Newsletter Signup | Subscribe to Magazine

Faces: The hive-minded beekeepers of Beaufort County

More than just producing the honey we use to sweeten our tea, bees play a vital role in the Lowcountry’s ecosystem. Meet three locals who have earned their stripes in the apian army.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff

It’s not an exaggeration to say that bees may just be the single most important creature in the animal kingdom. As we’ve all learned in recent years, with the looming threat of colony collapse disorder, these humble little insects make so much more than just honey. They make life as we know it possible. 

It’s bees that travel from plant to plant, spreading pollen and leaving in their wakes flourishing flora. These plants, from flowers to cash crops, nourish our bodies and our souls. Without the diligent efforts of the bees, it all goes away. And with it goes the bounty that keeps humanity fed. 

As such, caring for these tireless workers is critical. Join us as we salute three locals who are caring for the bees that help sustain us.

Camp Arnold

The bee guy

Camp Arnold started Beaufort Bees in 2019. He’s on a mission to educate and populate Beaufort County with honey bee colonies. His popular rent-a-hive program allows locals to keep bees and their honey with no long-term commitment.

For most of us, the isolation and boredom of the pandemic’s early months led to all sorts of odd new skills. We learned to make sourdough. We perfected our dance moves on TikTok. We mastered the art of jigsaw assembly. And Camp Arnold became Beaufort County’s resident “Bee Guy.”

“That’s pretty much what everyone calls me,” he said. “I don’t even remember my name.”

It was curiosity that led the licensed massage therapist to make the abrupt career change into beekeeping; curiosity and a decided lack of concern for his own wellbeing. 

“I had a chance to catch a wild bee hive that had showed up at a business up in Beaufort. They’d posted on Facebook asking if someone could get rid of it, so I went over there with zero experience in beekeeping,” he said. “I failed miserably.”

That first attempt — coaxing the hive with nothing more than a painter’s suit from Lowe’s and a hairnet over his face secured with duct tape — became the ultimate learning experience for Arnold. He sought out Greg Ferris of Ferris Apiaries, hoping to learn from the 35 years of experience Ferris has in beekeeping. “I told him I’d like to learn, so he let me hang around his shop and I wound up getting a couple of hives from him,” said Arnold. “He got me into it, and I started doing honeybee relocations with him. I was hooked.”

With the pandemic shutting down his massage business, Arnold dove into beekeeping, launching Beaufort Bees. Through Beaufort Bees, Arnold continues his honeybee relocation services (albeit with much better equipment than his first attempt) while also providing mentorship for area beekeepers, locally produced honey and a special “rent-a-hive” program.

“This year has been the pilot year for that. It’s a great way for people to keep bees at their own house without the responsibility of taking care of them,” he said. Through the program, Arnold will relocate a hive to your property, checking on its progress once a month and giving valuable advice on its upkeep. Whatever honey the hive produces is yours to keep, and the little pollinators will spend their day keeping your garden lush. 

“Bees in general are hot right now,” he said. “Everyone wants to save the bees, so this is my way of getting people involved with that and helping them feel like it’s making change in their own life.” 

(Click the thumbnail images below to view larger)

How to relocate a beehive

We should note that for the vast majority of us, relocating a beehive is a simple two-step process. Step one: call a professional. Step two: wait. There are reasons that people like Camp Arnold are the only ones allowed to relocate them. But if you’re curious, here’s how he does it.

His first question when asked to relocate a hive is how long it’s been there. The answer to that question dictates how large a hive he’s dealing with. After that, he gets to work. “My favorite tool is a stethoscope,” he said. “You just listen for the hum.”

From there he’ll open up the cavity, whether it’s in a wall or in a roof soffit 30 feet up. A specialized vacuum sucks up the drones, making it a simple (or simpler) process to find the queen. That’s the ideal situation. Sometimes, like when a hive showed up inside a cinder block wall, he has to set up a “bait hive,” encased over a one-way trap. After 4-6 weeks, the bees will eventually all find their way out and ready for their new home.

(Click the thumbnail images below to view larger)

David Arnal

The King

David Arnal, president of the Beaufort-Jasper Beekeepers Association, has more than 50 bee colonies under his care. His honey is for sale at the Coastal Discovery Museum.

There are numerous hazards that go hand-in-hand with beekeeping. You’ll have the odd hive that just doesn’t make it. You’ll have predators large and small that can take out an entire colony in a single day. And, if you’re really unlucky, occasionally you’ll have to answer some thorny questions from federal agents. At least if you’re David Arnal.

“Back in 2002, I was working at the old Coastal Discovery Museum site, lighting a smoker in the parking lot to work some bees and two black Suburbans pull up full of Homeland Security agents,” he said. “They’d never seen anyone lighting a smoker before and they said, ‘We need to understand what you’re doing.’ When I showed them, they wanted to know all about it.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Arnal would ignite someone’s curiosity about bees, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. By the time DHS pulled up on him, he’d already been working with bees for nearly 15 years, starting when he was a student at Clemson. A nearby Christmas tree farm had asked if he’d like to take care of their bees. “I don’t know what I was doing,” he admitted. “I was keeping honey in two-liter bottles.”

Finding few resources for learning about beekeeping, Arnal sought out the University of Georgia’s Keith Delaplane. Now one of the top bee researchers in the world, and one of the key figures in studying colony collapse disorder, Delaplane was then just a burgeoning researcher at UGA. “It was a fortuitous time to meet him because he had time to walk me through everything,” said Arnal.

