HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! WELCOME TO 2021!
A lot has changed, and even more hasn’t.
Who would have thought that we would be entering our twelfth month of modified programming and restrictions on in-person trainings? Yet, here we are, entering February and the dark cloud of COVID-19 still looms. Many of the conversations I have had with beekeepers over the holidays have been about the growing frustration with our current situation. Trust me when I say that I want to return to more traditional trainings and extension style programs. I believe that everyone learns better when they can interact directly with teachers, and teachers teach better when they can sense the needs and intentions of their students. So much can be shared and learned in the interstitial moments between lectures when time spent around the coffee pot leads to open and free discussion, and this is a form of education that virtual programming will never be able to duplicate. I also am a firm believer that hands-on education is critical to gaining confidence and comfort when working in and around bees.
I also urge beekeepers to remain patient and considerate of the impacts this virus is having on people. As I write this, I am putting on a tie to attend the funeral of a friend and fellow church member whose teenage daughters were in the youth group a helped lead. At just over 50 years old and without any underlying medical conditions, he succumbed to COVID-19 over the weekend. He is a well-respected member of our community and has served on the school board for many years. His passing is an immediate reminder that this virus is affecting all of us in different ways, some more dramatically than others. We will return to more traditional extension trainings as soon as we are allowed to do so, and I am making preparations for re-instating those trainings. That being said, Extension Administration has placed a three-month continuance on the current modified operating procedures in response to rising COVID-19 cases statewide and to allow time for the vaccine roll-out. It will be summertime before we can assess our situation and revisit plans for in-person trainings. Hopefully, the demonstration apiaries that I will be installing in Florence and Georgetown this spring will be accessible later this summer.
Beekeeper education marches on despite the modified operations. As mentioned, I am installing apiaries at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center which is one of Clemson’s premier agricultural research facilities. I also will be moving many of my personal hives to the Baruch Institute for Coastal Ecology and Forest Science at Hobcaw Barony in Georgetown where I can observe the effects of keeping bees at the immediate coast and compare the impacts of agricultural versus forested land uses on colonies. I also have plans to install pollinator habitat test plots this season at both Pee Dee REC and Baruch.
I have had the pleasure of speaking with several local associations recently and have plans to virtually visit several more over the next few months. An open invitation stands for any clubs or associations looking for a speaker. I can host a virtual meeting, or I can stream-in live if you have an internet connection and A/V equipment at your meeting place. I continue to work with the SC Master Beekeeping Program to assess needs and plan future trainings. The great news is that we are aware that several clubs have proceeded with beginner courses which are already underway or soon to begin. If you are seeking a beginner course, please check the SC MBP website (https://scstatebeekeepers.com/master-beekeeper-program/) for a list of locations.
The Spring meeting of the South Carolina Beekeepers Association is set for launch, but it will be virtual this year. Mark your calendars for February 27th, and visit the Association’s website to register. (https://scstatebeekeepers.com) Clemson is proud to help sponsor and facilitate the meeting by providing technical support and hosting the virtual meeting for the Association this year. The agenda features a number of excellent speakers including Dr. David Tarpy of NC State University, Dr. Jeff Harris of Mississippi State University, Dr. Juang Chong of Clemson University, David MacFawn and yours truly. I am excited to be returning to the state association meeting format, and I am sure that anyone willing to try this virtual meeting will be more than pleased with it (even if it doesn’t allow us a lot of time to mull around the coffee pots). Please consider joining the state association and attending this meeting. You will not be disappointed!
Last, let me extend a huge THANK YOU to all of you subscribed to this newsletter and supporting the Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program. This first year of the program has proved to be extremely challenging with the advent of the pandemic. Your encouragement through this process has been very helpful. Cheers to 2021! I look forward to seeing you at future trainings.
Do I have to go out?
