Back to business
It feels like things are starting to return to some sense of normalcy. My family treated me to a fine Fathers Day dinner this weekend, and, for the first time in forever, not a single person in the restaurant was wearing a mask. Maybe that should be concerning, or maybe it shouldn’t. At least it indicates that the general public is moving past the fear and angst that gripped us this time last year.
As for the Apiculture and Pollinator Program, we are moving on, and nothing says it like running two programs simultaneously. Both programs will include in-person field days for the first time in more than a year (HOORAY!). We are just wrapping-up our lectures for the first in-service beekeeping training for Extension personnel. We have scheduled field days in July to help the agents practice what they have learned thus far. I am super excited about that, because it will be the first time I have seen many of my coworkers and friends face-to-face in more than a year. Hopefully, this training will be the first step in developing agents that more willing to engage their local beekeepers and local associations.
We also are laying the foundation for engaging community volunteers in invertebrate conservation, especially with regard to pollinator protection. With the assistance of Entomology faculty on campus, we are piloting a Basics of Entomology course to introduce Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists to the amazing diversity of arthropods and the techniques for collecting, photographing, and identifying these critical little creatures. The course continues through July and we are scheduling field days for the students. This training will be developed into an online training that will be repeated every year and hopefully help us build a volunteer network to assist with our pollinator conservation projects.
We also are excitedly preparing for the SC Beekeepers Association Summer Conference. In addition to giving a few lectures, the Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program has been tasked with coordinating bee yard activities as part of the summer meeting agenda. We hope that you are planning to attend and will join us in the bee yard. Check the conference website for more details. https://scstatebeekeepers.com/scba-summer-conference-2021
I would love to get back to speaking for local beekeeper associations. I already have a few scheduled for this fall, but there is room for more. We no longer have restrictions on attending meetings, so feel free to reach-out to me. Another important task for this this fall is to begin developing a fact sheet series covering honey bee management topics. These will include 1-2 page quick guides on various apiculture topics such as introducing queens, installing packages, making splits, feeds and feeders, honey house regulations, controlling robbing and much more. There is a lot of material to cover, so we will add to the series as we develop new fact sheets. Also, this fall we will begin preparations for installing the pollinator habitat plots.
If you didn’t hear, IT’S POLLINATOR WEEK! While the uncertainty of COVID restrictions prevented us from coordinating any in-person events this year, we still want you to take part in pollinator conservation. There is great information and fun activities listed on the Pollinator Partnership’s website. You should especially check out the toolkit https://www.pollinator.org/pollinator-week/toolkit. Maybe your business or bee club could host an event this week or at least post some information to your social media pages about the importance of pollinators.
Thanks for tuning-in. I hope to see you at the summer meeting and at your local club meetings this fall.
Mmm, the sweet smell of honey.
Anecdotally speaking, the 2021 spring nectar flow was productive statewide, making for a much better honey crop than last year at this time. Soil moisture was high early in the spring but storms were few and far between which meant plenty of days to forage. Most of the beekeepers that I have asked have reported a much better year compared to last, but they also shared the sentiment that the prolonged dry period that lasted through May made the spring nectar flow taper-off quickly. Personally, my water bills due to irrigation were higher in the last two months than they have been since I moved into this house five years ago. While sunny days are great for foraging behavior, drought reduces the amount of nectar plants can produce over time.
We have now entered into the summer dearth where nectar is in limited supply. This has made finding food difficult, especially for colonies started this spring which have used most of the early nectar to produce wax comb and feed the colony. All of the early season splits and newly installed packages at the Clemson apiaries were running very low on stored nectar/honey, so I have spent much of the last week setting and refilling feeders. The newly installed packages have been consuming close to one gallon of 1:1 sugar syrup each day. One word to the wise, just because the bees are taking the syrup does not mean that you should be continuously feeding them for long periods. Be careful not to have them back-fill the drawn comb with syrup to the extent that there is limited space for egg laying and brood production. Excessive feeding could prompt swarming behavior. This can be a balancing act where the beekeeper wants to stimulate comb production but needs to allow for space for brood production too.
I said it last edition, but I will reiterate it here. This is a critical period for interrupting Varroa mite population growth and the spread of viruses through the colony. I strongly urge every South Carolina beekeeper to conduct mite checks this time of year. There are several methods for doing this. The quickest and most precise method is the ether or alcohol roll. Alternatively, some beekeepers choose to use the powdered sugar roll with the assumption that the bees will not killed in the process. While admirable, the powdered sugar roll often results in mortality of the bees due to suffocation. Either way the rolls or washes can produce relatively quick assessment while in the bee yard. To perform the roll or wash the beekeeper collects approximately 300 bees (100 mL or just shy of ½ cup) and rinses them in the solvent or sugar for at least one minute, dislodging the mites and providing a small sample of the mite population. From these samples we can estimate the mite population in the colony and determine if we need to intervene.
