Happy New Year!!!
First, I must apologize for the delay in getting this edition published. Streptococcus ravaged our household after the new year, fractioning my productivity. Thankfully, I am on the mend and back to work.
We at the Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program are excited for what this year will hold. While there has been a recent uptick in COVID cases, the State and Clemson University have given no indication that they will restrict in-person programs and trainings. CAPP is moving forward with scheduling our spring and summer trainings. Our plan is to offer a series of spring and summer field days at our demonstration apiaries (Clemson, Florence, and Charleston), and we will host a virtual beginner course later in the spring for students who may have missed the classes already underway.
Our pollinator test plots at Pee Dee REC are coming along nicely. As to be expected, a flush of volunteer henbit took advantage of the freshly disturbed soil, and the demonstration colonies have been taking full advantage of it, collecting the distinctively pink pollen henbit produces. We are waiting with anticipation for warmer days to assess germination of the intentionally planted species, but we are pleased to see how the bees are benefiting from the new forages already present in the plots.
The Honey Bee Forage Phenology Project is underway as well. As a quick reminder, this is a project using iNaturalist to track bloom cycles of important honey bee plants across South Carolina through 2022. Beekeepers across the state can submit images of plants in flower to help us track bloom cycles. Just three weeks into the project and participants have already submitted 800 observations. If the data continues to be entered at this rate, we will have a tremendous data set to use for updating our bloom charts. Thanks to everyone that has contributed so far. Anyone interested in contributing can visit https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/clemson-honey-bee-forage-phenology-project to read about and join the project. Also, we will hold another informational web meeting on February 15th for anyone that would like to participate. You can join us for that meeting at https://clemson.zoom.us/j/98402881341?pwd=SWw2bHZER2hBTDNWU0JUeTdxRktHdz09.
We are looking forward to the SC Beekeepers Association’s spring conference in Spartanburg on February 25-26. It will be a two-day event with Master Beekeeping Program classes and instructional demonstrations on Friday, followed by a full schedule of presentations on Saturday. We are pleased to host Dr. Juliana Rangel-Posada from Texas A&M University and Dr. Wyatt Mangum of Mary Washington University. Both are engaging speakers and carry impressive resumés dedicated to apiculture. Registration is open now, so we encourage everyone to renew your membership and sign-up for the conference so that we can enjoy your company at the event. Early bird registration will close on February 4th.
I am excited to announce that we have funding for a temporary summer technician. Sorting through the forage project data, tending to the pollinator plots, managing the demonstration apiaries, and compiling survey data will keep this person quite busy through the summer. We will be looking for a motivated person in the Florence area that possesses computing skills and is willing to work outside. Perhaps you know of a college student that would like to work with our program over their summer break. We have not begun the hiring process but hope to do so soon.
Last, we wanted to let everyone know that Dr. Wm. Michael (Mike) Hood, retired apiculturist at Clemson University, underwent heart surgery on January 18th. We are happy to report that he is recovering and has returned home. Gifts and cards can be sent to us at 2200 Pocket Rd., Florence, SC 29506, and we will make sure Dr. Hood receives it.
Not so fast…
Is there such a thing as a typical year in beekeeping? If so, then this year is off to an inauspicious start. Perhaps there are years when our predictions align with how the bees actually behave, and we fondly label them “normal.” Then there are other years when our anticipations and the bees’ do not necessarily jive. Perhaps “normal” is a human construct. Despite our best attempts, we perceive the world differently than they do. Honey bees are living organisms that sense, react, and adapt to the finite stimuli around them, and, being colonial by nature, honey bees respond even more dynamically than most other organisms. Not only do individual bees respond to their environment, but their individual reactions influence the behaviors of their nest mates, which influences the behavior of the entire colony. Case in point… the winter of 2021-2022.