Brrr! My 80 lb Labrador (Pepper) was sitting at the back door in her customary fashion to tell me that she needed to “powder her nose,” so I obliged and opened the door for her. She took one step and stopped, raised her head, and gave me a look that said “I don’t want to go out there; it’s too cold and wet.” I encouraged her on, so she quickly trotted to the edge of the patio, took one step into the grass, and did her business. She then ran quickly back into house. I must say that I don’t blame her. It was about 20 degrees F that night.
We are in the depths of winter now. Honey bees are hemmed-up in their hives, clustered tightly most nights, and they typically only emerge to take cleansing flights. Days with temperatures exceeding 55 degrees F are few and far between and conditions have been mostly overcast or rainy, so very little foraging is occurring. On those rare days that temperatures rise to allow for extended flight, some foraging will occur, but it is typically limited to finding water and pollen. This means that colonies are living almost entirely off of the provisions they have stored in their combs. This makes for a tenuous situation because strong colonies also will be increasing their workforce rapidly this month and next, which means more mouths to feed and more heat to generate. The amount of stored honey declines as the number of bees increases and the prospect of starvation becomes ever more pressing as we enter February and peaks in March. While there may not be much for a beekeeper to do in the hives this month, it is important to be checking the weight of each colony to determine the consumption of stored honey. Although borrowed from the UK, the following graph posted by Arnia Remote Hive Monitoring gives a general indication of hive weight change entering March here in South Carolina. Notice the decline in weight in the weeks leading up to the spring nectar flow when the colony begins adding weight due to incoming nectar.
Another interesting point to make about this graph is that a brief decline in weight occurs following a rain event on March 24th even though the nectar flow begins around March 18th.
Arnia Remote Hive Monitoring https://www.arnia.co.uk/monitoring-early-season-bee-activity-and-the-first-nectar-flow/
Many of you may harken back to the spring of 2020 when South Carolina experienced two tropical storms in May that created a period of two weeks of rainy overcast conditions statewide that interrupted the spring nectar flow. The effect it had on last year’s honey harvest was significant. Such conditions can seal the fate of a colony that is on the brink of starvation. That is why now is an important time to ensure that your bees have adequate honey or sugar feed and pollen to persist until the nectar flow begins, which in the lower half of the state typically commences by the end of March and in the upstate begins in April.
If you choose to feed this time of year, it is best to consider dry sugar feeds or fondant. Even 2:1 sugar syrup requires drying and can increase moisture levels in the hive and increase metabolic demand needed for drying. Another option is to buy or make pollen patties which can supply both the sugar and pollen needed to sustain bees this time of year. Our colleagues over at Carolina Honey Bees have a succinct article that provides insights into making and feeding pollen patties this time of year. Check it out here https://carolinahoneybees.com/pollen-patties-for-bees/. Please remember, no endorsement is intended by the mention of vendors or products named in the article.
A few pollen sources will be available this month, most of which are winter annuals such as henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) which has a distinctly pink pollen and dandelions (Taraxacum spp.) with their vibrant yellow pollen. You also may notice the red maples (Acer rubrum) blooming this month and bees bringing in a pale brown or khaki-colored pollen. Often times we miss the red maple bloom because the flowers are so small and inconspicuous, and we don’t notice them until the bright red seed pods begin to form, turning the trees red while most other trees remain dormant. Once we progress into March, many more forages will begin to bloom.
Now is the time to be making your swarm preparations, whether they be building and placing swarm traps or taking preventative measures to discourage swarming. Strong colonies coming through the winter will be increasing brood production and space will become limited as the brood area grows. Towards the end of February, brood production will accelerate and will likely fill the top box in two box hives. Switching the empty lower box with the filled upper box will provide more space for brood production and storage above the brood area. For single box hives or hives where both boxes are being filled, it will be important to begin adding supers this month. When doing this be careful not to separate the brood area from food stores. Honey and pollen need to be immediately available to the cluster, especially on cold nights when the cluster remains tight around the brood area. Most days in February will be too cold to enter hives, but if daytime temperatures rise into the 60s, then you may want to lift boxes and check for swarm cells along the bottom edge of the frames. For more details on swarms and their prevention, take a look at the University of Florida’s fact sheet.
