2022 is off to a raging start, and so are we!
Here it is nearly the end of March, and I am just now finding time to write this edition of CAPPings. I guess being busy is a good thing, because it means that we are working our way past the COVID-19 restrictions and that we are largely back to “business as usual,” or at least something close to it. It is hard to believe that it was this month two years ago that the first COVID restrictions went into effect and that many places in our great nation are still bound by those rules surrounding this horrible virus. Last week was the Sportsmans’ Expo in my home town of Conway, and it was the first community gathering in two years where nobody was wearing a mask. It appears that most folks are moving on.
Along that theme, the SC Beekeepers Association held its annual spring meeting in Spartanburg, and it was so encouraging to see so many of you there in person and enjoying each other’s company. Including vendors, there were nearly 300 people there, which is a great turnout for a Spring meeting. I was honored to help line up speakers for the event, and our speakers did not disappoint. I received many compliments about the theme of the event and the content provided by the speakers, so kudos to everyone that spoke at the event and to all of the folks working diligently in the background to make it happen. I look forward to the Summer meeting in Columbia, July 21-23.
After nearly two whole years of largely meeting virtually, the Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program is making a concerted effort in 2022 to get back out to the local associations to teach and to enjoy the company of beekeepers across the state, especially our colleagues in the upstate. In the past two months I have visited with the Lake Wylie, Fort Mill, Pickens, Lakelands, Chesterfield, York, Pee Dee, Edisto, and Blackwater.
I also had the pleasure of speaking to the West Piedmont District meeting of the Garden Clubs of America, which was an energetic group of gardening and landscape enthusiasts. Their focus this year is on protecting pollinators, especially bees, and we gave them some things to consider as they go back to share their passion with their communities. Garden Club members are very active in their communities providing service projects and education to their neighbors, much like our Master Beekeeper Program participants do. The good news is that I will be presenting to several other similar service groups through the spring.
We will be training staff at the Commission for the Blind this month. The Commission has a program to help visually impaired South Carolinians learn trades to help them be productive and self-sustaining, and they have a wood shop where they teach clients how to form and assemble furniture. We will be teaching them how to assemble bee packages and hive components (hive bodies and frames). We have several large honey bee producers that must assemble package boxes and nucs each year for their bee sales. We envision that graduates of this program could provide hive assembly services for these beekeepers and for our hive equipment retailers around the state. Stay tuned.
If you had not seen it yet, you might see me on TV this month and next. Our gardening program on SCETV, “Making it Grow,” featured bees this month during its stewardship drive, and yours truly had the pleasure of speaking about honey bees and their importance to South Carolinians. I made every effort to encourage would-be beekeepers and pollinator conservationists to engage their local beekeeper associations to “think globally but act locally.”
For those of you contributing to the Honey Bee Forage Phenology Project, thanks again for your contributions, and please keep taking and submitting pictures of flowering plants to the iNaturalist project. https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/clemson-honey-bee-forage-phenology-project
We are now in the process of planning our spring and summer trainings. First on the docket will be a hybrid beginners course in April/May which will include a series of evening lectures using Zoom combined with field days in the Clemson apiaries. The course will cover the certified level material for the Master Beekeeper Program, and the field days will be informal trainings located strategically around the state to make it easy for beekeepers to participate. The field days will offer opportunities for new beekeepers to interact with experienced beekeepers as we perform critical beekeeping tasks. Later in the summer we hope to hold “honey days” when we begin harvesting honey from the demonstration colonies. This will give new beekeepers a chance to learn how to harvest and extract honey and process other hive products such as wax and propolis.
We also are working on the summer conference speaker lineup. We tentatively have a theme of “Growing Your Beekeeper Operation,” which will focus on three aspects of a successful beekeeping operation: making increases, marketing, and business planning. Of course, these are subject to change, but this is the general direction we are considering for the summer conference, which will be held at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center July 21 – 23. This convention center is the best in the state. It is an excellent venue with plenty of space and wonderful amenities nearby to encourage social interaction and fellowship. We will again have a bee yard at the event, and the facility has an amazing terraced court yard where the bees will be placed for the event. We look forward to seeing everyone there.
One final note… Dr. Hood has recovered well from his heart surgery in January and is back in the Clemson bee yard. I have spoken with him frequently over the past few weeks. His spirits are high, and he is feeling pretty good. He wanted me to tell everyone “Thank You” for the prayers and support during this time.
