9760 Randall Rd
McClellanville, SC  29458
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Bees and Beekeeping at Blue Pearl Farms

Curious about bees and beekeeping?  Private groups of five or more may schedule workshops to fit their schedules; individualized apiary experience and hands on learning with one of the Blue Pearl Farms beekeepers also available. For more information call 843-887-3554 or send us an email (address top left).
Beekeeper's logbook
January & February: The bees started to feed the queen in mid-January when the pond cypress, dandelions, chickweed, and other early bloomers began to give off pollen. By the time of the first inspection in late January, every colony had fresh eggs and capped brood, meaning the queens have been hard at work. With the warmth and red leaf maple blooming nearby, along with some white clover and camelias, it was time to move all the bees to their warm weather residences.

Lots of growth in the population of the individual colonies, and time to make the first splits in the early part of the month. In making a split, beekeepers take brood and bees from a bustling, high population hive, and start a new colony. Adding a new queen gets things kickstarted, or you can let the bees raise their own queen by building a queen cell around a cell with a very young larvae in it and feeding it royal jelly for a longer period than usual for worker bees. Our nuc yard is full, and about two weeks after introducing the new queens, they begin laying. Meanwhile, the nectar flow began during the last week of March. Our spring has begun with redbuds, Carolina jessamine, apples, pond cypress and red leaf maple in full bloom by the beginning of the month, and the bees bring back tremendous amounts of nectar and pollen to start rearing brood and building up their stores. They still need to be offered 1:1 sugar water every day. They are building out, building up their population exponentially and drawing out new frames of wax honeycomb.

 The new bee garden beside the pond is coming along. We selected nectar producers with flowers in the favorite colors of the bees: white, yellow, blues, and purples. Herbs, bulbs, tubers, annual and perennial plants will provide blossoms from late winter through the fall. And 2500 blueberry bushes are about to break bud too. Workshops on planning bee gardens are available.
April: The blueberries bloom in late March and early April in plenty of time for June fruit. This is swarm season, so we inspect the colonies every six days to be sure they haven't created any queen cells. There are a number of techniques people use to avoid swarming. The basic philosophy is to provide the colony with ample space to fill with brood and stores long in advance of their realizing their population is growing exponentially. It takes about 45 days for an egg to become a laying queen (if everything goes well), so it is best for beekeepers who seek a strong colony to maintain its queen instead of watching her fly away with half the bees (which is the biological imperative, and understandable after all). Lots of blooms everywhere--remember, avoid using any pesticides if at all possible, and if you must use them, spray after dusk when the bees are in their hives or before they emerge at sunrise. Plant now for summer's nectar dearth: sunflowers are terrific in August.

May and June: Inspection every 6-7 days over this period kept our bee population growing as we made artificial swarms as needed. There was a tremendous bloom of gallberry on the fringes of the longleaf pine forest this year, and both white and crimson clover flowers are still on the plants. Good local wildflower populations of Bidens and Carolina tobacco weed, along with ornamental herbs, anise hyssop, and hollies complemented buckwheat and sunflower plantings some people use to support foraging. It's time to harvest honey only when your frames are 90% capped; spin out that uncapped nectar first, clean the extractor, and then cut off the cappings to harvest your spring and summer honey. Our demonstration beescaping area is blooming with Cirsium (thistle), gallberry, blue vervain, blue asters, and blanket flower as well as all the herbs and exotics. We added a wetland area with plantings of pickerel weed, sweet flag, cattail, creeping Charlie, and other small wildflowers beside the pond.

July: Summer's heat intensifies daily. This is a good time to check your water supply for your bees: is the water fresh? is it shallow or filled with gravel or marbles so the bees can drink without drowning? Our clover continues to bloom, along with garden plants going to seed (parsley, fennel, carrots) and currently flowering (basil, beans, strawberries, sunflowers). In the beescape, yarrow, sage, lavender, and oh my the mint, anise hyssop, Russian sage, and Shasta daisies are taking off. The day lilies and American swamp lilies are still putting out flowers as well. Our main summer honey harvest is on hand, for fully capped frames only, and the bees will have plenty of time to build up their fall supplies. It is time to consider making any splits to overwinter now; the end of the month is the latest you should plan for that. Inventory your equipment, and get any orders in to be sure you have enough bottoms, hive bodies, and lids before you begin. Decide whether you will order a new queen or let them make their own in the new split and allow plenty of time to get a queen from a supplier if you go that route. Plant for your early fall garden, and include plenty of flowers for the pollinators (see below for more information on specific suggestions).