Keeping honey bees in developed areas
According to the most recent census, South Carolina is the 6th fastest growing state in the nation based on population, and most of us can attest to that fact. Areas such as Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, Florence, and Myrtle Beach have experienced a significant increase in development and population growth over the last couple decades. Add COVID-19 and a tenuous political climate in many large cities, and the rate at which people are moving to South Carolina has accelerated dramatically. South Carolina currently is home to more than 5 million residents, up more than 500,000 from the 2010 census, which is an 11.3% population increase, a much faster growth rate than the 8.5% increase originally projected (US Census Bureau).
The massive influx of people is changing the landscape. Areas that were rural farm and forestland are being converted to housing developments, and almost every county in the state is experiencing growth (figure 3). This is creating land use challenges for county and municipal governments as they seek methods to manage this growth. Some land uses are in conflict with each other such as residential and industrial land uses or agricultural and urban land uses. For this reason, most counties and municipalities develop zoning ordinances, which establish a system for the local government to control where certain land uses occur in order to minimize conflicts and organize infrastructure. Only a few counties in South Carolina are without zoning ordinances at this point, and a few of these are in the process of developing them.
Zoning ordinances are interesting things. Essentially, they provide a method for the local government to organize what goes where in their jurisdiction. Without them, development proceeds without organization, and the result could be that a paper plant gets constructed upwind of a historically residential neighborhood or a confined animal feed lot opens-up next to outdoor restaurants. To provide organization, zoning ordinances establish categories for the various types of privately-owned parcels. These categories usually include designations for forest and agricultural land, variously sized residential properties, commercial lots, industrial spaces and municipal facilities often with various subcategories for each parcel type. The ordinance goes further to describe what land uses are permitted or prohibited in each category. For example, forest and agriculture lots are the least restricted and allow the property to be used for a wide range of uses. Residential zones have more restrictions to limit nuisance conditions that affect property values and quality of life, such as activities that are noisy, smelly, potential health threats, contribute to traffic or require special infrastructure. Commercial and industrial zones have the most restrictions because of the impacts on traffic, living conditions, and infrastructure needs.
Zoning ordinances are not static, and the planning process is on-going. They allow for constant amendment and updating to adapt to changing needs of the community. In most cases, the zoning ordinance establishes a planning department which is a municipal division that manages permitting and enforcement. The ordinance also establishes a planning commission which is a panel of community members and elected officials which review rezoning requests and provide recommendations to the city or county council for amendments to the ordinance which may either tighten or loosen restrictions in a particular category. In some cases, the planning commission is a cooperative among two or more municipalities such as a county, a township and/or a city with overlapping interests. Anyone that is interested in understanding the zoning process and how planning and zoning ordinances are developed in South Carolina should review the Guide to Land Use Planning for South Carolina developed by the SC Association of Counties. It is the document local governments use when developing and implementing zoning ordinances.
While the instatement of a zoning ordinance may seem to be a method for a local government to increase restrictions on residents, a case can also be made that a well-developed and implemented zoning ordinance can preserve the character of a community and the activities it traditionally values by codifying certain activities. Hilton Head is a good example because they used their ordinances to keep trees and set commercial business back to maintain the “natural forested” character of the island. Likewise, Charleston has instated strict ordinances in downtown to maintain the historic nature of the city. Still other communities value their agricultural heritage and have ordinances to preserve those activities in or near town.
Urban agriculture is receiving renewed interest in cities worldwide. Over recent decades there has developed growing interest in bringing agriculture back into urban settings, especially in large cities where the average citizen has very little direct contact with the practice of agriculture or the producers of their food and fiber. Years of restrictive zoning ordinances have slowly pushed agriculture out of residential and urban communities. As a result, many urban communities have lost their character and identity, and city residents are unaware of how their food is grown or processed. Constituents are seeking ways to reconnect people with the land and the growers who work it, so cities and counties across the nation are rewriting current zoning ordinances to allow for some agricultural practices in residential and urban zones, including apiculture, which is a largely agreeable practice with limited off-site impacts.
