Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and our plate is full!
There are so many good things happening with beekeeping in South Carolina, and we are blessed to be a part of it. Here are a few things we are trying to accomplish over the next few months.
We are pleased to help the SC Master Beekeeper Program revise the certified level training. We are rethinking how this course is taught and the organization of the curriculum. The intent is to place more emphasis on basic honey bee biology so that new beekeepers can learn to read their bees better and infer management. We also want to place more emphasis on varroa mites and managing Parasitic Mite Syndrome. We want to emphasize the pests and diseases that need immediate attention for beginning beekeepers in their first few years, rather than covering all of the pests, diseases, and maladies that beekeepers may encounter. We will reserve the more comprehensive discussion of pests and diseases to the journeyman course. The new training materials should be available after the new year. Also, the SC MBP is arranging for testing to be available online to make the certification process much easier for local beekeeper associations and SC Beekeepers Association members.
We installed the pollinator habitat test plots at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence and are monitoring germination. Some timely rain and mild temperatures have helped. We look forward to next spring when we can begin field demonstrations.
We are lining up speakers for the spring meeting of the SCBA. The theme will be “From Flower to Fair” and talks will focus on nutrition as speakers cover topics related to planting forages for bees, understanding honey bee nutrition, and ensuring high quality hive products for the consumer. Our keynote speakers will be Dr. Juliana Rangel from Texas A&M University, who is a respected researcher that investigates honey bee nutrition, and Dr. Wyatt Mangum, who is an author well known for his experience with top bar hives. We are also looking for SC beekeepers to present at the meeting. While our primary focus is on honey bee forages, nutrition, and products, we always welcome speakers to share information about management, pests/diseases, tools and equipment. If you are interested in speaking at the spring meeting, please contact Ben Powell (BPOWEL2@Clemson.edu). Consider this a “call for proposals” for presentations at the spring meeting.
Who is ready for some field days in the spring of 2022? Using the apiaries in Clemson, Florence, and Charleston, we hope to offer informal trainings for aspiring beekeepers. Come shadow experienced beekeepers as they work colonies, and get your hands sticky too! Be on the look-out for the announcement for the field day closest to you.
Have you heard about the Clemson Honey Bee Forage Phenology Project? Well, if not, here is a brief description. One of the most common topics of discussion among beekeepers is “what is blooming” and “what is different this year from in the past.” Understandably, this is a very important topic, because it directly affects bee behavior and health and determines productivity of a beekeeping operation. The challenge is that bloom cycles are affected by so many variables. The weather, local climates, development, changes in land uses, and an array of other factors influence what is blooming and when it blooms. The good news is that modern technology offers beekeepers a way to capture real data about bloom cycles of important honey bee forages. We have developed a project through iNaturalist which will provide a central place for SC Beekeepers to submit pictures of flowering plants. The magic of iNaturalist is that beekeepers do not have to know what plant they are photographing. The application will suggest an identification for each flower captured, and it captures the date and location as well. If enough beekeepers are photographing flowers across the state, then we will be able to track in real time what plants are blooming in each region of the state. Plus, we can compare it to bloom cycles from previous years to determine how climate and land uses might be affecting flower phenology of important honey bee forage plants. Beekeepers that are interested in submitting photos should contact Ben Powell (BPOWEL2@Clemson.edu). A training for interested participants will occur in December.
We at the Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program are excited and eager to assist beekeepers in South Carolina. We hope that these projects will help beekeepers improve and advance beekeeping statewide. Of course, your input is always welcome, so please do not hesitate to contact me with suggestions or questions, especially if there is something that you think needs to be in the newsletter.
Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking…
Does anyone else feel like summer was just too short? Nevertheless, here we are knocking on winter’s door, the time of year when I am most nervous. Are my colonies strong enough to last the coming winter? Have I combined all of the weaker colonies to give them a better chance of overwintering? Have I done what is necessary to control varroa mites and parasitic mite syndrome? Do the colonies have enough food? Have I done everything I can to prevent robbing? Have I replaced the weak or older queens so that they will build quickly in the spring before new queens are available? What about black bears??? Preparing for winter often puts me on edge.
Most colonies across the state have settled into their typical winter pattern. Brood rearing has slowed considerably. The strongest hives in the Clemson demonstration apiaries have reduced the brood area down to just a few frames. The queens continue to lay, but they are mainly backfilling their brood areas and not expanding. Foragers continue to bring pollen into the hives, but there does not appear to be anymore increase in honey stores. Some areas in the upstate have experienced frost already, but we are running behind schedule for our first frost in the coastal plain. It looks as though next week (Nov 14-21) will have night temperatures in the 30’s, so any remaining nectar sources are likely to come to a halt.