I love the Winter Olympics! As an avid snow skier, I find few pleasures more exhilarating than sliding down a sheet of ice at an exceptionally high rate of speed, teetering on the edge of disaster. One event that I really enjoyed watching at this year’s Olympics in Beijing was the short track speed skating. It feels like watching a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The racing is fast and furious, and wipeouts are common. There is one thing about short track speed skating that drives me nuts, and that is the false starts. Invariably, someone jumps the gun in just about every race, breaking everyone’s rhythm and forcing them to reset.
That’s how I feel about beekeeping this spring. In the last newsletter, I talked about the unseasonably warm weather we had after Christmas and how the Clemson bee colonies began spring build-up much earlier than expected. Large areas of brood and even drones were present in January, conditions normally reserved for March. Well, that trend continued with strong brood production through February, and the stage was set for an early and active swarm season.
Outside of the hive, similar things were occurring. In fact, after our spring meeting (Feb 25-26), a warm spell triggered most of our early spring nectar trees to begin flowering. By the first week in March, most of South Carolina was experiencing the start of our spring nectar flow. Trees such as wild plums (Prunus spp.), redbuds (Cercis canadensis), willows (Salix spp.), and even some hollies (Ilex spp.) started their bloom cycle well before their normal time. Farms and forests all across the state began flushing with spring color, and the Clemson colonies began adding weight, until the evening of March 12th.
Like a false start, a flash freeze on the evening of March 12th dropped most areas in South Carolina into the low to mid 20s (F). Many of the trees with open flowers suffered freeze damage, and the nectar flow that was just beginning came to an abrupt halt. Our colonies began losing weight again, and in the week following the freeze, almost all of the nectar that had been collected was consumed, rendering the colonies strapped for food.
I very seriously considered feeding the bees, but my schedule required me to travel to the upstate for several days each week during that time. I was concerned about swarming and not being present to intervene if swarm cells were started. All of the colonies had drones and new queen cups, and most were very congested. Conditions were good for swarming, but one swarming pre-requisite had not yet occurred, and that was the rapid influx of food. I was concerned that feeding might actually stimulate the colonies to swarm while I was away, so I opted to not feed.
It appears the decision paid-off. Either the frost bitten-trees rebounded rapidly or there were enough sources that survived the cold to supply food for our congested colonies. Hive weights are not increasing, but they are not declining either. There appears to be just enough food to sustain them for the time being, and the limited food supply has staved-off the swarming process. That being said, the nectar flow is looming, and a jolt of food is all the colonies need to begin the swarming process.
As most of you know, we usually are not free of frost or freezes until after Easter, which is very late this year (April 17). While cold nights will hold the nectar flow at bay, rest assured that the last trigger for swarming, the influx of food during the spring nectar flow, is imminent, and colonies across the state are on the cusp of swarming if they have not done so already.
By the time you read this, swarm season will already be underway. In fact, I heard of swarms as early as February this year. If your goal is to prevent swarming, then you need to be taking steps to prevent it now. Supers should be added. Monitor colonies for swarm cell development. Consider splitting colonies with developing swarm cells, or harvest swarm cells for making splits. If you are looking to catch swarms, now is the time to get your traps placed and baited, and keep cluster catching equipment with you for convenience.
For those of you that raise queens, it is go time. Pollen has been plentiful for several weeks, and most colonies have already built sufficiently to begin making starters, finishers, and mating nucs. Colonies are growing rapidly and drones are at peak production right now. The next few weeks will provide the best conditions for finding food, drawing queen cells, and getting virgin queens mated.
Good news folks! It’s spring time in the Carolinas, and for beekeepers it is a marvelously busy time of year. Go forth, and enjoy your bees!
Better than par for the course
The first time I walked past the tall hedges that separate the Augusta National from the rest of the world, I felt like I was stepping onto another planet, one where trees and grass were the landlords, and humans were only allowed to visit for a few hours at a time. As if I was visiting someone else’s house for the first time, I wasn’t sure if I should take off my shoes first. Of course, I’m biased. I grew up in Augusta, Georgia, home of The Masters Golf Tournament – the premier golf tournament in the world, and I, like many of my childhood friends, developed an almost religious affection for the course.
You can best describe my status as a golfer as a weekend warrior. Though I was competitive on my high school golf team, I could never “hack it” as a professional golfer. I thoroughly enjoy time on the course, away from the demands of the office and family-life. Now, as I think back to when we attended the Masters tournament, one memory dominates… how quiet it was. Thousands of people were packed tightly together, yet the rustling of the trees and the singing of birds were the most prominent sounds, broken only by occasional waves of applause that seemed to pass through the pines on the wind.