So where does beekeeping fall in the zoning ordinance discussion? Well, apiculture is definitely an agricultural land use, and it most closely resembles livestock uses because honey bees are animals kept in a managed enclosure for the production of food. As with any livestock operation there are potential off-site impacts. With livestock operations there are smells, noises, pest insects, and run-off issues that can affect neighboring properties, so typically livestock uses are prohibited in residential and commercial zones. While beekeeping is a livestock activity, the offsite impacts of beekeeping are not nearly as severe. Of course, there is the potential for a neighbor to be stung, but this potential also exists from a variety of wild insects such as wasps, yellowjackets, and ants that frequent residential yards. The big concern with honey bees is the potential for the colony to be disturbed which elicits a defense response that results in multiple stings to a neighbor or their pet. For this reason, beekeeping is often prohibited in residential zones with some allowances for larger lots that allow sufficient distance from the neighbor to buffer from a defensive colony.
Because the offsite impacts of honey bees are not as severe as other livestock and the pollination they provide is beneficial to residential gardens and ornamental landscapes, many communities choose to allow beekeeping in residential zones with specific parameters to minimize the potential for conflicts between neighbors. The municipalities that have developed honey bee ordinances usually 1) restrict the number colonies that can be kept on small residential lots, 2) define setbacks or placement to allow for enough distance between neighbors, 3) require fencing or some form of barrier that separates the colony from neighbors and forces bees to fly above human pathways, and 4) require water to be provided on-site to discourage bees from visiting the neighbors’ pools or bird baths. Each community approaches this differently, ranging from complete prohibition of honey bees in residential zones to almost complete allowance of the practice, but most communities fall somewhere in between the two, usually placing restrictions on beekeeping activities especially on smaller lot sizes.
The question then is, “How can beekeepers work with planning officials to preserve beekeeping in as many areas as feasible?” Having worked with officials and municipal staff on a variety of projects, I can tell you the first and most important thing is to begin your conversation with mutual respect and understanding. Planning officials are bombarded with requests from their entire constituency, each person having their own personal interests in mind. Planning staff and commission have the daunting task of balancing conflicting interests for the mutual benefit of the entire community, often with limited knowledge of the activities in question. Next, it is best to inform planning staff and elected officials of how beekeeping is “of mutual benefit to the entire community” and that any perceived problems are 1) minimal and 2) manageable. It is good to provide model ordinances adopted by other communities to allow beekeeping in more heavily developed areas. Several state beekeeping associations have developed model ordinances, of which Ohio and Pennsylvania come to mind, and several cities have adopted apiculture language into their ordinances including New York City and Boston. It is also important to know that zoning ordinances always contain language to allow for exceptions. There are typically special use permits or exemptions that can be issued to a property regardless of its zone. These special use permits allow for land uses not explicitly allowed in the zoning ordinance, which provides officials some flexibility on a case-by-case scenario. This is often how they “grandfather-in” existing activities that otherwise would be prohibited when zoning changes, and this is how some urban agricultural operations have moved back into developed areas. Last, it is important for local and state beekeepers associations to show municipalities that beekeepers take care of their own. Adopting urban beekeeping “best practices,” providing beekeeper trainings and certification, developing mentoring/apprenticeship programs and following state laws pertaining to honey bees are all critical for showing the municipality in good faith that professional development and self-policing are part of the local beekeeper culture. Poor beekeeping practices by a single beekeeper can harm other bee colonies in the area, and local associations are in place to help improve communication among and training for beekeepers in the area. This is a system of cooperation and professional development that few other agricultural practices have developed.
