Thanks be to the beekeepers

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Thanks be to the beekeepers

Published Tuesday, November 23, 2010   |  424 Words  |  

This week is a good time to be thankful for Lowcountry beekeepers.

We'd be eating like pilgrims without them.

They say a third of the American diet depends on honeybee pollination. That includes such Lowcountry favorites as watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, apples, pears, peaches, squash, strawberries and blueberries.

I rode deep into the heart of Cottageville last week to feel the pulse of Lowcountry honeybees. Nationally, bees are disappearing at alarming rates due to parasites, viruses, fungi, the mysterious "colony collapse syndrome" and the more familiar illegal dumping of foreign product on the market.

I was attracted to the Lowcountry Beekeepers Association meeting, where I found a hive crawling with activity. The members gather over a home-cooked meal once a month to help take the sting out of the ups and downs of their fascination that has perhaps gone awry. They share tips and ideas. I rode up with Wilson McIntosh of Beaufort, who keeps 14 hives. His brother, Roland, keeps hives that help pollinate crops at Dempsey Farms on St. Helena Island.

The meeting is always hosted by Archie and Diane Biering at one of the most unusual stops along the back roads of the Lowcountry. They operate the Bee City Honeybee Farm, Petting Zoo & Bee City Cafe on the banks of the Edisto River in Colleton County. Where else could one buy handmade honey products, gawk at antiques, munch a sandwich, pet a llama and argue with an exotic bird all in one convenient stop?

Also part of the emporium is a classroom where schoolchildren and the elderly come on field trips for a glimpse inside the world of honeybees that has fascinated and sustained mankind since the dawn of time.

Beekeepers are like farmers and shrimpers in that nothing ever goes just right. But they forge onward, always with hope.

Clemson University entomology professor Michael Hood is the king bee expert in South Carolina, and he sees encouraging signs. He sees a lot of new beekeepers, including younger ones, and new beekeeper associations. The Master Beekeeper program sponsored by the Clemson Extension Service and the S.C. Beekeepers Association has brought new people and better-trained people to the task. He said the annual loss of bee colonies is not nearly as severe in South Carolina as it is nationwide.

That's something to be thankful for. So are the Lowcountry residents who patiently take their turn at the ancient chore of herding bees.