This is an important time to check food stores and to consider feeding colonies that are light. Question is “how much honey or syrup does a colony need going into winter.” Well, the answer is not straight-forward. It depends on the size of the colony, the amount of brood production, conditions in the apiary, weather, and availability of winter forages. Some colonies will consume their winter stores faster than others, so there is no standard weight or volume of honey to ensure all colonies are well fed. Rather, the beekeeper should practice the art of “hefting,” which is simply judging the relative weight of a colony by tipping it and feeling how difficult it is to lift. Because hefting is a subjective measurement, it can be wrought with errors, but a skilled beekeeper can judge the relative weights of colonies and determine which are lightest. Using this pre-screening method, the beekeeper knows which colonies to investigate for food stores rather than opening all the hives in the apiary and inviting robbing. There is a way to make hefting more objective and give the beekeeper a method for monitoring colonies through the season. That is to use a scale to measure weight. There are specialty scales that can be placed under Langstroth hives, but these scales are expensive (approx. $200). Another option is to use a handheld luggage or fish scale which usually cost less than $50 and can be simply hooked under one end of the hive to measure the weight when hefting. The major advantage of using a scale is that it quantifies the weight and gives you a number that you can use to compare among hives and to monitor weight change of a single hive through the winter. Through good record keeping, a beekeeper can track food consumption and feeding needs through the winter without opening the colony.
The logical next question is “what should you feed.” Well, in South Carolina, we never freeze deeply enough to preclude the use of syrup. While it is often recommended to increase the syrup concentration to 2:1 (sugar:water), bees will make good use of 1:1 syrup. The major disadvantages of 1:1 syrup are that it takes twice as much volume to feed the same amount of carbohydrates as 2:1 and the increase of moisture in the colonies could lead to increased condensation inside the hive body. One good advantage of feeding syrup is that bees will relocate it into cells above the brood area where it helps moderate temperature fluctuations in the hive. Bees also will consume dry sugar, fondant or candy in the winter months. This provides the most concentrated source of carbohydrates and is very simple to feed to bees. Bees must acquire water to reconstitute dry sugar feeds, and the beekeeper must install a shim or board above the brood area to accommodate the feed. A problem that both syrups and dry sugar feeds have is that they do not provide the full array of nutrients that bees get from natural nectar sources. For this reason, beekeepers might consider adding nutrient supplements to winter feeds. If you want to learn more about the nutrients and supplements, I strongly encourage you to attend the spring meeting of the SC Beekeepers Association. This is one of the primary topics to be discussed.
Last, how should you feed bees in winter? Most importantly, bees should not be fed openly this time of year (or anytime in my humble opinion) because it invites pests, incites robbing, and is only accessible on warmer days. Sugar-based feeds should be applied directly to the hives needing to be fed. Dry feeds are pretty simple. They can be placed on parchment paper above the brood area frames, in candy boards, or on top of inner covers. Syrups require a little more thought. External feeders such as boardman or pail feeders are exposed to the environment outside of the hive and can fluctuate in temperature or even freeze. If the syrup gets very cold, the bees will not consume it. If a beekeeper chooses to use a pail feeder, they can protect it from the elements using an empty hive body. A better feeder is the top feeder which fits like a super on top of the hive. This feeder type is exposed to the heat generated by the bees and can moderate temperature fluctuations in the hive, but bees have to leave the confines of the winter cluster to access the feed. In South Carolina, that is not as big of a challenge as in more northern climates. Last, and arguably the best winter feeder is the division board feeder. This feeder is placed into the brood box in the place of a couple of frames making it protected from the elements where it is easily accessible to the winter cluster and where it receives some heat generated by the bees. The only disadvantage is that the hive must be opened to fill the feeder. Simply minimize disturbance and chilling by sliding the lid or super over enough to access the feeder without completely opening the hive.
Of course, this section would not be complete if I did not discuss pests. I promised to be concise at the beginning of the newsletter, so I will attempt to cover winter pest issues here briefly. First, and most important, you should have been controlling Varroa mites in the lead up to the winter to ensure your winter bees are robust and prepared to face the stresses of winter. However, there is a chance that mite loads remain elevated. If that is the case, then now is the time to do something about it. Mite control now will result in productive colonies in the spring. The good news is that the reduction of brood production and cooler temperatures means that almost all of the Varroa treatment options will work well, most notable is oxalic acid. The “dribble” method of applying oxalic acid works especially well this time of year. Without going into too much detail, I will direct you to a website hosted by BetterBee that discusses how to mix and apply oxalic acid via the dribble method (https://www.betterbee.com/instructions-and-resources/how-to-do-an-oxalic-acid-dribble-treatment.asp). Another aggravating pest is the small hive beetle. Adult SHBs will reside in the winter cluster with the bees only venturing out to feed on bee bread on warmer days. This makes them more difficult to trap in winter months. One thing that you can do is to treat the soil for SHB larvae and pupae, especially under hives that were infested earlier in the year. GuardStar is the only product labelled for controlling hive beetles in the soil under bee hives. Last, this is the time of year when mice are most likely to enter bee colonies. Reducing the entrance to the smallest notch, usually takes care of that problem.
