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It’s time for beekeepers to check their hives

March 4, 2019 GMT

Amid a frenetic, buzzing cloud, Pamplico beekeeper David Yannello eased the lid off one of his hives. Fellow beekeeper Bobby Morgan puffed a wisp of smoke across the top of the exposed hive frames to calm the scrambling worker bees and send them deeper into the hive. Working with delicate efficiency, Yannello inspected and replaced each frame of hexagonal honeycomb.

Yannello, president of the Pee Dee Beekeepers Association and a director of the Blackwater Beekeepers Association, said beekeepers across the state will also be inspecting their hives as the weather warms.

With daytime temperatures rising above 50 degrees, honey bees begin to leave the hive and search out flowering plants and trees. The bees regularly travel two to three miles to collect nectar and pollen and take it back to the hive, where it is transformed into sweet and delicious honey.

Yannello said the warmer temperatures also mean it is safe for beekeepers to inspect their hives and take stock of how they fared during the cold winter months. Since bees rely on honey stored in the summer to feed them all winter, now is the time to determine the health and population of the hive, he said.

Kerry Owen, president of the South Carolina Beekeepers Association and owner of Bee Well Honey, said hive health is always a concern for beekeepers. For the past 15 or 20 years, bee populations have been going in a downward spiral. So careful monitoring is essential whether they have two hives or 2,000 hives, he said.

“It’s important for beekeepers to regularly inspect their hives and monitor the health of their bees. We all need to know how to keep healthy bees,” Owen said. “Research into problems like colony collapse disorder show there is a combination of factors affecting bees like pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. However, the number one challenge to bee health is the varroa mite. They are killing more western honey bees than anything else,” Owen said.

Varroa mites are parasites that infest honeybee colonies and transmit diseases to bee larva resulting in severe deformities or death. The mites affect honeybees across the United States, and they have even become resistant to some chemical treatments, Owen said.

“Whether using natural, soft or hard chemicals, every beekeeper must learn to kill varroa mites. Right now, we have more choices than we’ve ever had to control them, but if we don’t, the problem can get worse,” Owen said.

Yannello said the success of honeybees is important for more than just delicious honey and beeswax lip balm, soap and candles. Honeybees also perform the important work of pollinating crops as they move from plant to plant collecting pollen and nectar.

Since honeybees have a quality known as flower fidelity, once they find a crop they like, they will return to it exclusively. It is their ability to focus on one crop that makes them so essential for our national food system, Yannello said.

“Many crops like almonds, citrus, apples and peaches rely on bees at bloom time. There are one million acres of almonds in California that depend on honey bees to be pollinated. Also, livestock feed sources like alfalfa also need honey bees for pollination. I know farmers in my area are glad to have bees because even crops like soybeans have increased yields when pollinated by honey bees,” Yannello said.

Although honey bees are essential, there are only a few large-scale producers in South Carolina, Owen said. However, there is a rapidly growing number of hobbyist beekeepers, he added.

“The hobbyist beekeepers are really what’s pollinating the sate of South Carolina. It’s great to see more local associations popping up all the time. They all have educational classes to help train new beekeepers,” Owen said.

As long as a person is not allergic to bee stings, anyone can keep bees, Yanello said. Both urban and rural environments are great for raising healthy bees and producing honey.

“There’s a lot of people interested in keeping bees, and although it can be challenging it can also be very rewarding. One third of the food you eat every day is a result of pollinators, so if we don’t have honey bees, we don’t have food,” Yannello said.