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The Buzz on Honeybees

March 28, 2011

Last Christmas, I received a quart jar of local honey from a beekeeper. The sweet elixir came with a block of honeycomb. My friend expressed a concern. “I’m worried about my bees,” he said. “Something is killing them.” His concern reflects a nationwide problem. Honeybees are disappearing.

The first warm days of spring have encouraged activity in the insect world. A friend made an unusual request. “If you hear of anybody who has a problem with a swarm of bees please call me. I need to replenish my hives.”

Since 2006 some commercial beekeepers in the United States have lost 90% of their colonies. Dr. Mike Hood, Professor of Entomology at Clemson University, has been following the epidemic known as colony collapse since 2007. Honeybees have been in decline since 1950. At first this was attributed to an increase in the use of pesticides. Now, bees are disappearing at an alarming rate, and scientists don’t know why.

Albert Einstein said, “If the honeybee becomes extinct, mankind will follow within four years.” Though agriculturists aren’t predicting such dire consequences, all agree the impact has already been significant.

Some have said that honeybees are a canary for the human race. In times past, a canary was sent into the coal mines to see whether there was oxygen enough for the miners to do their work. If the canary died, it was time for the miners to get out.

When people think of bees they think of honey. My grandmother who suffered with asthma believed that a spoonful of local honey, taken every day, helped control her allergies. A jar of honey from the Upstate was the best gift we could give to her.

The real value of bees is not the production of honey. The honeybee, our most beneficial insect, is a pollinator.  In South Carolina crops like peaches, watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, apples, and cucumbers are all heavily dependent on bees for pollination.

Is there anything people can do at home in their yards to help encourage bee recovery?  Through urban sprawl we have eliminated much of the honeybees’ natural foraging area.  Improving the availability of food for bees by planting flowering trees or a wild flower garden will help.

Any time we plan to purchase a pesticide, we must read the directions. If it is harmful to honeybees, we should not use it.

Buying honey produced in our area also boosts the honeybee population by encouraging local beekeepers.

South Carolina has a master beekeeper program offered to the public through Clemson University and hosted by the South Carolina Beekeeper’s Association.  Dr. Hood says, “We will take someone who has never been around honeybees, and we can make a hobby beekeeper out of them within about eight weeks.”

Anyone who has gone barefooted in a patch of clover has, sooner or later, stepped on a honeybee. Bee stings are to be avoided, but the fact remains, bees are essential insects.

And that’s the buzz on honeybees.

Kirk H. Neely
© March 2011
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