In the Lowcountry, backyard beekeepers bring back the buzz

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJune 2, 2012 

  • Lowcountry Beekeepers Association meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month (except July) at Bee City, 1066 Holly Ridge Lane, Cottageville; 843-835-5912.

  • Visit the S.C. Beekeepers Association at www.scstatebeekeepers.org for research, newsletters and tips.

  • Clemson Extension has a beekeeping program and information at www.clemson.edu/extension/beekeepers.

If your vegetable garden is flourishing, you might owe some thanks to a backyard beekeeper.

"If there's bees there, there's a beekeeper within a mile of you, because the wild bees are pretty much gone," said Scott Biering of the Lowcountry Beekeepers Association.

Besides pesticides, mites, pollution and other concerns researched by the American Beekeeping Association, the small hive-beetle is decimating the local bee populations, Clemson University bee specialist Dr. Mike Hood said. There is an overall shortage of pollinators -- insects and animals that move pollen from one plant to another -- and one way to combat that is with local hives, he said.

"For some reason we've had an increase in backyard gardening," Hood said. "Many folks today want to produce a good crop in their garden, but they understand that if I don't have a lot of pollinators, that won't happen."

Biering has seen an increase over the past few years in beekeeping enthusiasts. They're joining the Lowcountry Beekeepers Association or signing up for beginning beekeeping classes or both.

Robert Landrum of the Lowcountry Gold beekeeping cooperative became hooked a few years ago when a friend kept raving about his hives.

One hive turned into more than two dozen, which Landrum now spreads across the county. Maintaining so many hives can be a labor- and time-intensive hobby, he said.

"They survive for six weeks because they work themselves so hard, literally to death," he said.

With some practice and, Hood suggests, a few classes, almost anyone can keep bees.

The hive locations are key for Landrum, who sells his honey at local farmers markets. This spring he kept four hives on the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Hilton Head Gateway campus near a grove of tupelo trees. They produce a sap that the bees turn into a distinctive-tasting honey, he said.

Other hives will go on farms or on private property around the county, and Landrum will collect that honey, which can also vary in flavor depending on the type of plants in the area. Generally, bees will travel about a mile to forage, Hood said.

Dating back to ancient Egypt, honey has been used in medicines for healing wounds and burns. A popular belief today is that local unprocessed honey with pollen in it can soothe allergy symptoms.

"There's some folks who swear it does help with their allergies," Hood said. "It doesn't work for everyone, but if you are using honey for that purpose, you have to use locally produced honey within the same city or town area."

A few weeks ago, Landrum visited his tupelo hives to prepare them for a move. The tupelo sap had stopped running.

He reached toward the Jackie's Jezebels hive, named by a neighbor, removed the lid and blew some smoke into the hive. The humming of the bees instantly got louder. Hundreds of bees on the frames inside the box scattered, some down between the frames. Others flew off in various directions.

One by one, Landrum pulled the frames from the box. Some that were covered with a white wax were put aside for extraction. Others he replaced, explaining they weren't ready. If the honey still has too much water, it can ferment. When he finished, he stepped back and watched the bees fly in and out of the hive.

"What you're doing is satisfying on some primordial level," he said. "That's what everyone does when they get bees. They just sit and watch them fly around, and it's interesting and fascinating.

"And sometimes, people will feel they have a little communication with them."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.

Related content:

S.C. Beekeepers Association

Clemson Extension beekeeping program

Thanks be to the beekeepers, Nov. 23 2010

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