Nov/Dec 2017The Buzz Around Townby Cindy Thompson
Sparked by the success of a library's observation beehive, Calhoun County is building strong support for their pollinator cohorts in a festive way.
South Carolinians who can appreciate a fresh farm-to-table meal, a tasty fish stew or venison sausage for the holidays might know a thing or two about Calhoun County - home to bountiful farmlands, rushing rivers and bottomland forests that shelter wildlife of every sort. Nature and local communities mesh together effortlessly here, especially in the charming town of St. Matthews.
There is an ingrained respect for Mother Nature that resonates in a town like St. Matthews. The effects of a drought or flood, for example, might ripple through this community in ways that metropolitan areas might not notice, until that high-priced visit to the grocery store.
St. Matthews residents are quick to acknowledge that the well-being of their agribusiness economy is fairly dependent on a group of smaller co-workers, the pollinators, fulfilling their duties. In fact, you could say that this town goes out of their way to make sure the bees feel right at home.
Melissa Moïse McLeod of the Calhoun County Library tells the story of how locals pulled together in a big way to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators.
Calhoun County Library Director Kristen Simensen, who has brought to fruition countless initiatives to benefit the community, developed a vision and a road map to connect people with pollinators at the library, McLeod says. "Kristen originated our pollinator initiative, working first with local organizations and volunteers to establish a garden. Shortly thereafter, she worked with The Bee Cause to have an observation beehive installed in the children's area of the library."
Much to the library's delight, the observation beehive drew in school groups, interested visitors and a wide range of sponsors through a Hive Warming Party kick-off event.
"Children and adults are fascinated by the honey bees, as are we, and the ability to make the community feel an ownership and sense of pride in this hive has been very rewarding," she says.
The success of the library's spring event led Simensen to do some more brainstorming. Focusing on broader ways to educate the public about pollinators, plans for a honey festival started to blossom. Within a relatively short span of time, a long list of supporters and volunteers lined up to help. In addition, the S.C. Department of Agriculture's (SCDA) Certified S.C. Grown program, the SCDNR and Harry Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund, South Carolina Farm Bureau, Clemson Extension and a host of other sponsors offered a wide range of support.
McLeod says that "what started as a simple idea of education alongside community entertainment grew into a much larger and more involved event spanning three days and including a farm-to-table dinner, day-long beekeeping and gardening workshops, and a full-blown festival complete with musical entertainment, lectures, demonstrations, children's crafts and entertainment, vendors and food trucks!"
Their initial concept for a honey bee festival sky-rocketed into the Honey Jubilee & Farm Fest in June, attracting pollinator experts and scientists, beekeepers, farmers, master gardeners, vendors and, of course, droves of honey bee fans.
The agricultural community of Calhoun County was a key partner, McLeod says, exemplifying how pollination plays such an important role in the state's economy. According to the 2012 USDA agriculture census, Calhoun County has more than 118,000 acres of farmland.
The festival sparked unexpected results as well, says McLeod. "Relationships with our community garden clubs have grown with the advantage that each club, and there are at least five in Calhoun County, has learned more about the importance of pollinators and is sharing that message. The Gressette Children's Garden has a dedicated committee made up of master gardeners and community members who care for the garden and volunteer for tours.
She adds that the connection with local farmers has strengthened, too. "There is a great group of young farmers in Calhoun County - the next generation, if you will. We are really hoping that in next year's festival they will be able to be even more involved with drone demonstrations, crop discussions and visibility for those future farmers interested in this field of work."
With Calhoun County's new observation hive, festival and pollinator network, the town library has created quite the buzz about bees around town and South Carolina. In fact, the retail industry, local restaurants and produce markets are all very much on board with branching out in this direction.
"Though not necessarily 'novel,' the importance of local honey and bee-related products has become apparent through the festival," McLeod adds. "The demand for local honey has increased dramatically, and we must credit it with the public learning more about the benefits of local honey to ward off infections, provide natural allergy relief and boost overall immunity. We had a number of local craft vendors who took great pains to offer crafts specifically for this industry, and we hope they saw success."
For more information on the observation hive or Honey Jubilee & Farm Fest, please visit calhouncountylibrary.org.
Clemson University Apiculture Specialist Dr. Jennifer M. Tsuruda explains how pollinators help maintain the balance of nature... and can help the economy, too.
Whether you prefer LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, networking is an integral part of expanding social circles or accomplishing lofty goals. However, it may be surprising to learn that our livelihoods and well-being depend very heavily on network connections to the honey bee.
OK, it may seem a little silly to think of a honey bee on LinkedIN, but farmers and many of the shops in town would agree that pollinators are the kind of colleagues we all need to have working on our team.
Clemson University Apiculture Specialist Dr. Jennifer M. Tsuruda explains that pollinators may be one of the "most valuable players" on our working team - pointing out that revenue generated by pollinated agricultural crops has an estimated worth of $20 billion in the United States.