The experience inside the Augusta National is in stark contrast to its surroundings. Washington Rd., one of the busiest roads in Augusta, lies just outside the hedges, and the course is bordered on all sides by condominiums and dense residential neighborhoods. Somehow, the fence and hedges protect the soft interior of the course from the harshness of its developed surroundings. It almost appears natural.
Despite its appearance, a golf course is anything but natural. From the slope of the grounds to the plants selected, every part of a golf course is meticulously designed to permit play and create visual effect, and maintaining the course requires a herculean effort. Irrigation, weed control, fertilizers, insect management, mowing, top-dressing, aerating, and renovating are ongoing tasks necessary to keep areas of turf grass from turning back into forests. All of the tools of turf management are employed on a golf course, and many of these practices are performed to prevent undesirable plants from affecting the course design.
Unfortunately, the field of play on a golf course is not exactly pollinator or honey bee friendly, but golf courses are not just fairways, tees, greens and bunkers. There are areas that are out-of-play that are less contrived and more naturalized. It is in these areas between holes, along water hazards, behind tees and greens, around buildings, and beyond the rough that are now attracting the attention of golf course superintendents and maintenance crews. The conversation about honey bee challenges and pollinator decline have reached them, and many see opportunities to make a difference.
Seizing on the opportunity, Syngenta, a chemical and crop management company, is partnering with golf course superintendents to launch “Operation Pollinator,” an initiative to “successfully establish and manage attractive wildflower habitat for bumblebees and other pollinators” at golf courses worldwide. Syngenta, which manufactures technologies and useful compounds including pesticides, understands that it is in its company’s best interest to support pollinator conservation efforts. They developed Operation Pollinator to provide technical guidance for installing habitat and to deliver educational and marketing materials to help golf courses share their accomplishments with golfers and the community. Operation Pollinator started in Europe about ten years ago, but now is gaining traction in North America, and has even reached South Carolina. Thanks to the popularity of golf courses in SC, especially around our coastal communities, this initiative could provide real benefits for sustainable communities and for beekeepers. https://www.greencastonline.com/operationpollinator/
One such course is Eagles Nest in North Myrtle Beach. Eagle’s Nest is one of the older and more popular courses along the Grand Strand, an area that was once deemed “the golf capitol of the world” for its proclivity towards golf courses. Eagles Nest has installed pollinator habitat, but they took their dedication a step further. They reached out to Patricia King of Carolina Bays Apiaries to install honey bee colonies on the course. Her story and successes and Operation Pollinator were recently featured on the local news. https://www.wmbfnews.com/2022/03/22/little-river-golf-course-raises-awareness-about-honeybees-new-global-initiative/
Golf courses see the program as a win-win. By installing wildflowers and other pollinator forages and improve how it uses pesticides, the course can improve its sustainability goals, beautify the course, market its uniqueness, and attract clientele that are tuned into conservation issues. Increasing pollinator habitat is one way the course can demonstrate its dedication to providing therapeutic green spaces for people but also make real improvements for honey bees and other pollinators.
I know that some of the beekeepers reading this newsletter also are golfers. As a partaker in both activities you have a unique appreciation for the benefits of a round with your friends. Now you can enjoy the challenge of chasing a little white ball across a field while also supporting your bees. Perhaps you would like to patronize the courses that are putting forth a little extra effort to help our bees. I am aware of a few courses near Greenville (The Reserve at Verdae Green, The Cliffs Mountain Park, and the Greenville GC) and Eagles Nest in Little River (near North Myrtle Beach). I do know that the Walker Course at Clemson is planning to join the program and has reached out to me for guidance. Perhaps there are others. If you find any, let me know. I’d love to book a tee time there this summer when the pollinator plots are in full bloom.
Don’t blink. You might miss it.
Springtime always seems to be exceptionally busy! Bees are gearing up, and there is no shortage of tasks for the beekeeper. Add a slough of other job responsibilities, family, friends, festivals, and it seems like every spring zips by in a flash.
One particular insect can definitely relate. The azalea mining bee, Andrena cornelli, lives a brief, high-intensity life when she emerges from her subterranean home next month. As with all other mining bees (Andrenidae), the azalea mining bee is a solitary bee that nests in the soil. Each female performs all of the tasks necessary to keep the population going, all except for mating. She does need a male for that task.
