Newsletter Signup | Subscribe to Magazine

The buzz on local bee keeping

Keep your flora and fauna lively with some of our favorite pollinators.

Story and photos by Emily Stine

The honey bees’ struggle has become a more striking issue in recent years. As more people gain awareness of the perils that these bees face, backyard beekeeping is becoming all the more common. We chatted with local bee expert David Arnal on the best way to start up your very own backyard hive and how to support bees in the Lowcountry.

Keep on (bee) keeping on

Beekeeping isn’t an easy feat. With stories of hives flying off, never to return again, it is no surprise that the Beaufort-Jasper Beekeepers Association puts such a strong emphasis on the importance of education. David Arnal suggests attending meetings at your local beekeeper’s association before getting hives, “Our best beginning beekeepers attended our Beaufort- Jasper County Beekeeper Association meetings for two years before they ever got honeybees,” Arnal said. “They knew exactly what to expect and they didn’t just dive in.”

Arnal also said that one of the most important things to do when you’re thinking about beekeeping is to check your neighborhood covenants. There are no local or state laws that prohibit the housing of bee hives however, some homeowners’ associations covenants do not permit livestock and, according to the USDA, honeybees are considered livestock.

Finally, if you have gone to your local beekeepers’ associations and feel that you are comfortable starting up a hive, make sure you get two hives. This will give you a basis to measure the health of your hives.

To bee or not to bee

Whether you are ready for your very own hives or not, there are plenty of ways to make your yard more hospitable to honeybees and bumblebees. “By increasing the number of non-treated annuals and perennials in your garden, you provide a healthy source of pollen for the bees to feed on,” Arnal said. He mentioned that many of the big box stores systemically treat their plants with pesticides. This means that you should pay attention to the source of your plants.

A great place to help on your search for bee friendly foliage is the Xerces Society (xerces.org). This website has foliage that is conducive to a healthy environment for pollinators in all areas of the United States. By clicking on their southeast region, you can find a list of herbs, shrubs and trees that promote a healthy honey crop right here in the Lowcountry.

September is typically a slow time for pollinators in the Lowcountry. Finding a plant that blooms in August is a huge help to the bees. Try planting wrinkle-leaf goldenrods or a narrowleaf sunflower for a pop of color that you and the bees both can enjoy.

Oh honey

With the different types of flora found in the Lowcountry, it’s no surprise that the type of honey varies based on the place your hive calls home. From the south end of Hilton Head to the Jasper County line, honeyflows vary from light to dark, sweet to rich and all levels in between.

“The most unusual honey that I get is honey from the south end of Sea Pines along the beach where there are a lot of yellow asters in the fall,” Amal said. “The honey that the bees produce tastes almost like cane syrup. It’s a very unusual honey that I don’t get often but, when I do, it’s a neat treat”. Arnal’s favorite honey of the year is the blackberry honeyflow which tastes, “lusciously delicious.”

The palmetto crop in the Lowcountry is the most popular amongst beekeepers and this honeyflow creates an influx of 20,000 hives during peak bloom (that’s over 500 million bees in the Lowcountry).

With all the different types of honey to try in the Lowcountry, you’ll be sure to keep your sweet tooth satisfied.

Feeling the sting?

If there is one thing that David Arnal wants to make clear, it is that bees are less dangerous than we think. “The number one question that I used to receive during educational talks prior to 2006 [when colony collapse disorder showed up] was do you get stung.”  The answer? Yes. But Arnal says, “I get stung mainly by mosquitoes, not by honeybees.”

His advice to avoid getting stung? Stop swatting at them, hold your breath and walk away slowly. Bees aren’t looking to sting you, but if you pose a threat, they might. With an influx of hives in the Lowcountry during various blooming seasons, this advice might just save you from the wrath of a defensive bee. (S)warm wishes on a happy and healthy hive and buzz on!


Fun facts

  • Have a swimming pool? Pools offer a great source of water for bees and they love the chlorine. Plant some flowers around the pool from the Xerces Society to help out our bees even more.
  • We have up to 20,000 hives in the Lowcountry when the coveted palmetto crop is blooming (that is over 500 million bees in the Lowcountry). The number goes down to only 5,000 hives once the crop is finished blooming. (U.S. beekeepers lost over 40 percent of their hives just last year.)
  • Honey is a $2 million crop in South Carolina