The typical winter pattern for honey bees in South Carolina is to produce diutinus (winter) bees in the fall in preparation for the cold, lean months of winter. As temperatures decline, the winter bees reduce brood production and begin clustering tightly in the hive. They generate heat by consuming stored honey and vibrating their flight muscles, maintaining the temperature necessary for brood development (92° F). On warm days when temperatures rise into the 50s (F), they will become active, taking purging flights and foraging for whatever may be available, but that activity is mainly reserved for mid day. From evening through morning are clustered inside the hive keeping the small area of brood warm. This pattern normally begins in late November and continues into February. Generating heat to maintain brood is a serious metabolic strain on the colony, so during the winter, colonies minimize brood production, which helps the bees conserve their food stores.
This year has not followed that pattern. November proceeded as expected. Brood area shrank, and bees began clustering. December, in turn, was not typical. Warm temperatures in excess of 70 degrees (F) persisted through December. There were several days where record high temperatures were recorded, and the colonies in the Clemson apiaries responded by increasing brood production at a rate normally observed in March in the build-up prior to the spring nectar flow. Colonies that normally have only a frame or two of brood expanded to cover three or four times the normal winter brood area (six to eight frames of brood). This has created two very serious challenges that we must address: 1. starvation and 2. Varroa mites. Increased brood production correlates to increased food consumption and increased Varroa mite populations.
Starvation is always a concern during winter, but it tends to be most common in late winter (Feb-Mar) when food stores are dwindling and brood production is increasing. Nectar is in short supply this time of year, so colonies must rely on the honey they have stored from the previous growing season to get them through the winter dearth. They typically extend the life of their winter stores by reducing brood production, which reduces food demand; however, the early increases in brood production we observed in December has increased the rate of honey consumption significantly and created ideal conditions for winter starvation. The take home message… check your colonies and feed them if they are getting light. Sugar syrup at a 2:1 ratio or candy are suitable for winter feeding, and I suggest in-hive or hive top feeders. These feeders allow the heat generated by the bees to also warm the feed and are more effective during winter months.
In December, I was focused intently on updating the certified training presentations to have them ready for the new year. I also injured my leg thanks to some holiday frolicking, and I was unable to tend to the bees for about three weeks over the holidays. Coincidentally, my absence from the bee yard occurred exactly while the warm spell triggered increased brood production, and two colonies succumbed to starvation. There are few things more gut-wrenching than finding a starved bee colony, but at least it gave me a chance to collect images of quintessential starvation symptoms: piles of dead bees on the bottom board and dead workers face-down in comb cells dead from struggling to stay warm without food.
Another symptom of increased winter brood production and dwindling food stored is “chilled brood.: Under the current conditions, workers may be unable to cover and heat all of the brood during prolonged cold spells, and the uncovered brood may succumb to the cold. Workers will remove the dead brood and deposit it outside the hive entrance. This is not necessarily a problem for the colony, but it can startle a beekeeper to see larvae and pupae being discarded by the colony. Chilled brood is a natural way of the colony “self-regulating” brood production. While it does represent a metabolic cost, it is not a major threat to the survival of the colony as a whole. It might actually save the colony from complete starvation later by reducing the food demand of the colony.
The other problem that coincides with increased brood production is the increase in Varroa mite loads. Winter normally provides a brief respite from worrying about Varroa mites. Beekeepers that controlled Varroa mites in the previous growing season can normally trust that their efforts to keep Varroa pressure low in the fall will extend into the following spring because Varroa only increase when colonies are raising brood. In winter there is normally little brood production, so Varroa numbers tend to remain low. The increase in brood production we observed in December may result in increased mite pressure this spring. I wish I had numbers to share with you, but I was out sick the last two weeks, and this week is too cold to enter hives. Rest assured, the next warm day we get when temps rise above 55° F, I will be in the bee yard conducting mite washes. I hope that I am wrong, but I suspect that mite loads will be abnormally high for this time of year due to early increases in brood production. The good news is that treating for mites this early in the season allows for more options than most other times of the year. Temperature dependent products such as Thymol and Formic Acid just might provide the necessary control of mites needed in this “odd” year. Stay tuned to the Clemson Apiculture Facebook page. I will post my results there. https://www.facebook.com/ClemsonApiculture
Beirniad sioe fêl – Judge of Honey Shows
Several years ago, my mother began tracing our ancestry, mainly to determine which of our ancestors were the first to come to the United States. What she learned was quite interesting. One side can trace its American roots to the pre-revolutionary period, and that she likely qualifies as a Daughter of the Revolution. That is pretty cool (in my opinion), but it’s the other side that intrigues me even more, and that is the lineage of my grandfather George Merle Powell.
