planting guides that offer lists of plants that are ecoregion specific. For South Carolina, there is a guide for mixed forests of the southeast and another for the outer coastal plain. These and many more pollinator habitat publications can be found at https://www.pollinator.org/guides.
Well, Dustin Johnson finally earned his first green jacket for winning The Masters golf tournament! (I must admit. I am partial because I grew up in Augusta, GA, and now I live where Dustin grew up near Myrtle Beach). But, this really isn’t the season of the green jacket. It’s the season of the yellowjackets!
Whether you are an avid entomologist or just a casual observer, it is nearly impossible to overlook the presence of yellowjackets in the fall. They patrol trash cans at fairgrounds and schoolyards, they cruise our gardens, and they have the gall to invade our tailgate parties with utter disregard for our fear of being stung. Yellowjackets seem driven to invade our lives each fall.
Yellowjackets (Vespula spp.) are social wasps that actually have two common species in the southeastern US, the southern yellowjacket (V. squamosa) and the eastern yellowjacket (V. maculifrons). The two species can be differentiated by color patterns, but they essentially have the same biology. Yellowjackets are mainly ground-nesting wasps that construct papier-mâche combs for rearing larvae. Occasionally, they will select a nest site in a cavity above ground, but they tend to be attracted to abandoned rodent burrows or hollow stumps. This is why people sometimes call them “ground hornets” or “ground wasps.” They build their comb by chewing bits of bark and wood from dead trees and mix it with saliva to form a paper paste, and they use the paste to form a series of horizontal brood combs surrounded by an elliptical envelope. Although usually well hidden below ground, a yellowjacket nest looks much like the familiar baldfaced hornet nest, a football-sized nest often found hanging from tree branches this time of year.
No discussion of yellowjackets is complete without also including the baldfaced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata). The name, baldfaced hornet, is an unfortunate misnomer for this insect, because it is not a hornet at all. It actually is a yellowjacket that constructs its nest exposed on tree branches rather than in the ground. Behaviorally and anatomically, the baldfaced hornet is more similar to yellowjackets than to true hornets (Vespa spp.). Early settlers called it a hornet because its nest resembled the nest built by European hornets (Vespa crabro) which were common in their European countries of origin, but baldfaced hornets and their closest kin, the yellowjackets, are much smaller than true hornets.
Most of the social wasps, such as yellowjackets and paper wasps, share a similar life cycle. The colony grows through the summer, reaching maximum size in the fall of the year, at which point they produce numerous queens. These queens disperse to mate and find winter hiding places; meanwhile, the parent colony dies. In the spring of the year, the queens will become active and find new locations to start new colonies. At first, the queen builds the initial nest, lays eggs, collects insects to feed her larvae, and tends to the brood. She begins producing daughters which will serve as workers that later will take-over the nest construction and foraging duties, leaving the queen to focus on laying eggs and tending to brood. By late summer, the colony begins to increase in size rapidly and produces drones (males). As the colony enters fall, it reaches peak size with the maximum number of workers. This is why yellowjackets, as well as red wasps and hornets, seem to be most common this time of year. These stinging insects also are most defensive of their colonies this time of year. Recently, researchers have observed the southern yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa) actually establishing perennial colonies that maintain workers and laying queens through the winter months. There is some concern that perennial yellowjacket colonies will increase in number in a warming climate which will increase their prevalence in the spring.
Yellowjackets can be problematic. Of course, they can sting and will defend their nest if it is disturbed. They do not normally sting while foraging, but many of us have experienced the unfortunate sting on the lip when drinking from a soda can that was left unguarded at a picnic or tailgate party. They also will invade weak honeybee colonies, attracted to the smell of honey and the lure of potentially unguarded honey bee brood. Thankfully, strong honey bee colonies with reduced hive entrances have little problem defending against marauding yellowjackets.
Several traps have been developed to catch foraging yellowjackets. These usually require a meat or sugar-based lure. Traps rarely provide adequate control of yellowjackets, especially in the fall when large numbers of workers are actively foraging. Trapping in the spring can target queens as they are just starting their new colonies and can reduce potential problems that may develop later in the year. In the fall, the only truly effective way of controlling yellowjackets is to locate and eradicate the nest. Because yellowjackets may forage over a very wide area, locating nests can be difficult and may not control pest yellowjackets that are coming from natural areas or neighboring properties.
While having a large colony of stinging insects in the home landscape can be disconcerting, yellowjackets do provide several services and are worth protecting if they do not pose an immediate threat to people or pets. Yellowjackets can pollinate flowers, although they are not nearly as efficient as bees. Yellowjackets are predators that target soft bodied larvae of other insects, such as caterpillars and beetle larvae, which can be pests of yards and gardens. Yellowjackets are scavengers that will consume the flesh of dead animal carcasses, (which explains why they flock to my fish cleaning station) helping to recycle nutrients, and they are eaten by several wild animals, especially insectivorous birds.
Polymerase Chain Reaction tests are not just for diagnosing COVID-19 in humans. Mexican researchers developed a method for identifying Nosema sporidians in honey bees, and the tests are precise enough to distinguish Nosema apis from N. ceranae. In a survey of bees in northern Mexico, Nosema was found in the vast majority of colonies tested, and most of them were infected with N. apis rather than N. ceranae.
Sergio Arturo Cueto González, Gilberto López Valencia, Carolina Orozco Cabrera, Sergio Daniel Gómez Gómez, Kattya Moreno Torres, Kelvin Orlando Espinoza Blandón, José Guadalupe Guerrero Velázquez, Laura Elena Silva Paz, Enrique Trasviña Muñoz & Francisco Javier Monge Navarro (2020) Prevalence and geographical distribution of Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae in apiaries of Northwest Mexico using a duplex real-time PCR with melting-curve analysis, Journal of Apicultural Research, 59:2, 195-203, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2019.1676999
From abating allergies to dressing wounds, beekeepers have long touted the medical benefits and uses of honey. Compared to most naturally derived animal products, honey is exceptionally safe for use and consumption in its natural state, but it can contain impurities and foreign objects that can degrade its use in medical treatments. Researchers have now defined standards for honey to be used for medical purposes to ensure standardization of quality.
Renée Hermanns, Cristina Mateescu, Andreas Thrasyvoulou, Chrysoula Tananaki, Frank A.D.T.G. Wagener & Niels A.J. Cremers (2020) Defining the standards for medical grade honey, Journal of Apicultural Research,59:2, 125-135, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2019.1693713
Essential oils from plants are secondary metabolites that plants produce either to deter pests or attract beneficial organisms. Some oils are known to have insecticidal/acaricidal properties. Researchers investigated 11 common essential oils for their effects on Varroa mites and honey bees, and they found that Rosewood, Fennel, and, to a lesser degree, mint seem to be are effective on mites and pose minimal risks to honey bees. This has implications for possible use in mite treatments.
Zheguang Lin, Xiaoling Su, Shuai Wang, Ting Ji, Fu-Liang Hu & Huo-Qing Zheng (2020) Fumigant toxicity of eleven Chinese herbal essential oils against an ectoparasitic mite (Varroa destructor) of the honey bee (Apis mellifera), Journal of Apicultural Research, 59:2, 204-210, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2019.1688493
SC Master Beekeeper Program testing, four locations – Nov. 14 – Dec 12, 2020
Spring Meeting of the South Carolina Beekeepers Association – 26,27 Feb, 2021
Location to be announced
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