Hive Thrive: Sweet Lessons from Bee Trail Farm
They say curiosity killed the cat; in Danny Cannon’s story, curiosity saved the bees. Cannon, a beekeeper in Lexington, became curious about honeybees 20 years ago after finding some of his grandfather’s old hives thriving, though untended for 10 years. Cannon decided to dig out his grandfather’s beekeeping gear and figure out what was going on with the bees.
“I ran them off” he says. “I had no clue what I was doing.”
That curiosity grew into persistent fascination. Cannon kept hives as a hobby, which turned into a commercial venture with his father, and before long, he and his wife, Shelly, took the reins at Bee Trail Farm.
Beekeeping has created quite the buzz the past few years, and for good reason. Bees are pollinators, and pollinators are an integral part of our ecosystem as they travel from plant to plant, spreading pollen, which allows the plants to reproduce. Birds, bats, bees, butterflies and beetles all have a role; honeybees, however, assume the lead role in pollinating many of the flowering crops grown in South Carolina.
Honeybees pollinate a variety of crops—from berries to peaches and cotton to alfalfa. Alfalfa, if not available for animal feed, could threaten beef and dairy industries, thereby compounding the importance of keeping pollinators healthy.
Pesticides and disease have endangered the honeybees—so beekeepers, like Cannon, are raising honeybees and moving them from farm to farm, to facilitate crop pollination. Those crops, according to the South Carolina Beekeepers Association, are valued at more than $25 million to the South Carolina economy. Although mobile pollination is not an ideal answer to the threat to pollination, there is an upside to it—lots of honey.
Nectar begins flowing in the Midlands in March and continues through mid-May, with the first honey crop harvested in early June. Cannon will then chase blooms throughout South Carolina to keep making honey, moving the 200 strongest hives to the coast, where Chinese tallow blooms. The tallow plant invaded the Southeast in the early 1900s and makes up a significant portion of this area’s honey crop. After harvesting that honey in July, Cannon moves the hives into soybean, cotton and sunflower fields through September, with one last crop for the year.
The Cannons strive to move people beyond the pastoral vision of painted beehives in a meadow. They open Bee Trail Farm to the public many times a year. Cannon educates groups like the 4-H, veteran’s care center residents, homeschool networks and the South Carolina Mid-State Beekeepers Association. For beekeepers and others who want to support bees, Cannon emphasizes the effort required: “It’s like other animal husbandry—bees set the calendar, based on weather and seasons; we have pests, diseases and nutritional issues.” Pests, like the Varroa mite, which appeared in the United States in 1987, will quickly decimate a hive. “You have regular upkeep and interaction to keep them healthy.”
The Cannons always valued and practiced small-scale farming, as they do still, and believe in getting close to the source of food, supporting local businesses and trusting the integrity of an operation. Sharing his expertise, and opening eyes to what’s special about local bees, local honey and local farms is Cannon’s parallel mission as a beekeeper.
“Go to the farm, visit with that farmer, and be comfortable with what you’re being told and what you see,” he says. Protecting honeybees can be as sweet as the honey itself.
Down the Honey Trail
Bee Trail Farm honey is sold at these locations :
Market Tea Room at the South Carolina State Farmers Market
Columbia: Blue Flour Bakery, Cottle Strawberry Farm, Crave Artisan Specialty Market, Gardener's Outpost, Garner's Natural Life, Woodley's Garden Center
Lexington: 14 Carrot Whole Foods, Wingard’s Market, Rhoten’s Country Store
Irmo: Blue Flour Bakery, GNC Columbiana Mall, Murraywood Health Foods