Last and something we as beekeepers often don’t want to admit, sometimes it is not best for the bees to keep them in our own backyards. Have you thought about what forages are available to bees in dense residential and urban settings? How much “dumpster diving” will your bees be doing? What toxins, pathogens, pesticides are distributed across urban landscapes? How many other bee colonies are nearby creating competition or pest pressure on your bees? What about the potential for theft or vandalism? Sure, backyard beekeeping is convenient and saves time and gas money, but is it best for the bees? As your community develops and increases in density, perhaps the best thing for the bees is to move them to a more suitable location for their needs. Finding rural landowners willing to allow you to keep bees on their properties can be difficult, but they do exist. Many counties have farmer or landowner associations with members that may be open to allowing you to keep bees on their land. Perhaps joining the landowner association will help you develop contacts. Also, most counties have foresters or forestry firms that are managing large tracts of forest and farmland. You also can consult with your county’s USDA and Clemson Extension offices to link-up with growers or landowners, and you might find a grower in need of pollination services. There are also the civic clubs like Kiwanis and Rotary which have members that own rural land. Giving a presentation on beekeeping may help you develop a mutually beneficial relationship with a rural landowner. Also, engaging schools and youth groups like Future Farmers of America, 4H, and Boy/Girl Scouts will help you develop landowner relationships. Another idea is to do something like the Charleston Community Bee Gardens, a place like a community garden where city dwellers can collectively keep bees.
The good news about development in SC is that the expanding urban-rural interface provides an opportunity to introduce people to the importance of agriculture especially the practice of keeping bees and pollinator conservation. Of course, development strains natural resources, and unmanaged growth can cause long term problems both for the developing community and the natural resources that define it. While zoning and planning seams to be an imposing force, try to imagine what your community will look like in 20 years without it. In the planning process, silence is perceived as approval, and this is why beekeepers and other agricultural producers should remain engaged and not simply retreat as cities expand.
Monarchs, an American Icon
Its name means “the lone ruler,” and it is as recognizable to most Americans as just about any other insect species. The Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, has large brightly colored wings that make it easy to spot, and it is a keystone for biological sciences. Most people that grow up in the U.S. are introduced to it in school as an example of insect metamorphosis, mimicry, ecology and evolution. It is widespread, calling southern Canada and the contiguous 48 states its home, and it migrates each year over vast distances south to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico and to Southern California. This migratory nature makes it unique among insects and highly visible throughout the nation. While the U.S. has not designated a national insect, I would argue that no insect is more deserving of such a distinction as the Monarch butterfly.
The future of Monarchs is in question. As with other native pollinators, the abundance and distribution of monarchs has declined over several decades. MonarchWatch.org reports significant declines in the number of butterflies overwintering in Mexico, and the Xerces Society reports an even more dramatic decline of western Monarchs overwintering in California. The most startling report came this past winter when the Xerces Annual Thanksgiving Monarch Count reported fewer than 2,000 monarchs overwintering in their normal wintering grounds in southern California, a dramatic 99.9% decline from the original population counts back in the 1980s. It is suspected that the western monarch population is on the brink of collapse.
The alarming decline of Monarchs has served as a catalyst for a number of conservation efforts. Local programs in California, state and federal agency programs, and several conservation organizations are working to restore habitat for these iconic insects. A simple internet search turns up a wealth of information for anyone interested in preserving this species. People can get involved with monitoring programs, milkweed restoration projects, and other community initiatives to create and preserve the habitat this species needs to thrive. Both the Xerces Society and the Pollinator Partnership have developed guides and programs for citizens to use in their monarch conservation efforts. Also, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and non-governmental groups such as the Monarch Joint Venture offer a wealth of information and ways to get involved at every level from in your own backyard to your community or national projects such as the MonarchWatch tagging program. I would love to discuss what citizens can do to help Monarchs, but I have limited space here, and most of that is covered in better detail by the various conservation programs I’ve listed. I strongly urge everyone reading this letter to visit these sites and learn about the plight of the Monarch. Of course, anyone that is looking for information about what we can do in South Carolina to help Monarchs is encouraged to contact me or any of our capable extension horticulture agents across the state.