The surname “Powell” is derived from “ap Hywel,” which means “son of Hywel” in the Welsh language, Cymraeg (pronounced “kəm ra ig”). We were able to trace our lineage back to medieval Wales. “Son of Hywel” refers to Hywel Dda, a benevolent and well-respected ruler in late 9thcentury Britain. He unified the territories known today as Wales and established the well-respected Welsh Law, much of which remains codified today. His name is translated as Hywel the Good, and he was known for compassion, the recognition of women’s rights, and the right of the people to self-govern. Hywel Dda was a diplomat that found balance in feudalistic Britain by cooperating with English monarchy while maintaining a unique Welsh identity.
The Welsh have long been known for their independence. During the Norman Conquest (ca. 1066), which resulted in the absolute demolition of English nobility, Welsh rebels staged uprisings, such that William the Conqueror never had complete control over the region. William’s solution was to erect magnificent castles with heavy fortifications in the Welsh territory, architectural icons that still stand today. After the Norman dynasty waned in Britain, King Edward I was determined to unify Britain and force his authority over Scotland and Wales. He hammered the rebellious Scotts, killing their iconic leader, William Wallace (anyone remember the movie “Braveheart”). To subjugate the fiercely independent Welsh, he named his first-born son “The Prince of Wales,” a tradition of the English monarchy that continues today.
You might ask, “What does this have to do with beekeeping?” Well, even though King Edward I may have forced English rule on the Welsh, he may have inadvertently laid the groundwork for establishing the tradition of honey judging in Britain. About 700 years ago, Edward I codified in the charter of the town of Conwy in North Wales that the 13th of September shall be the annual honey fair. The town was to open its gates to the honey producers of the region so that they could sell their goods free of charge. This annual event continues today along with many others just like it across the British Isles.
This is not to say that Conwy and the English can lay claim to the first honey festival. Assuredly honey festivals and shows have been happening anywhere honey is produced, especially across Europe, the Mediterranean, and, more recently, in the Americas and Asia. Anywhere fine foods are present, rest assured that critics will follow, and the same goes for honey. After all, honey producers need methods for showing their customers that they sell the highest quality honey. The result was that honey shows and methods for judging honey products were developed to help producers market their products as authentic, safe, and reliable.
Honey judging is a time-honored tradition, and most beekeeper associations around the world offer “honey shows” where honey producers submit samples of their products for judgement. To avoid bias, judges have developed systems for objectively critiquing honey submissions. I found it interesting to learn that there are many different systems for judging honey. To quote Nancy Simpson, one of South Carolina’s certified honey judges, “The honey judge systems remind me of karate institutes. There are different “schools” with different “Masters.” Having binged on the new Netflix show “Cobra Kai” with my boys, I think I understand what she means. While there are different approaches to teaching karate (or judging honey), the goal is to culture the highest quality students (or honey) through education and constructive criticism and to recognize achievements with awards through friendly competition.
The South Carolina Beekeeper Association follows the Welsh Honey Judging (WHJ) system. At first, I thought, ”AHA!” Perhaps there is a historical link to medieval Wales and the tradition of honey shows that started there. Maybe it is clandestine that my Welsh roots would lead me down the path to beekeeping. So, I took the queen-line jar that said “drink me,” and dove down the rabbit hole.