Under Delaplane’s mentorship, Arnal embarked on a beekeeping career that brought him to Hilton Head, where he set up the first apiary at Six Oaks Cemetery. “Everyone said it was weird that I would even do that, but fast forward to 2006 and everyone thought it was the coolest,” he said. 

Cool enough, in fact, that Arnal soon found a whole legion of beekeepers coming to him for help. Before long, there were enough of them to start the Beaufort-Jasper Beekeepers Association, a group roughly 125 strong. “We started out as more an educational group,” he said. “It’s not something you can learn from a book. You have to see it and have someone explain it to you.”

His next venture will be a “honey house” located off of Island Drive. The only USDA-designated farm on Hilton Head Island, it will start small by offering local honey and beeswax, expanding to an ecotourism facility later on. “We want it to be a place where we can walk you through bee biology, why they’re disappearing, and really make it a destination,” he said.

(Click the thumbnail images below to view larger)

The surprising health benefits of bees

By now you’ve no doubt heard about the myriad health benefits of honey. And while we’re no doctors, if the claims are true this stuff is basically a delicious golden panacea. There are the rich amounts of polyphenols they contain, a plant compound that has been found in some cases to elevate digestion and brain health. There are studies that show honey applied to the skin can treat certain burns and wounds, especially diabetic sores. And any singer worth their pitch pipe can tell you that a little honey can really warm up your voice.

But if you ask David Arnal, one of the most experienced beekeepers in the state, he’ll tell you about one health benefit that goes beyond simple home remedy treatments. 

“I got stung 75 or 80 times on my left ankle back in 1997 when I dropped an entire box on my feet. I didn’t have an ankle band, so my ankle swelled to the size of a cantaloupe,” he said. “Now I actually sting myself on purpose throughout the winter to have the bee venom in my system, so I don’t have that reaction.”

His regular venom therapy came with an unexpected side effect. He cites a National Institute of Health study saying that beekeepers in general had lower rates of COVID. “It seems like it changes your T cells to prevent COVID,” he said. “But people are not lining up for my vaccine.”

Phyllis Horry

Down on the farm

Phyllis Horry doesn’t keep bees on her farm for their honey. Mostly, she keeps them to pollinate her citrus trees. She sells her products at the Port Royal Farmer’s Market.

Phyllis Horry doesn’t just keep bees. Between her two and a half hives you’ll find pens of chickens, muscovies, pigeons, quail, rabbits, hogs and more. You’ll find stumps bearing a variety of wild mushrooms. You’ll find enough produce to feed an army, scattered in pots and plots and hanging from branches. You’ll even find a couple of Nigerian dwarf goats. They’re not hard to find – just follow the occasional bleat. That is, if you can hear them over the chorus of clucks, squawks and quacks. 

But the most beautiful sound in this whole symphony comes from those hives – a steady hum of happy bees crisscrossing her broad Okatie property as they pollinate her farm’s bounty.

“You see them going in there? You see that on them? That’s pollen,” she said, pointing to a five-framed “nuc” where she keeps one of her hives. With bees flying in and out at a rapid clip, this hive is by far the busier of her two. The hive is located next to a small pond, on land belonging to her late husband’s family for generations. The nuc itself, a term for a box with five frames for holding honeycombs, was built by one of her granddaughters. 

And as gentle as the bees seem, it’s only understandable that certain writers might hesitate to get near their hive. “Don’t breathe on them and don’t get in their flight path, and they’re not liable to bother you,” she said, reassuringly. She notes that generally they leave her alone, except for one incident where Hurricane Matthew brought a tree down over one of her hives and in trying to clear debris she dropped their box. As you can imagine, they didn’t take it well.

She first got involved with beekeeping 10 year ago, as the Beaufort-Jasper Beekeepers Association meetings were held at the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority which borders her property. Through YouTube videos and books, trial and error, and the help of her fellow beekeepers, she added a few swarms to the menagerie at her farm. Her journey into beekeeping is just the latest chapter in a life story spent working the earth. 

“I don’t think I bought a canned vegetable other than asparagus the whole time my sons were growing up,” she said. “I like being outside.”

And while some people keep bees for their honey, Horry keeps them around as a helping hand on the farm. “I have them mostly not to rob them for their honey, but they pollinate my citrus trees,” she said. Beyond feeding herself and giving the odd care package to her three sons who all live in the area, Horry sells her goods at the Port Royal Farmer’s Market.

(Click the thumbnail images below to view larger)

Streaming bees

While she’s been farming her whole life, Phyllis Horry is a relative newcomer to beekeeping. She did a ton of research before building her first hive – a lot of books, a lot of mentorship and more than a few colorful online personalities. Here are a few of her favorites to get you started.

Don the Fat Beeman ( Don “The Fat Bee Man” Kuchenmeister runs Dixie Bee Supply in Lula, Georgia, emphasizing organic methods and natural beekeeping. 

JP the Beeman ( Hive removal specialist JP the Beeman has a website and YouTube channel full of informative (and hilarious) videos.

Mr. Ed ( No, not the famous talking horse. Instead, this is the site of Jeff Horchoff, head beekeeper for a Benedictine monastery located in Southeast Louisiana.

628 Dirt Rooster ( Part beekeeping community, part treasure trove of truly bonkers bee videos, 628 Dirt Rooster bills itself as the place “where hobby beekeeping is a way of life.”