LOCAL: Honeybees play vital role in crop fertilization
By MINNIE MILLER, T&D Columnist
A worker honeybee nuzzles down into the throat of a watermelon blossom, tapping into the sweet nectar at the base of the bloom. As she brushes by the anthers, pollen collects in the " baskets" along her legs. Then she's off to the next flower, and the next and the next. By day's end, she will have visited more than 1,000 blooms.
Honeybees play a vital role in crop fertilization, and with the number of feral or wild bees in steady decline, the role of beekeepers in South Carolina has steadily increased. According to Mike Hood of the South Carolina Beekeepers Association, there are approximately 2,500 beekeepers in South Carolina. Hood encouraged everyone to get to know more about the honeybee's contributions to agriculture.
"The honeybee not only makes honey, but it also is important in crop fertilization," Hood said. "As they pass from flower to flower, honeybees gather nectar and collect and redistribute pollen, thus fertilizing the plants and enabling them to reproduce."
Charlie Stoudemire of Woodford in northern Orangeburg County has been in the beekeeping business for just three years, but his fascination for honeybees has been with him since youth. His grandfather was a beekeeper, and even though Stoudemire didn't have a hand in it then, he has always had a great appreciation of bees.
Stoudemire started with just a few hives initially to provide more bees to pollinate his own crops. He farms full-time, growing corn, soybeans and wheat as well as produce. His wife, Cathy, operates their produce stand on Highway 321 in Woodford where they sell in-season produce and honey.
"Honeybees have such a unique civilization," Stoudemire said. "Everybody works together, and everybody gets along. They make and use everything they need."
The 100 hives that Stoudemire now keeps are rented out to provide pollination services for several local farmers. With the population of feral bees in decline, placing beehives at the recommended rate of one hive per acre of cropland can significantly increase fruit set in seedless and regular watermelon varieties, cantaloupes, squash, cucumbers and other crops.
Carl and Doris Johnson of Bolentown near Neeses now keep 20 hives of bees, down from the 124 they once had. Downsizing allowed them to enjoy beekeeping as a hobby rather than a job. Still, much of their time is spent harvesting honey, cleaning and processing beeswax and collecting bee pollen. They sell an assortment of products from their home, through a local health food store and at fairs.
Johnson also rents out his hives to local farmers for pollinating crops. He said the going price is around $35 to $40 per hive for a season. Maintaining a healthy hive is important, Johnson said, and much more time-consuming than in years gone by.
"It used to be that all beekeepers had to worry about was American foul brood," Johnson said, "but now maintenance on a hive has gone up 60 fold."
Today's beekeepers generally find they have to medicate their hives twice a year, in fall and spring, to ward off various pests. Paying close attention to management practices also plays a part in reducing infestations of small hive beetles, varroa mites and wax moths. Johnson has had very good success with homemade wax moths traps that he places atop each of his hives.
"I use a 2 liter drink bottle and mix 1 cup sugar, 1 cup white vinegar and 1 banana peel plus enough water to fill the bottle up to about 3 inches from the top," Johnson said. "I leave the cap on and cut a hole (about 1 inch across) in the top of the bottle where it curves in. The moths are attracted to it and fly in but can't get back out."
Johnson's honey house gives him and his wife just enough room to process all their bee related products. Shelves are lined with jars of strained honey, creamed honey, honey mustard, lip balm, jars of bee pollen, beeswax bars and various styles of candles.
Consumers should look for and buy local honey, Johnson said.
"If you're bothered by allergies, local honey is a lot better for you," he said, adding that local honey will also have a better flavor.
To help educate others about beekeeping and the importance of bees, Johnson presents programs to schools and community groups.
His portable observation hive tells much of the story while his presentation leaves listeners excited about and more appreciative of honeybees. Johnson hopes that his programs will encourage more youngsters to become interested in beekeeping. Johnson can be reached at 1-803-535-3223.
At age 54, Stoudemire is one of the youngest members of the Edisto Beekeepers Association. He would like to see more young people get involved in beekeeping.
"Right now the Edisto Beekeepers, along with the Clemson Extension 4-H, are sponsoring an essay contest titled 'Why I would like to keep bees.' The winner will get a beehive, equipment and a personal mentor to help them learn how to set up and keep bees," Stoudemire said.
The essay contest is open to youth ages 12-19 in the Edisto Beekeepers area of Bamberg, Barnwell, Orangeburg, Calhoun, Allendale, Hampton and Colleton counties.
For more information on the Edisto Beekeepers Association 2004 4-H Essay Contest, contact Shannon Herndon at 803-245-2661 or Gilbert Miller at 803-284-3343, ext. 225.
Beekeeping exhibits will be on display at various county fairs this fall and at the South Carolina State Fair in October.
T&D Columnist Minnie Miller can be reached by writing to her at 138 Nature's Trail, Bamberg, SC 29003.