Although I would like to move-on, we really need to discuss off-season tasks this year. If you have not already looked at product costs, you are likely in for some sticker shock. Last year a case of 5 unassembled deep boxes cost me $78.75. That same product this year will cost $124.75. If I am doing my math correctly, that is a 58.4% increase in price from just one year ago. Thankfully the supplier is running a sale in the lead up to black Friday with the amazing deal (sense my sarcasm?) of $111.03, which is still a 41% increase over last year’s price. While this is disturbing enough, the problem is that there appears to be no end in sight for the increases in costs. Inflation coupled with supply chain problems due to COVID-19 restrictions has created a severe increase in material costs. My point is that you probably should not hold off for prices to decline because they probably never will, or, if they do, it will not be until well after you need it for next year’s season. And…, I will just stop right there before I say something that I likely will regret.
Not like any social I’ve ever attended!
It is very easy to get upset with social media. I do it on a daily basis. It seems there are no limits to people’s willingness to show the world how little they know and how hateful they can be. My father once taught me an adage about opinions… something about how everybody’s got one and how most of them stink. It truly seems like courtesy and respect are largely non-existent in people’s interactions online, and that is unfortunate, because social media has tremendous influence over our daily lives.
That being said, there is good in this world, even online, especially among the beekeeping community. There is tremendous potential for learning, sharing, improving, and solving problems using social media platforms. To think, with a click of a button or tap of your screen, you can learn a beekeeping technique from someone half-way around the world or interact directly with a university conducting bee research and extension, something that was only possible through periodic journals or conferences just 20 years ago. The world is at our fingertips in real time, and it is up to us to determine how we use it. Dad also taught me another bit of wisdom when I was younger, and that is “you are what you gaze upon.” You will become that which you seek. The question is, “what do you seek when using social media?”
I am quite impressed with the impact that South Carolina beekeepers are having through their social media platforms. The state and almost every local beekeeper association has a social media account to interact with membership and the public, reaching thousands of current and would-be beekeepers. In fact, Facebook is becoming the primary way the public engages beekeepers for swarm removals, honey bee products, and questions about stinging insects. Hardly a day passes without someone engaging our program through our Facebook page. Some of the social media accounts set-up by SC beekeepers have become very popular. The new Lowcountry Bee Nerds page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/164459154881847) was recently formed and gained membership quickly, engaging beekeepers across the coastal areas of SC. One of our most prominent social media accounts is “Beekeeping Hacks” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/591466204364439). Managed by master beekeeper Larry Coble, it now has more than 40 thousand members posting about innovative and helpful “tricks of the trade.” Even our humble Clemson Apiculture page (https://www.facebook.com/ClemsonApiculture/) is up to 1,350 followers, which includes many beekeepers that do not regularly attend local association meetings.
That is not to say that Facebook is the end-all, be-all of social media platforms, although their rebranding to “META” might suggest they see something over the horizon. Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat are used more extensively by younger folks and offer tremendous potential for sharing the beauty of beekeeping with audiences that are not participating in many of our traditional outreach platforms. Add Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube to the mix, and the job of maintaining a social media presence becomes excessively complicated, so complicated that many large companies have teams of people working specifically to update and monitor social media accounts. One helpful hint if you use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter predominantly is to link your accounts and post through Instagram which automatically posts to the Facebook and Twitter pages.
We even have social media that is intended for more scientific endeavors. While iNaturalist is thought of mainly as a smartphone app that helps you identify living things, it really is a social media platform to facilitate interaction among observers of the natural world. Through their system, the innovators of iNaturalist developed a way for people to capture data about Nature and make it available to others and to receive feedback from experienced biologists. While most folks simply use iNaturalist to identify living things, the platform is extremely powerful and can be used for scientific projects, especially regarding ecology and phenology. Phenology is the study of the timing and sequence of natural events, such as when deciduous trees turn colors in the fall or bird migrations. Whether they realize it or not, casual observers using iNaturalist are creating a real-time log of where organisms exist and when they exhibit certain traits or behaviors, which provides a data set that we can use as practitioners of apiculture.
The Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program is calling on beekeepers, gardeners, and naturalists statewide to help with a project in 2022. We are calling it the Clemson Honey Bee Forage Phenology Project. Using iNaturalist, participants will capture the bloom periods of the most important honey bee forage plants in South Carolina by simply taking pictures of flowers with their mobile devices or digital cameras. When a photo is taken with a smartphone, the date, time and location of the image are saved. If that image is loaded to this iNaturalist project, we will be able to track exactly when honey bee nectar and pollen plants are blooming and where they are commonly found in the state. If we have enough observers statewide, we will also be able to track differences among the regions (coastal vs. piedmont vs. mountains). Also, you can upload old photos of flowers that you may have stored on your phone which will allow us to compare bloom times to previous years.
We will offer a virtual training on December 7th for anyone interested in participating in the project. At the training we will make sure that each participant has an active account with iNaturalist. We will get users loaded into the project and show participants how to upload images. While we will be targeting certain known honey bee plants, we welcome participants to submit images of unknown flowers too, especially if honey bees are observed foraging on the flowers. Participants will not even need to know the identification of the flowers they are photographing. We can sort through the data for particular plant species and by locations, which will be used to update our bloom charts and make them more regionally specific. There also are long term possibilities for the project. It has been suggested that land use change and climate will change honey bee foods in our beautiful state, and this project could help determine if that is indeed happening and how.
An Acer Up Your Sleeve
As I write this, drifts of leaves are beginning to pile-up around the yard, and the sky is ever more visible through the woods out back. Fall is giving way to winter, and it will be months before the next nectar flow begins. From now through January, deciduous forests across the state will fade to gray, and they will lay in that state until springtime.
One tree in the eastern US insists upon “getting out of bed early,” and, like a defiant toddler, it doesn’t do it
quietly. As if clanging after a bowl of cereal, the Red Maple (Acer rubrum L.) announces its presence loudly with splashes of brilliant pinks and reds that rip through the grayness of leafless forests. Starting in late winter, typically January in South Carolina’s lowcountry, the red maple is the first and most notable large tree to begin blooming each growing season.
I used to think that red maples were flowering when you see them turn red, but I learned later that red maples actually finish flowering by the time you notice them from the road. When the trees turn red, you are actually seeing the wings of the developing seeds, known as samaras, which do not form until after the flower is pollinated. The flowers of red maples are usually less conspicuous, and they come and go by the time most folks notice them. That maple you usually notice in February likely started flowering at least two weeks earlier.
Red maples are common statewide both as wild trees and cultivated landscape trees. They are well adapted to most soils and climates in South Carolina, but they are most common in low areas where soils remain very moist. The red maple is a dominant tree in the forested wetlands of the coastal plain, and it is common in valleys and slopes across the piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains. Red maples are both monecious (having male and female flowers on the same tree) and diecious (each tree has either male or female flowers), which explains why some trees appear to produce more seeds than others. Red maples produce both nectar and pollen and serve as the first major food source of the new year for honey bees. It is thought that the red maple provides critical nutrition to honey bees as they begin to build and increase brood production in the lead up to the spring nectar flow.
Red maple is not the only species of maple in South Carolina. All species of maples are valuable food sources for honey bees, although some are thought to be wind pollinated. Of the six species of maples in the Carolinas, only the boxelder maple (Acer negundo L.) rivals the red maple in distribution. Though they are mostly lacking from the Pee Dee region of the state, boxelders are common in the piedmont and present in forested wetlands of the SC lowcountry. Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum L.) and mountain maples (A. spicatum Lam.) are only found at higher elevations above the Blue Ridge escarpment, so they are more common in the mountains of North Carolina than in South Carolina. Two other maples naturally occur in SC, the silver maple (A. saccharinum L.) and the sugar maple (A. saccharum Marshall), but they are much less common than the red maple or boxelder. Silver maples are valued as excellent shade trees and have been planted in locations outside of their normal range. They can be found randomly around the state, often in urban landscapes, but they naturally occur in bottoms where soils are very well drained but moist, such as in the sand hills and flood plains of the piedmont. While most maple species bloom after red maples, the silver maple actually blooms at the same time or even slightly before red maples. Sugar maples also have been planted outside of their normal range because of their value as both shade trees and as a source of sweet syrup. In an attempt to increase maple syrup production in the south, several heat-tolerant varieties of sugar maple have been bred, and some of these can be found across the piedmont and down the Savannah River floodplain.