Another method for assessing mite counts is the mite drop method. As mites are dislodged occasionally by bees, a small percentage fall to the hive floor. By collecting these fallen mites on a sticky surface, we can monitor mite loads without opening hives, sacrificing workers or running the risk of damaging the queen. This requires a removable sticky board and a screened bottom board. The major disadvantage of this method is that it does not account for the size of the colony or other conditions that might affect the mite drop rates. There can be high variability among hives due to multiple dynamic factors such as colony size, bee behavior, internal hive environment, etc., so you cannot compare mite drop rates among hives as you can with the wash methods. This is why there is not an established treatment threshold for the mite drop method as has been determined for the wash methods. However, might drop sampling can be used to track each hive’s unique trends, and significant increases in mite drop counts without a significant increase in colony population size can indicate an increasing mite population. The other disadvantage of the mite drop method is that it requires a three-day sampling period, so the results are not instantaneous as with the wash methods.
A method I like to use to monitor mites is examining capped drone brood. Drone brood takes longer to develop (24 days) than other castes in the colony. For this reason, Varroa tend to infest drone larvae at a higher rate. By removing capped drone brood, I can assess the number of developing mites (adults and nymphs) per 10 drone cells. If the number of infested drone cells increases or the number of mites per cell increases, then I know I have an increasing mite population. I have yet to determine a treatment threshold for this method, but I am working on correlating it to the wash methods. The advantage of this method is that I get a very accurate count of all life stages of the mites regardless of the colony size. I also do not run the risk of accidentally running my queen through an alcohol wash. The disadvantage is that I have to open the colony and carefully inspect individual cells for mites which can be a little difficult in the bee yard. I often do this while I am grafting queens and have magnification to help. I often will scrape burr comb containing capped drones to collect my samples and can process them later when I return to the office where I have better light and magnification.
Anyway, the point is this. No matter the size of your operation one hive or one thousand, it behooves you to check your mite loads in at least some portion of the hives in each apiary, preferably every hive if possible. Monitoring mites may seem tedious if you are already planning to treat them, but there is a chance you could avoid having to treat and can save a little money. More importantly, you can truly determine if your investments in time and money controlling mites is having a positive or negative impact on the colony. Treating without monitoring is like hunting without sights. How will you know if you hit your target?
The summer conference put on by the South Carolina Beekeepers Association is an important part of conserving honey bees and the trade of beekeeping in our beautiful state. There are several critical programs that the state beekeepers association provides to beekeepers of the state, but arguably the most important is the summer conference. Drawing speakers from all across the nation and beyond, the summer conference provides a local event where SC beekeepers can learn from and interact with apiculture specialists and talented beekeepers from far and wide. It provides an important way for beekeepers to learn from vendors and innovators of beekeeping equipment. Personally, I benefit most from the fellowship with fellow fans of the honey bee, something that has been incredibly difficult through the past year of COVID restrictions. The summer meeting is a crockpot of innovative beekeeping ideas, and I am thankful that we can again gather, enjoy each other’s company, and share tricks of the trade.
This year’s meeting will be in Charleston at Trident Technical College which provides excellent meeting facilities. The meeting will return to a more familiar and much needed in-person program with a series of lectures from apiculture specialists, a vendors area, a honey competition, and testing for the Master Beekeeper Program. A new addition for this year, the conference will have a bee yard with a series of field demonstrations and lectures hosted by Brad Cavin, the state apiary inspector, and yours truly, along with several knowledgeable beekeepers from the region. There will be a lot of talent at this year’s meeting, and every beekeeper that attends will benefit in ways they might not expect. A small piece of knowledge gained can lead to a revolution in a beekeeper’s operation, and those seemingly inconsequential moments can make the difference between success and failure. I suggest immersing yourselves in the beekeeping knowledge that will be present at this year’s summer meeting.
We are social organisms, and we have much in common with honey bees. We are stronger when we work together, and our productivity is greatly increased when we combine for a common purpose. The summer conference is the venue where we make and renew the relationships that advance our individual operations but also the trade of beekeeping in South Carolina for practitioners at every scale. If you plan to attend, then “Excellent!” I look forward to seeing you there. If you haven’t been in many years or possibly never, then this summer’s meeting will be a good one to attend
Learn more and register at https://scstatebeekeepers.com.
The wood might be sour, but the nectar is OH SO SWEET!
