Sampling in the Deep South

Hives next to a swamp with a 6' alligator.

Hives next to a swamp with a 6′ alligator.

Jody Gerdts and a nice frame of brood.

Jody Gerdts and a nice frame of brood.

After spending about a month in California, I flew south to meet Jody Gerdts and travel around East Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi for three weeks. While most of the bees in the country are in California for almond pollination, there are a few beekeepers that have or bring bees down to the South for producing the next generation of bees to sell.  A number of the beekeepers the Midwest Bee Tech-Team works with migrate to the south for the winter, so we follow them. We visited nine beekeepers and did hygienic testing, and took samples for Nosema and Varroa for them. (Jody works on the Bee Squad at the University of Minnesota, helping hobby beekeepers keep bees or keeps bees for people or corporations that want bees, but don’t want to manage them.  She volunteered to get out of the cold and help me for a few weeks.)

Cottonmouth snake sunning itself in the Big Thicket National Forest.

Cottonmouth snake sunning itself in the Big Thicket National Forest.

The South is kind of a magical place for a girl from the North. The weather is drastically different from the North, and because of the heat you get all sort of living things like alligators, snakes, armadillos, and such a gorgeous variety of fungi. The South also has really good weather for raising queens – starting to get really nice out in Late February and March. Beekeepers that migrate to the south really get going at the end of February, but some travel down earlier. One of the beekeeper’s daughters calls North Dakota her primary home, but she had never seen a Midwest winter until she went to college at the U of MN. When we were there, the weather averaged probably around 55 – 60 as a high and the bees were bringing in pollen.

Gelsemium sempervirens

Yellow Jasmine blossom.

One obstacle for the southern beekeepers is the plant yellow jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens. It is poisonous to both honey bees and humans. It causes death of the developing bee brood, and, consequently, queen cells that are being made by the beekeepers.  This year, it was fairly cold and rainy during much of the yellow jasmine bloom, so beekeepers are hopeful the bees didn’t bring back and store too much of the pollen.

Bearded tooth fungus. It is supposed to taste like lobster.

Bearded tooth fungus. It is supposed to taste like lobster.

Southern hospitality was a real thing for us down in the Deep South. People were very polite, kind, and welcoming. But people are people wherever you go, and there were a few bad eggs in the south. The craziest was one beekeeper was having issues with a guy spraying his hive entrances with an insecticide. This is still unresolved, but moving hives may be more difficult than keeping the yard due to land availability.

Overall, It was great to spend some time in the beautiful southern US and even better to see healthy hives with all the terrible reports of losses coming out of California.

Grafted queen cells.

Grafted queen cells.

 

 

Written By: Katie Lee

Katie Lee has written 54 post in this blog.

I'm a part of the Midwest Bee Team based out of the University of Minnesota. I work with commercial migratory beekeepers in North Dakota and Minnesota to help them monitor pest and disease levels. Before I was on the Midwest Team, I was on the CA Bee Team working for the Northern California bee breeders. I was introduced to honey bees during my last semester as an undergrad when I took a class on social insects with Dr. Marla Spivak. Marla asked me to work in the U of MN Bee Lab over the summer, and have been enthralled with bees ever since. My main interests are bee breeding, Varroa, disease ecology, and extension work. I received both a BS in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior and a MS in Entomology from the University of Minnesota.