While red maples are typically considered low maintenance trees, one problem has developed for them recently. In 2019, South Carolina discovered an established population of Asian longhorned beetles (Anoplophora glabripennis(Motschulsky)) near the Charleston area. This invasive beetle bores into living trees killing them slowly as the beetle larvae eat the nutrient rich cambium under the bark. While this beetle can infest several different species of trees, they most commonly attack maples. In response, the SC Department of Plant Industry established a quarantine in the area near Hollywood to prevent the spread of this invasive beetle. Also, tree removal programs are underway to eliminate infected trees and destroy developing larvae, but the fact that red maples largely reside in wetlands makes the work challenging. So far, the quarantine and removal programs have halted the spread of this beetle. Also on our radar is the new spotted lanternfly (Licorma deliculata (White)), which is a piercing-sucking insect introduced into the region around
Philadelphia, PA. Unlike the Asian longhorned beetle which reproduces and spreads slowly, the spotted lanternfly spreads rapidly and has become a severe nuisance in the northeast. While maples are not their primary host, they are among the trees that lanternflies will attack. Thankfully, lanternflies have not been found in SC yet, but they are just one car-ride from being brought here.
As for now, beekeepers across the state benefit from maples, and can rely on them as an early jolt of nutrition for honey bee colonies building for spring. Of course, if you ever notice something odd with trees in your area, such as diseases or pests, your county Extension office and agents are at your disposal to determine the problem and advise on solutions. Hopefully, maples, especially red maples, will remain common and productive all across SC and continue to announce that winter will soon give way to spring each year.
One of the greatest challenges of a honey bee research project is not necessarily the research or funding. It often is making it relevant to practical beekeeping and relatable to beekeepers. In an attempt to improve communication between researchers in COLOSS (the researcher association for the Prevention of Honey Bee COlony LOSSes) and practicing beekeepers, the Association established B-RAP, the “Bridging Research and Practice core project with independent leadership. This essentially equates to the formation of a formal Extension-style initiative for the COLOSS research group.
Lotta Fabricius Kristiansen, Preben Kristiansen, Flemming Vejsnæs & Linde Morawetz (2021) Is COLOSS an Ivory Tower of Beekeeping Science? Efforts to Bridge Research and Practice (B-RAP), Bee World, DOI: 10.1080/0005772X.2021.1993612
The Journal of Apicultural Research publishes its 60th volume, and authors provide an excellent review of apiculture research since the onset of Colony Collapse Disorder and into the future.
Maria Bouga, Melanie Parejo, Adriana M. Alippi, Otilia Bobis, Robert Brodschneider, Panuwan Chantawannakul, Vanessa Corby-Harris, Bjørn Dahle, Maria Dimou, Anna Gajda, Dora Henriques, Irfan Kandemir, Robert Pickard, Juliana Rangel, Victoria Soroker & Jevrosima Stevanovic (2021) The 60th volume of the Journal of Apicultural Research – a look into the past and future, Journal of Apicultural Research, 60:5, 639-643, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2021.1973187
Honey bees tend to consume bee bread quickly, yet we have all seen colonies pack-in excessive pollen stores. What is going on there?
Ivo Roessink & Jozef J. M. van der Steen (2021) Beebread consumption by honey bees is fast: results of a six-week field study, Journal of Apicultural Research, 60:5, 659-664, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2021.1915612
A new use for propolis? Should you consider feeding extracted propolis back to your bees as a form of antimicrobial medication, possibly in place of medicated feeds such as Fumagilin-B? This study suggests positive benefits of refeeding propolis to bees.
Sanchai Naree, James D. Ellis, Mark E. Benbow & Guntima Suwannapong (2021) The use of propolis for preventing and treating Nosema ceranae infection in western honey bee (Apis mellifera Linnaeus, 1787) workers, Journal of Apicultural Research, 60:5, 686-696, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2021.1905374
As a compliment to the previous article, here is a review on methods for extracting propolis.
Vassya Bankova, Boryana Trusheva & Milena Popova (2021) Propolis extraction methods: a review,Journal of Apicultural Research, 60:5, 734-743, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2021.1901426
Check the SC Master Beekeeper Program website for a certified course near you. Many courses occur during the winter season.
7 Dec. @ 6 PM Clemson Honey Bee Forage Phenology Project Training – participants that are interested in contributing to this bloom timing project should register for this training at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/clemson-honey-bee-forage-phenology-project-tickets-211871261647
Feb 25–26, 2022 Spring meeting of the SC Beekeepers Association. This year’s spring meeting will be expanded to two days and will include hands-on demonstrations regarding honey bee feeds and feeders, lotions & Potions, and planting for honey bees.
April, 2022 Spring Field Days at the Clemson Apiaries. Join us for a fun and informative day in the bee yard with Clemson’s Apiculturist and SC Master Beekeepers.
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