August: Summer's heat intensifies daily, and the bees are frequently outside bearding on the 'front porch' to stay cool. It is time to feed your colonies because little nectar is available until the goldenrod begins to bloom. Choose cane sugar at a 1:1 ratio by weight with water for best results. (If the sugar wrapper does not say Cane Sugar, it is made from beets, and is less digestible.) Remember, once you start feeding, the supers will include sugar water and should not be harvested for honey. We have a small but important goldenrod and aster bloom starting towards the end of the month or early September. The heavy rains provide reassurance that they will be good producers this year.
     Keep an eye on your hives and make sure to check for mites. You can slide a piece of white posterboard lightly coated with vaseline onto the base if you don't have a special mite board. Remove after 24 hours and count the number of mites present. Repeat after one week to ensure full representation of the mite life cycle. Prepare to treat them when the temperature is right for your particular technique. Essential oils have not been shown to be sufficient; there is some response, but the long term effects of mite load deplete the hive's ability to survive. Follow the instructions to the letter for your mite treatments, and check the mite count again after the first and second treatments (where relevant). Write it all down in your bee records and consider the overall impact on hive health as you review them for each hive. Remember to help the bees by killing adult hive beetles and reducing their ability to pupate near the hives. Wood mulch, shade, and dampness are a hive beetle larva's best friends when it comes time to burrow into the soil to pupate.
    Plant for early spring blooming nectar producers.

September-October:  Keep an eye on your hives and watch for robbing behaviors such as bees wrestling, bees that are the 'wrong color' pushing their way in to the hive through the main entrance or seeking gaps in its construction. If a hive is being robbed, you can wet a sheet and drape it over the entire hive, touching the ground. The  bees who belong there will find their way in, but the others will give up. All the bees are frantically seeking nectar sources and will take advantage of a wide entrance if it is available. You may want to reduce the entrance to your hives as the night time temperatures drop to the lower 70s.
     Inspect midday when temperatures are warmest, and try to choose warm sunny days. Do not open the hive when the temperature is 55 degrees or below, as it will chill the brood so important to the colony's ability to survive till spring. When you do inspect, be sure to deal with any problems like small hive beetles or mites as soon as you find them. The colony needs to spend its energy preparing for winter, not fighting pests. Full sun on your hive for as many hours a day as possible will help.
     If there is a rainy spell, the queen will probably stop laying, but she will start up again when the sun returns to build up the colony population for winter. Once the nights dip into the 50s, prepare to see the expulsion of any remaining drones. Very few are left in the hives, but once it is cold enough to let the colony know winter is around the corner, the drones will be thrown out, left on the ground or trying to get back into the hive. Since they have to be fed by the working bees from the stored nectar, pollen and honey, they are only allowed in the hive when a new queen may have to be mated. The queen will lay more unfertilized eggs in the spring once the maples bloom usually, and they will become next year's drones. If you do not have a queen, you will need to get one from a breeder or combine hives. There usually is not time, and there are not drones, for raising your own from queen cells at this time of year.
   The wildflowers of fall draw bees and other pollinators to their mostly golden and purple blooms. Goldenrod abundantly grows along the forest and road margins, and in our demonstration bee garden, and the honeybees are busy bringing its nectar back home. They also love the swamp sunflowers native to this area; you'll find them in damp spots and along ditches and the edges of ponds and wetlands. Purple lobelia, Ageratum, asters, and ironweed also are in bloom, and the bees find them irresistible. Mints are blooming again, along with basil, fennel, yarrow, and dill in the garden, and early sasanquas are showing up in their pink and white. We also have a confused apple tree that is blooming and fruiting at the same time some of its leaves are turning. Horsemint, Bidens, and Creeping Charlie, as well as the moisture-loving bog button attract visitors intent on getting every drop of nectar and grain of pollen possible packed away for winter in the hive.
     The bees are feasting on goldenrod nectar, which can give a hive a certain smell of locker room shoes, and also pollen and nectar from the many other wildflowers we are so fortunate to enjoy in the lowcountry. If you smell fermentation, that is different, and indicates a high population of small hive beetle larvae. You will need to deal with that problem immediately, usually by shaking your bees into a new hive and frames. Try hard to avoid this problem by taking care of beetles as soon as you see more than half a dozen at a time.
     Plant now for spring wildflowers, setting out large clumps of the same type so it is easy for bees to find them, and begin to clean, repair, and properly store your woodenware.