Last year, the USFWS was asked to review Monarchs for listing as an endangered species. In December 2020 they denied that request stating that the eastern populations, while declining, are not yet close to collapse, but USFWS stated it will continue to monitor the population trends and may reconsider in the future. While this may seem disconcerting to the various conservation programs that have been advocating for more protections, it shows that the agency acknowledges the situation and is paying attention. Personally, I think the federal government should consider adopting the Monarch as the national insect just as it did with the Bald Eagle. This would instate protections regardless of its population trends and hopefully would preserve this iconic species for generations to come.
There is some possible good news for Monarchs. Although the general population trend is in decline, the lowest overwintering numbers for the eastern monarchs occurred in 2014-2015. Since then there have been slight increases in the population counts, but it is too early to say with statistical confidence that the population is rebounding. At least anecdotally, the attention Monarchs have received and the conservation efforts underway may have changed the downward trajectory. Only time will tell.
There has been a lot of concern internationally about the adulteration of honey with inferior sugars and the effects it has on honey quality and markets, but are you aware that adulteration of beeswax also occurs? Any beekeeper that has rendered and processed beeswax understands the value of beeswax in its raw form and the amount of effort required to make it marketable, so adulteration of beeswax has the potential to undermine the value of true pure beeswax. Researchers in Prague, Czech Republic, developed a method using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify beeswax that has been adulterated with paraffin with very high confidence. They also looked at chemical changes that occur in beeswax during the repeated heating and cooling cycles typical for rendering and purifying beeswax and determined that the process does not reduce quality of beeswax.
Alexandra Špaldoňová, Martina Havelcová, Ladislav Lapčák, Vladimír Machovič & Dalibor Titěra (2021) Analysis of beeswax adulteration with paraffin using GC/MS, FTIR-ATR and Raman spectroscopy, Journal of Apicultural Research, 60:1, 73-83, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2020.1774152
There are limited options for controlling American Foulbrood and European Foulbrood. Korean researchers investigated several naturally derived compounds derived from common plants in east Asia to determine their antimicrobial activity on Paenibacillus larvae (AFB) and Melissococcus plutonius (EFB) and discovered four compounds that produced promising results. These compounds have not been tested around honey bees, but they might serve as novel, naturally-derived treatments for foulbroods.
Sangchul Park, JaeGoo Kim, Yu-Kyong Shin & Ki-Young Kim (2021) Antimicrobial activity of 4-hydroxyderricin, sophoraflavanone G, acetylshikonin, and kurarinone against the bee pathogenic bacteria Paenibacillus larvaeand Melissococcus plutonius, Journal of Apicultural Research, 60:1, 118-122, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2020.1746018
It is generally accepted that providing protein feeds helps with worker development in honey bees, but is more protein better? Brazilian investigators tested feeds with varying protein contents and measured the development of mandibular glands in worker honey bees. Through regression, they determined that feeds with higher protein content did not result in maximum development of mandibular glands, rather that 22.5% crude protein is ideal for maximum mandibular gland development.
Marcelo P Camilli, Daniel C B de Barros, Luis A Justulin, Marcos L P Tse & Ricardo de Oliveira Orsi (2021) Protein feed stimulates the development of mandibular glands of honey bees (Apis mellifera), Journal of Apicultural Research, 60:1, 165-171, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2020.1778922
South Carolina Beekeepers Association Spring Meeting (Virtual) – 27 Feb. 2021 – REGISTER NOW!
Eastern Apiculture Society Annual Conference 11-13 Aug. 2021 https://www.easternapiculture.org
The Wild World of Bees – lecture series on native bees hosted by Oregon State Extension https://extension.oregonstate.edu/bee-atlas/wild-world-bees
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