Each female mining bee makes a nesting site by burrowing into the soil and excavating chambers that she will provision with bee bread (pollen and nectar combined). Once fully provisioned, she will lay an egg, then move on to make a new chamber. Each burrow can have several larval chambers. One interesting trait of many mining bee species is that they are communal. While each bee lives a solitary life, mining bee females will use each others’ burrows and nest together in large aggregations. For this reason, when you see one nesting mining bee, you usually see hundreds more using the same area. This behavior and their general appearance often causes people to confuse them for honey bees. One behavioral trait that helps distinguish them from honey bees is that they tend to fly very close to the ground, especially near their nesting sites.
Mining bees emerge collectively when their food plants are blooming, which for the azalea mining bee is now through June. I usually start receiving calls this time of year when people are startled about large numbers of bees zooming around their yards. This large number of bees in one area sometimes makes residents think they are swarming, but actually the lucky person has stumbled onto a communal nesting site. Unlike social bees, they are not defensive of their nests. Yes, they can sting, but they don’t do it in defense of the nest.
Mining bees tend to use the same nesting areas year after year, and they tend to live their entire lives in an area no larger than a few acres, depending on the species. This means that they are particularly susceptible to land disturbances such as construction and development.
Most mining bees are not generalists like honey bees. Instead, they are oligolectic (restricted to small groups of plants). For instance, the azalea mining bee forages on plants in the genus Rhododendron, which includes our native giant and mountain laurels (R. maximum and R. catawbiense) in the Blue Ridge mountains and the deciduous azaleas in the piedmont and coastal plain (R. arborescense and others). This also includes the exotic azaleas (R. indica and others) that are so common in landscaping across South Carolina. This plant genus is known for producing toxins in its tissues, even its nectar and pollen. These toxins restrict the insects that can pollinate them, which means that the azalea mining bee is one of only a few pollinators capable of pollinating some of our most iconic plant species.
Local populations of mining bees seem to come and go with the passing of their flowers. Across most of South Carolina, they coincide with the azaleas which are blooming as we speak. Climb a couple thousand feet above sea level, and you can enjoy them working the mountain laurels in June. No matter where they exist, they have a narrow window to make the next generation of bees while their host plants are blooming. If you happen to see them, relish in the experience, because they probably will be gone in a week or two until next year when they arise when the Azaleas signal the onset of spring.
Acaricides in royal jelly? A recent study suggests that residues of a common acaricide used to control Varroa mites in bee colonies can be transferred from wax into royal jelly well after the treatment has been removed.
Emmanuel Karazafiris, Dimitrios Kanelis, Chrysoula Tananaki, Georgios Goras, Urania Menkissoglu-Spiroudi, Maria-Anna Rodopoulou, Vasilios Liolios, Nikolia Argena & Andreas Thrasyvoulou (2022) Assessment of synthetic acaricide residues in Royal Jelly, Journal of Apicultural Research, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2022.2048948
Nosema ceranae is problematic gut parasite of western honey bees (Apis mellifera) worldwide, but the disease has minimal effects on the original host, the eastern honey bee (A. ceranae). What would happen if you fed gut microbes from the eastern honey bee to western honey bees? Would the microbes help western honey bees fight the parasite? There is some evidence that it might.
Wu, Z., X. Wei, L. Zhang, Z. Zeng, W. Yan & Q. Huang (2022) Impacts of Apis cerana gut microbes on Nosema ceranae proliferation in Apis mellifera, Journal of Apicultural Research, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2022.2047422
The smell of sex. They said it, not me! Insects use olfactory cues to recognize mates, and a recent study identified specific compounds produced by small hive beetles that distinguish males from females and virgins from mated females. This discovery could play a role in control of these hive pests by disruption of mating cues.
Papach, A., R. Balusu, G. R. Williams, H. Y. Fadamiro & P. Neumann (2022) The smell of sex: cuticular hydrocarbons of adult small hive beetles, Aethina tumida (Coleoptera: Nitidulidae), Journal of Apicultural Research, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2021.2015057
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/
Apr. 19, 2022. 6 PM Basics of Beekeeping Hybrid Course – entry level beekeeper training using live Zoom lectures and a series of field days in May. Register now. https://calendar.clemson.edu/event/basics_of_beekeeping_-_hybrid_course#.Yksgui-B1pR
June 2022 “Honey days” join us for the honey harvest when we begin pulling supers in June. Dates and times TBA.
Jul. 21-23, 2022 SCBA Summer Conference, Columbia, SC https://scstatebeekeepers.com
Aug. 1-4, 2022 Eastern Apiculture Society summer meeting, Ithaca, NY https://easternapiculture.org/conference/
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