During the Honey Jubilee & Farm Fest in June, I had the pleasure of attending one of Dr. Tsuruda's presentations at a picturesque farm on the outskirts of St. Matthews.
There was not an empty seat in the barn-style venue as Dr. Tsuruda talked about the importance of bees. Her energetic presentation and fascinating bee footage had the whole room scribbling on notepads as fast as they could, and eager to plant forage for pollinators as soon as possible.
"Bees have a rich history with both humans and plants," she explained. "They are depicted in hieroglyphics, have been utilized throughout time for honey and wax, and have a shared history with flowering plants and modern agriculture."
Over time, technology has progressed, but the role of pollinators is just as important today. According to Dr. Tsuruda, "We now have published genomes of several bee species, allowing scientists to better understand their evolution and the mechanisms underlying their biology and challenges.
"Pollinators are an important part of ecosystems, natural or agricultural, but they face several challenges," Tsuruda adds. "Depending on the environmental conditions, they may decline due to parasites, pathogens, predators, malnutrition, pesticide exposure, habitat loss or deterioration. There is a lot of research being done in these areas, but it will take time, and there are still many questions to answer."
During Dr. Tsuruda's presentation, I reflected on grade school science lessons about the food chain. Bees and other pollinators have a direct effect on a broad range of plant and animal species. The instability of one plant species, for example, may determine the fate of another species, resulting in a domino effect that could potentially reach the top of the food chain. For this reason, farmers and gardeners work in harmony with bees, often positioning brood boxes near their gardens or fields.
Taking notes in the back of the banquet hall, with colorful arrangements of wildflowers all around, I too was becoming a full-fledged honey bee fan. I was most fascinated to hear about the language of bees.
"Honey bees, like many insects, communicate with one another through pheromones or chemical scents, but one thing that makes them a little different is that they have a dance language," Dr. Tsuruda pointed out. "When a forager returns from collecting nectar or pollen, she will dance on the honeycomb and give out tastes of nectar, recruiting new foragers to the food source. This dance indicates the distance and direction to a food location; a simple round dance is done for nearby sources while a more elaborate, waggle dance done in a figure eight pattern is done for sources further away."
Like a head coach, addressing her team at half-time, the room-full of attendees intently listened to all the final words of advice Dr. Tsuruda had to offer:
"Not every person is meant to be a beekeeper, but we can all do things to support and protect honey bees and other pollinators. The way you maintain your yard and land can have affects on both beneficial and detrimental insects. For example, providing exposed soil can provide habitat for ground-nesting bees and letting some weeds bloom can actually support bees and other pollinators."
Here are some of Dr. Tsuruda's tips on how to support and protect bees.
- Provide habitat and forage for insect pollinators.
- Keep in mind that many native flowers may not be as showy as horticultural varieties, but they may provide better or more food for pollinators.
- Reduce pesticide use to only the situations that require it.
- Remove breeding grounds for mosquitoes, such as planter saucers and tires. Spraying to eliminate mosquitoes may pose a risk to pollinators.
- Most of all, be aware and learn to fully appreciate the function and roles of these animals in the ecosystem.
"Educate yourself about pollinators and other beneficial insects," says Dr. Tsuruda. "There are many good insects in your yard - some do not look very cute and sweet, but they may be providing control of some of the more detrimental insects in your yard. When you see holes in the leaves of your plants, take some time to figure out what made the hole - it could be a bee or caterpillar of a butterfly that uses the leaves as nesting material or food. Sometimes holes in your leaves can be the sign of a good insect, not one that needs to be sprayed. Spending more time learning about and appreciating the ecosystem of your land and region can also help you feel more connected to nature."
For more information, please visit www.clemson.edu/extension/beekeepers.
Brooks Adams explains how his "home-grown" business has taken flight.
A year after retiring from the military, Brooks Adams was drawn to the world of beekeeping.
"My brother-in-law Richard, a retired biology teacher, caught the beekeeping bug and shared his new interest in beekeeping," Adams says. "I was immediately taken with the challenge to study and research ways to keep bees alive."
Adams found comfort in gardening, and he purchased his family's farm prior to retirement. "Richard in Florence, me in West Columbia, and my farm in Saluda... we started beekeeping.
"Thirty-seven years of military service taught me the importance of knowing your job, and beekeeping has filled a void of constant study, teaching or training other people."
Adams' Words of Wisdom
- Advice I'll pass along as given to me from Dr. Mike Hood, retired state apiarist - Grow slow. I soon realized you don't know what you don't know about bees.
- Do your research... I'm a member of the S.C. Beekeeper Association, a certified beekeeper and currently a journeyman level beekeeper. I'm an avid reader of American Bee Journal and Bee Culture magazines and study extensively material online from universities and bee supply companies.
- Beekeeping can be individual or group work. It is greatly satisfying when people tell you how much more yield their gardens produced with your bees nearby.
Saluda Bee Farms sells eight-ounce, eleven-pound, and two-pound squeeze bottles of honey. Honey bees are also sold at the farm. For more information on products and services, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.