December: We checked on the colonies in their winter boxes to be sure they are all set for the coming months. Our first night in the 30s means that most of the drones got pushed out of the hives by the workers. Drones are the bigger bees with very large eyes. The male bees are important to the colony's survival in the spring and summer, but the colony doesn't store enough food to take the drones through the winter. The queens have stopped laying eggs till February, honey and pollen from the fall nectar flow of goldenrod and purple asters are stored, and now the field bees are looking for something sweet to take back to the hives all over the farm. This is a time when the bees will make a tight cluster around the queen inside the hive and dream of summer flowers while they wait for spring. Here at the farm, we are planning our bee garden, planting other forage plants for the bees, and cleaning up all the wooden hive equipment before the spring build out that begins in late February and early March here in the Lowcountry.

Planting for honeybees, native bees and pollinators
People want to know how to help support declining bee populations. Here are three of the most basic things you can do:
  • Accept nature's imperfections and avoid pesticides whenever possible. Even 'natural' pesticides like pyrethrins kill pollinators. Hand-pick pests and experiment with organic practices. For example, you can use a 10% solution of dishwashing soap, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and 4 cups of water in a spray bottle to protect leaves, stems, and flowers and fruits. Native plants are often most resistant to the area's pests.
  • Choose blue, white, yellow and purple flowering plants to create clumps of plants that will make it easy for the bees to visit many flowers at one time, spreading pollen from the same species within the clump. A variety of flower shapes and colors that bloom at different times also attracts many pollinators.
  • The most difficult time of year for our foragers is August, when many plants have already flowered or are getting ready to flower in the fall. Selecting late summer blooming varieties will make your garden an oasis for bees.

A few favorites
Trees and shrubs: Gallberry, beautyberry, chickasaw (and other) plums, saw palmetto, magnolia, tulip poplar, black (swamp) tupelo, buckeye, yaupon, chokecherry, holly, blueberries, bottle brush
Annuals: Horsemint (Monarda punctata), goldenrod, purple asters, mexican sunflower, hyssop, anise hyssop, globe thistle, swamp sunflower, vervain, blazingstar, borage, ironweed, blanketflower, Liatris, cosmos, oregano, marjoram, thyme, Devil's bit (Scabiosa), lavender, Rudbeckia, Joe Pye weed, butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa), plantain, dandelion, frostweed, Bidens (beggars tick and others)
Perennials: Rosemary, cotoneaster, white swan or purple coneflower, dewberry, blackberry, Wisteria, passionflower

Remember to choose blue, purple, white, yellow or pink flowering plants and to try to go native. The guides below have blooming dates and specific suggestions too.

More information
The websites here provide a range of information about planting for pollinators that live in the Lowcountry (outer Coastal Plain). Our farm is in Zone 8b; most plants on this list do well in Zone 8a, 8b, and 9.
A guide to our ecosystem from the point-of-view of native pollinators; blooming dates, colors, plant size and name, and particular pollinators are included.
A two-page guide to native plants (trees, vines, flowers, grasses) that are bee friendly for the Southeast from U.S. Fish & Wildlife.
Specific ideas and recommendations for bee-friendly plants.