What I learned was that the WHJ system is based off of the British Honey Judging system and has been used by the Welsh Beekeepers Association for its honey shows. This is why Welsh honey judges adorn a badge that bears the red dragon of the Welsh flag and the motto Beirniad sioe fêl, which means “Judge of Honey Shows” in the Welsh language. The WHJ system closely resembles the standards of the British Honey Show, which is known to be one of the most rigorous and respectable systems in the world.
With the help of Dr. Keith Delaplane of the University of Georgia, Michael Young, apiculturist at the University of Belfast in Northern Ireland and senior honey judge at the British Honey Show, brought the WHJ system to the United States in 2001 at the Beekeeping Institute at Young Harris College. Since then, training of Welsh Honey Judges has been a part of the Institute. The number of certified Welsh Honey Judges has grown in the US, and the WHJ system has spread beyond Georgia, adopted by Florida, Alabama, Maryland, Ohio, and South Carolina.
South Carolina established the Welsh Honey Judge Academy in 2019. Since that time, there have been at least eight judges trained. Aided by the experience of senior judge, Steve Genta, South Carolina’s Welsh honey judges are diligently working to improve South Carolina’s honey shows and provide education about honey bee products. In fact, the spring meeting of the SC Beekeepers Association is themed “From Flowers to Fare” and will offer a special opportunity for beekeepers to learn how to diversify the products they offer to consumers. In addition to an expanded honey show that will include an artisan show, a special training session on Friday the 25th will be dedicated to “Notions, Lotions, and Potions.” It will include demonstrations of how to make balms, lotions, tinctures, and an array of other products from honey, beeswax, and propolis. Also, the honey judge team offers training through the academy for other aspiring honey judges. Perhaps you are interested in helping to improve the quality of South Carolina’s honey bee products and maintain the integrity of the honey produced here. To learn more about SCBA’s honey judging system visit https://scstatebeekeepers.com/sc-welsh-honey-judging-academy-2/.
While honey judging is an important method for beekeepers to self-regulate and protect the integrity of the products they produce, It is not the only way the South Carolina honey producers are protected. Honey production and sales are regulated by the SC Department of Agriculture (SCDA). Laws are in place to ensure that honey brought to market is safe for consumption and authentic, and the Food Safety Compliance division of the SCDA is charged with enforcing the honey law. All SC honey producers, no matter what scale, need to familiarize themselves with the honey law and regulations, even if they harvest small quantities for themselves, friends and family. The good news is that this will also be addressed at the spring conference. Maddison McKenna, regional inspector with the SCDA, will give a presentation on what is required for honey producers to bring their products to market.
Henbit deadnettle… sorry, this is not a character from a Harry Potter novel
Fields, roadsides, and yards across South Carolina are soon to be blanketed in pink as a prolific winter plant begins flowering this month. Lamium amplexicaule, more commonly known as henbit deadnettle (henbit for short), is a very common winter annual plant that thrives in disturbed soils statewide. Although it most likely originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe, it has spread worldwide to every continent except Antarctica. Though it is exotic to North America, it is often considered to be a relatively beneficial plant because it grows when other plants are dormant, and it provides food for pollinators and grazing animals.
Henbit is easily identified by its short stature (<18 “ tall), sprawling growth habit, lobed leaves that are clustered at the tips of square stems, and distinctive pink, tubular flowers. A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), henbit shares the bright aroma common to other members of the family which includes plants such as peppermint, catnip, and basil. Henbit is edible raw, cooked, or in a tea, and there are claims that it provides medicinal benefits. Henbit also is an excellent forage for livestock and actually gets its name from the observation chickens pecking at it. Despite its exotic origin and ability to spread, it is generally considered to be a beneficial plant.