Actually, I have no idea if the wood of the sourwood tree is actually sour. I’ve never chewed it, but I definitely have tasted sourwood honey. In my opinion, it is one of the best honeys in the world.
From what I have read, the “sour” in sourwood actually comes from bitterness in the leaves. A truly North American species, the sourwood tree, Oxydendrum arboretum, is native to Appalachia through the southeast and into deep south. It is a member of the Ericaceae family of plants which are known to be well adapted to acidic, low-fertility soils. Other plants in this family include the familiar blueberries, cranberries, huckleberries, Rhododendrons, and Azaleas as well as many heaths and heathers. The sourwood is the only species in its genus, and the genus is home to North America where it exists on well-drained sloping soils from Pennsylvania to Louisiana. In South Carolina, the sourwood is common on the southern slopes of the piedmont hills and Appalachian Mountains. It does well in droughty, acidic soils that are difficult for other trees to tolerate, and sourwoods can be quite common in the right conditions. It often is found in association with oak/hickory forests, where it exists as a mid-story tree growing to about 30 feet tall.
The sourwood is a fairly inconspicuous tree most of the year. It has a rather generically shaped elliptical leaf, and the fruits are small blue-black berries that mature late in the season just before the first frosts. It’s bark and its fall leaf color are the key features I look for when searching for sourwood. As sourwoods age they develop a distinctly dark bark that is thick and cork-like with very deep ridges running up and down the trunk. Also, sourwood is one of the first trees to change color in the fall, and it is usually a vibrant red that stands out against most other trees in the forest. The flowers are unique too. They look like strands of pale white bells extending out from branch tips. Once you get the search image for sourwood, you will find that it is pretty easy to recognize.
For southern beekeepers, the sourwood has earned a reputation as one of the most important honey plants. It produces a light, fragrant honey that is well recognized by consumers. It can be collected as essentially a monocultural honey, because it blooms after most spring nectar sources have finished (June-July), and many migratory beekeepers move to the piedmont and foothills this time of year to capture the flow.
Thankfully, sourwood is still fairly common in the Carolina’s, but rapid development in the upstate especially along the I-85 corridor may eventually impact the sourwood crop, at least locally. Because sourwood is not considered a highly desirable landscape or shade tree, it is not usually available at most garden centers, which makes preserving wild stands of sourwood even more important. Sourwood trees are available at some of the larger nurseries in the southeast, so you may be able to order them online or get your garden center to order them. Perhaps your county horticulture extension agent could point you to garden centers that carry this unique and special tree.
Microbe wars, the battle between “good” and “evil” being waged inside the gut of a honey bee. Nope, I’m not talking about this summer’s blockbuster Marvel Comics movie. Researchers have determined a unique lineage of enterococcus bacteria that appears to have probiotic properties and inhibits Paenibacillus larvae, the causative agent of American Foul Brood.
Gyurova, A., A. Vladimirova, S. Peykov, M. Dimitrov, T. Strateva & S. G. Dimov (2021) Characterization of Enterococcus duransEDD2, a strain from beehives with inhibitory activity against Paenibacillus larvae,Journal of Apicultural Research, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2021.1936915
One of the most thorough literature reviews I have read yet on Melissococcus plutonius, the causative agent of European Foul Brood.
Ponce de León-Door, A., Pérez-Ordóñez, G., Romo-Chacón, A., Rios-Velasco, C., Órnelas-Paz, J.,D.J., Zamudio-Flores, P., & Acosta-Muñiz, C.,H. (2020). Pathogenesis, epidemiology and variants of 0RW1S34RfeSDcfkexd09rT2melissococcus plutonius1RW1S34RfeSDcfkexd09rT2 (0RW1S34RfeSDcfkexd09rT2ex1RW1S34RfeSDcfkexd09rT2 white), the causal agent of european foulbrood. Journal of Apicultural Science, 64(2), 173-188. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.clemson.edu/10.2478/jas-2020-0030
Tooting, quacking, piping… what is she trying to say? Here is a good review of studies that investigated queen piping and the differences that occur between Apis mellifera and A. ceranae.
Yamamoto, T., Sugahara, M., Okada, R. et al. Differences between queen piping temporal structures of two honeybee species, Apis cerana and Apis mellifera. Apidologie 52, 524–534 (2021). https://doi-org.libproxy.clemson.edu/10.1007/s13592-021-00840-2
POLLINATOR WEEK!!! – June 21-27, 2021
South Carolina Beekeepers Association Summer Meeting – 22-24 July. 2021 – REGISTER NOW!
Eastern Apiculture Society Annual Conference 11-13 Aug. 2021
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