Florence farmer keeps an eye on honey bee health
FLORENCE, S.C. – Honey bees exert an outsized influence on the larger ecosystem. As a keystone species, their health affects the health of garden plants and foods including tree nuts, fruits, vegetables and berries.And for nearly a decade, the honey bee populations have been in peril. Committees in Washington have devoted investigations to what’s become known as colony collapse disorder. And with about 3,000 beekeepers in the state, South Carolina has a stake in the health of the honey bee.
George Harrington, of Harrington Farms off North Cashua Drive in Florence, started keeping bees about six or seven years ago. He maintains 24 different hives, and maintains that it’s just a hobby.As a member of a beekeeper’s association, Harrington has heard about the broader troubles with the health of honey bees.
“We haven’t had much trouble through here in our area,” Harrington said. “But it’s a concern. We try to keep all the pesticides that will really kill ’em, from around ’em. But sometimes a fellow will come in with an airplane and, not knowing, will spray ’em, and maybe kill a colony. We have more trouble with wax moths than anything else. They get in and eat up every bit of the cone, the wax. They just eat all that up.” He’s been happy with how his bees are doing this season – they’ve fared better than some of his crops, which include corn, wheat, soybeans and sunflowers.“We’ve had a good population this year, more than we’ve had over the last three or four years. I was thinking it wouldn’t be as good because it’s been so hot and dry. They’re just kind of like us farmers: When the weather’s bad, they don’t work much. But when the weather’s good, they’re as busy as they can be.”He got interested in keeping bees after watching a program on TV.“I sit there and watched every bit of it,”
“I turned to my wife and said, ‘Well, I think I’m going to get me some bees.’ And I’ve been messing with them ever since. To me, you can get books that tell you everything, but that don’t cut it with me. I’ve got to do it hands on. I learn as I go. You have your ups and downs. You lose a few, and you gain a few.”
The beekeeper’s association has helped out through guides that advise beekeepers what to do each month in regard to their hives.
“January, you don’t do much with them,” Harrington said. “And February, about the same way. You’re getting all your hives and things ready for the spring. It usually starts in the last of February or March, when the maple trees and stuff start putting out. And that’s when the bees start getting out and collecting their nectar and stuff.
And that’s right on through June, July. July is mostly the month we’re taking the honey. And then, from then on, whatever flowers they can find, they’re getting the nectar to make honey, to get them through the winter.”When he first started out, he bought bee colonies and queen bees, but now he’ll catch swarms that gather on branches or buildings. People will call him, and he’ll come by with his bee vacuum.“We’ve been to houses and tore off part of the boards and stuff to get them,” he said. Sometimes, bees will leave their hive and not come back.“They’re going to do what they want to do regardless,” Harrington said. “It’s just one or two every now and then. That’s the way it is with bees.
If they’re not satisfied, they’re going to leave.”The bees haven’t taken a liking to the field of sunflowers he planted.“That’s the name of the game,” he said.As for the honey, he’ll keep some and sell some.“The one that we have, it’s the real thing,” Harrington said. “There’s no additives, and nothing’s been taken out of it. It’s just pure honey, straight from the bees. I used to buy it, until I started messing with bees. And I wouldn’t buy none out the store; I wouldn’t have it if they gave it to me.”To keep honey bees is to assume a level of uncertainty – sometimes they’ll leave their hive completely, for good, and they don’t always make it through the winter. But Harrington sees no reason to stop.
“As long as I’m able, and got my health, I’ll probably mess with ’em right on,” He said. “What it is, I get out there with all this machinery and I get aggravated with it, I’ll just go out there to the bees and start with them. Because you don’t go down there in a big hurry. You’ve got to be calm and easy, and you get along good with ‘em. But if you go down there like you’re gonna make them do something, they’ll show you who’s boss.”