It is definitely a beneficial plant for honey bees. While it has been reported to provide nectar that is used by long-tongued bees and hummingbirds, the real benefit to honey bees is the ample pollen it produces during a time of year when honey bees are increasing brood production and need a source of protein-rich pollen. A vivid red or bright pink, the pollen is very distinctive, and it is usually quite easy to determine if your colonies are collecting henbit pollen by watching entrance activity or inspecting frames of bee bread.
Henbit is considered a weed in certain situations. It can be aggressive in lawns, and it competes with other winter crops such as wheat, oats, and canola. Broadleaf herbicides are often used to control it. These compounds are not normally a problem for honey bees so long as they are not applied while bees are actively in the field. The good news is that foraging tends to be restricted to the middle of the day thanks to cool morning and evening temperatures, so we recommend for herbicide applications to be done in early morning or late evening while the bees are still in the hive. Once the herbicides are dried on the surface of the plants, they are not easily pick-up by bees. Usually shortly after an herbicide application, henbit stops producing pollen and nectar and is no longer attractive to the bees.
Queen reproductive failure has been reported as a contributing factor to honey bee decline. Understanding the microscopic structure (histology) of the queen’s reproductive system is essential to understanding why and how the organs and tissues involved in egg production fail. A recent investigation using photomicrographs provides some of the most detailed images of the queen’s reproductive organs of to date.
Ivanna V. Kozii, Sarah C. Wood, Roman V. Koziy & Elemir Simko (2022) Histomorphological description of the reproductive system in mated honey bee queens, Journal of Apicultural Research, 61:1, 114-126, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2021.1900636
Sodium butyrate, a compound common in legumes (beans/peas), has been shown to reduce or reverse the adverse effects caused by infection of deformed wing virus in honey bees.
Tang et al., Real-time monitoring of deformed wing virus- infected bee foraging behavior following histone deacetylase inhibitor treatment. iScience 24, 103056
October 22, 2021 https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.isci.2021.103056
Hygienic behavior where worker bees remove larvae that are infected with deformed wing virus is thought to be an important methods for bees to control colony decline, but assessment of how the virus is spread has determined that removal of infected larvae may actually spread DWV.
Posada-Florez, F., Lamas, Z.S., Hawthorne, D.J. et al. Pupal cannibalism by worker honey bees contributes to the spread of deformed wing virus. Sci Rep 11, 8989 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-88649-y
Check the SC Master Beekeeper Program website for a certified course near you. Many courses occur during the winter season. https://scstatebeekeepers.com/master-beekeeper-program/
Feb. 8, 2022. 6 PM We have revised the SC Master Beekeeping Program’s certified level training presentations and will offer a web meeting to introduce instructors to the new schedule and slide set. If you are an instructor that would like to offer the certified level training this year, we encourage you to attend this web meeting to learn about the new format and presentations. Please preregister to attend this web meeting at https://clemson.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMvcOisrTIvE9Rk3793_0ggD3pMCofCjlBL
Feb. 15, 2022. 6 PM Web meeting for the Clemson Honey Bee Forage Phenology Project.
We have launched a project using iNaturalist to track blooming of honey bee forage plants in SC. This informational web meeting will discuss the project and how to submit photos of plants in bloom to the project to help us update our bloom charts. The meeting is open to anyone at https://clemson.zoom.us/j/98402881341?pwd=SWw2bHZER2hBTDNWU0JUeTdxRktHdz09
Feb 25–26, 2022 Spring meeting of the SC Beekeepers Association. This year’s spring meeting will be expanded to two days. The theme will be “From Flowers to Fare” and will include hands-on demonstrations of lotions/potions and planting for honey bees as well as keynote speakers and other presentations covering honey bee nutrition. Early bird registration ends on February 4th, so register now at https://scstatebeekeepers.com.
April, 2022 Introduction to Beekeeping virtual training and field days at the Clemson apiaries. More information will be provided on the Clemson Apiculture facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ClemsonApiculture and at your county Extension office.
Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.