Beekeeping isn't for the queasy. Tami Enright dons a veil hat before climbing into her truck with more than 10,000 recently loaded and irked apians. Sure enough, a few honeybees wedge their way out of the hive carrier in the back seat before she arrives at the Medical University Urban Garden.
If you go
WHAT: MUSC Urban Farm Bee Party & Honey Harvest. Honey, cooking recipes and demonstrations, iced tea and other refreshments, silent auction, music, art, kids activities, self-guided garden tours, see-through bee hive.
WHERE: MUSC Urban Farm, corner of Bee and President streets
WHEN: Thursday, 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
PARKING: Metered parking on Bee Street; Jonathan Lucas Street Garage, President and Doughty streets
Andy Williams, of Rescuing Bees, hurries in with the hive. He and Harold Ward, also of the Guyton, Ga., bee company, screw it into place brushing away stinging worker bees as they go. "The other observable hive I installed this morning, I only got stung twice," Ward said as he loaded.
That's why Enright, the executive director of The Bee Cause Project, keeps her boots on, she said. "They always go for my ankles."
But once the hive is in place in the garden's educational display booth, the workers have a way in and out through a pipe around back and the colony settles down. Behind a Plexiglas window the throng of bees goes about its business as onlookers gape.
On Thursday, the bees in their newly installed, see-though hive will be the guests of honor at MUSC's Urban Farm Bee Party & Honey Harvest, a public event that is part sweet fun, part education and part fundraiser. The way Bee Cause works, you are given your hive, but then must raise money to "pay it forward" for the next hive that Bee Cause installs.
The nonprofit run by Enright, of Isle of Palms, and Ted Dennard, of Savannah Bee Company, aims to put observable hives in 1,000 schools, to raise awareness of the value and peril of the insects that pollinate the crops that feed one of every three bites in your mouth, as Enright explains it. More than three-dozen schools and educational programs are participating in the project, including the Ashley Hall School, Sullivan's Island Elementary and the Charleston Math and Science Charter School.
Bees are in trouble. Since 2006, keepers have been reporting losses of some 30-90 percent of bees in the hives, according to the federal Agricultural Research Service. The reasons were a puzzle at first, but a number of culprits now are identified or suspected:
Mites and other parasites.
Viruses and other pathogens.
Habitat problems such as pesticides, poor nutrition from the loss or competition for pollen and nectar.
The general thought is that human activities have been making inroads into the bees' way of life and consequently their immune systems. Ironically, the current best management practice to fight it is to introduce antibiotics, a "cure" that weakens the bees' immunities further and creates "super bugs" able to defeat the antibodies.
"It's not getting better. We might end up hand-pollinating crops, which is no fun," Enright said. But people are getting more aware, and that's what Bee Cause is all about.
The more children learn about the importance of bees, the more likely that generation can make the societal changes needed to foster the environment around them, "if you just find a way to hook the kids, and honeybees are a great way," she said.
The tough part of her job isn't interesting the students. The first time they get to watch a queen lay an egg or an egg hatch, they're in. The tough part is getting school boards to approve hives in a school.
"But the impact," Enright said, "is awesome."
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.
Secrets of bees
The ways of colony bees are complex and fascinating. Here are a few glimpses:
Pheromones: Bees communicate and orient by secreting chemical substances that attract or alert one another.
Venom: Beekeepers will burn pine straw to "smoke" themselves because alarm pheromones in the venom of a sting alerts other bees to threats; the bees will become more aggressive about stinging.
Bee bread: Literally cakes of pollen created by worker bees so they can digest the protein in pollen. Worker bees in the hive mix the gathered pollen with bee saliva and nectar, then secrete enzymes into it to form the dry, bitter, cake-y balls.
Bees wax: Also secreted by the bees, used to make honeycomb "brood chambers" to lay and feed eggs. The honeycombs are hexagonal because the shape makes for the strongest structure and can be "framed" for building by the bee's own body.
Propolis: A resin collected from trees, used to seal cracks and repair hives.
Royal jelly: A milky substance secreted by the bees into digested pollen, nectar or honey and fed to a few larvae, turning them into egg-laying queen bees.
Sources: Back Yard Beekeeper Association, Keeping-Honey-Bees.com, master beekeeper Andy Williams.