CLEMSON — South Carolina 4-H has a new project that’s sure to get a lot of buzz for a long time.

Raising honey bees as part of the South Carolina 4-H Pollinator Program is a family affair for John, Wilson, Catherine and Mary Rae Oxner of Leesville.

Raising honey bees as part of the South Carolina 4-H Pollinator Program is a family affair for John, Wilson, Catherine and Mary Rae Oxner of Leesville. Wilson and Mary Rae are some of the first participants in the South Carolina 4-H Pollinator Program.
Image Credit: Denise Attaway / Clemson University

The South Carolina 4-H Pollinator Program began this year and is already a hit. A total of 61 participants from 17 counties are registered for the project. One component of the program, the Honey Bee Project, is gaining a lot of attention.

“This project is open to all South Carolina 4-H’ers ages 5 to 18 years,” said Ashley Burns, Clemson 4-H Youth Development assistant director. “This is a great way to teach youth about science, technology, engineering and math, as well as conservation of our natural resources and the importance to agriculture.”

4-H’ers involved in the project learn about beekeeping, the basics of entomology and about pollinators. Brother and sister Wilson and Mary Rae Oxner of Leesville are participating in the project this year. Wilson said he chose to participate in the project after his dad, John Oxner, suggested he try it out.

“I thought it would be a good project and I would be able to learn a lot,” said Wilson, 9, who goes to Gilbert Elementary School.

The Oxners have six hives. Wilson has learned a lot from the project so far, including how to start a hive.

“The bees come in these boxes and you have to go through a whole process to get them in the hive,” he said. “And then you have to feed them sugar water every day so that can build a comb. You have to keep track of how they’re building the comb. You also have to make sure the queen is present because in the early stages of a hive, if the queen isn’t there, the hive dies.”

Wilson also has learned how to spot a swarm cell.

“A swarm cell is like a queen cell, which is a big cell in the frame on the very bottom,” Wilson Oxner said. “If you see a swarm cell, this means the bees are too crowded and they’re about to go somewhere else and make a new hive.”

When this happens, Wilson said the original queen leaves the hive.

“Then the queens that are in the cells at the bottom hatch and they basically fight to their death to see which one survives, or which one is the strongest queen (bee), and that’s the new leader of that hive,” he said.

Wilson looks at the project as an investment.

“I can make money from the honey and I can make money from wax the bees produce,” he said.

His sister, Mary Rae, a second-grade student at Gilbert Primary School, also helps with the hives. Mary Rae has learned it takes a lot of bees to make honey.

“One bee, during its whole life, just makes one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey,” she said.

While the Oxners have six beehives, the project requires participants report on one managed colony during the project season from December to August.

Lilly Tidwell explains the different tools used in beekeeping. Lilly is one of the first participants in the South Carolina 4-H Pollinator Program.

Lilly Tidwell explains the different tools used in beekeeping. Lilly is one of the first participants in the South Carolina 4-H Pollinator Program.
Image Credit: Denise Attaway / Clemson University

Lilly Tidwell is a 4-H’er from Central who is participating in the project as well. Like the  Oxners, Lily said she became interested in the project after talking it over with her mother.

“We went to a class and learned about honey bees and some of the materials we would need,” Lilly Tidwell said. “When the date came for us to pick up our bees, we went to Bee Well Honey Supply and picked up our bees.”

Lilly said they had to wait until dusk to put the bees in the hive.

“That’s when they’re settled down a little bit more and you won’t have as much trouble putting them in (the hive) as you would if they were as active as normal,” Lilly said.

Lilly said that when they first put the honey bees in the hive, they noticed a lot of bees buzzing around, which gave them some concern.

“At first, we were afraid the queen was outside, but she wasn’t. We used our bee brush to push them back inside (the hive) in case it rained or anything they would be safe.”

To help care for her bees, Lilly is learning about the different tools needed in beekeeping. In addition to the bee brush, she also is learning how to use a hive tool to separate the bees and move frames. She’s also learned how to use a smoker to calm the bees.

“We have a special material that is Earth-safe that we put in the smoker,” Lilly said. “Then we use a lighter to make it smoke. This calms them down.”

Lilly also is learning about how to use a queen excluder to keep the queen bee out of the honey.

“We put an excluder on to keep the queen out of this (section of the hive) because we don’t want eggs in our honey.”

When it comes time to get the honey, Lilly said she will open the hive, remove the comb and squeeze the honey into jars.

“I can also get the wax to use for making candles and things like that,” she said.

Lilly said she also has learned about reporting what she does with her hives, what flowers are blooming and other things that are important in beekeeping. She records all of her beekeeping experiences in a journal.

Youth from all over South Carolina can join become involved in the South Carolina 4-H Honey Bee project. By participating in the project, youth will learn how to:

  • Set goals and plan activities and strategies to achieve these goals;
  • document skill development and learning experiences;
  • give back to their communities through educational and service activities;
  • learn record-keeping, financial management and written communication skills; and
  • become good stewards of the environment and gain technical expertise.

Registration for 2018 will be held in December 2017. The cost is $40 for 4-H members and $50 for non-members. For information, contact Ashley Burns at taberp@clemson.edu.

Beekeeping is rapidly growing in popularity as a hobby and, for some people, a vocation. Bees produce honey and beeswax. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), bees are responsible for pollinating up to 70 percent of the agricultural crops in America. Figures from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service shows in 2015, South Carolina reported having 14,000 honey-producing colonies. These colonies reported a yield of 67 pounds of honey per colony for a total production of 938,000 pounds of honey in South Carolina.

For producers with five or more colonies, honey production was up in 2016. Figures from the USDA-NASS show producers with five or more colonies totaled 162 million pounds, up 3 percent from 2015. There were 2.78 million colonies from which honey was harvested in 2016, up 4 percent from 2015. Producers with fewer than five colonies also reported an increase of 6 percent in honey produced. The average yield was 31.9 pounds per colony in 2016, up 2 percent from 2015.

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