Keeping Bees in the South

By Education Specialist

If you keep bees in the southern parts of the United States you may face different challenges than you do in the North, but you also have some decided advantages as well. I travel to southern Mississippi on a regular basis in support of the Kelley Company commercial beekeeping operation. I just returned from our Mississippi yards the 23rd of February; the temperature was in the mid seventies. We have mature drones and we have completed our first graft of the season. The bees were bringing in pollen and our open feeders were packed with bees taking up syrup. This is one of the decided advantages of being in the southern parts of the US, our ability to get a huge jump on the season with rapid colony build up and queen rearing.

Another advantage is the fact the bees are able to fly several times a week, year round, for cleansing and foraging. Due to the mild temperatures, we are able to closely inspect our hives for any problems they may face. There are very few weeks when a hive cannot be opened due to cold temperatures.

As you might guess all this activity requires the bees to have a supply of syrup, and if you are stimulating brood rearing, a supply of pollen substitute as well. While it seems there is always something they can find in nature, we supplement them with 1-1 sugar syrup with Honey-B-Healthy and pollen patties in an open feeding arrangement. This is a good way to feed a lot of bees in a hurry. Our open feeders were packed with bees last week and the pollen substitute was also being consumed rapidly. In this area of the country we have a lot of small hive beetles and the patties can be a magnet for them. This is why we have placed them some distance from the hives and not directly on top of the frames. We have placed these up off the ground on top of a fence post. This is sort of like a bird house with no solid sides but slats to allow entry. This helps to keep them away from predators like raccoons, skunks, armadillos and opossums.

As the season progresses we will stop feeding the pollen patties as the bloom will be coming on heavy. In February though, a lot of pollen is being collected from maples, plums, turnips and other ornamentals and flowering trees.

I was amazed how rapidly the bees were brooding up, in fact we were able to split a bunch of hives and in addition, we were adding second stories to many more. Asides from needing more bees for increase we are also getting a jump on swarm control this way.

In our part of the country we have not experienced any problems with Africanized bees and our yards are checked yearly. We have the typical problems with Varroa, but one of the hardest pests to fight is the Small Hive Beetle (SHB).

Even here in west central Kentucky these pests are wintering over well in my colonies and I am sure they will continue to be a problem for beekeepers in a lot of areas as they spread. Because there does not seem to be a silver bullet for the SHB I feel we need to attack them on every front that we have at our disposal.

We have witnessed first class sliming and have had many colonies killed or had them abscond because of severe infestations that were left unchecked.

In my opinion one of the worst things you can do is nothing. If you just hope for the best you will be severely disappointed. Never give the bees more room than they can safely patrol. The addition of second stories to hives when they are not ready and under attack is a sure recipe for disaster and would not follow any best beekeeping practice in any sane world. In addition if you are using division board feeders remember this is a wonderful breeding ground for SHB in severe infestations especially when using pine straw as floats.

Some of the measures we have used to combat SHB are:


    • Ground treatments - salt water and Gardstar


    • Salting our bottom boards


    • Keeping hives in full sunlight


    • Beetle traps in and outside of the hives




While we have no empirical data for this, we are finding salt to be an effective method to help us deal with SHB. While bees are attracted to salt and I believe it to be an important element in their diet, there seems to be a lethal level and care should be used when applying it inside of active hives.

Using Salt

We get our mineralized salt from the Co Op by the 50# bag. This is the same salt you mix with cattle feed.

Solid Bottom Boards

Hives will be broken down and we will scrape and clean our solid bottom boards. We will then sprinkle salt liberally on the bottom board. Any SHB larvae leaving the hive that crawl through the salt will die. Ever put salt on a slug? Same principle, as the salt desiccates the larvae.

SHB Dead-outs

We scrape any slime off the bottom boards and apply salt to dry out the residue, both on empty box walls and bottom boards. We will then tip these on their sides to let them dry further before storing or reusing.

As a Ground Treatment

Using 25-gallon sprayers, we will treat the ground around our hives with a salt water solution. This will work in a twofold manor. One is to kill any pupating SHB larvae in the ground and also to help control weed growth. Remember that salt is a corrosive and you will need to clean anything metal that comes in contact with the salt water solution by thoroughly rinsing with clean water. Avoid getting any salt or salt water on your brood frames as this may be lethal. Rain will diminish the salt waters effectiveness and you may need to reapply.

Nosema Disease

Another thing to watch out for is Nosema disease. This is present everywhere bees are kept and is not confined to the south but this is the time of year to treat. It is recommended to treat each colony with 1 gallon of medicated syrup in the spring. This is mixed with 1-1 syrup by weight and 1 teaspoon of the antibiotic Fumagilin-B. This disease is evidenced by extreme fecal matter on the outside and sometimes inside of your colonies. This disease will normally present in the springtime and sometimes be lethal and contagious if left unchecked. Especially in the case of Nosema Ceranae which seems to be more virulent than Nosema Apis. Remember if using Fumagilin-B in a feeder you should use an internal one. Fumagilin-B will break down rapidly in sunlight losing its effectiveness.

Another method of delivery would be to spray it directly on your bees across the top bars. You will need to pay attention as to how much is being delivered at one time. Our preference is to spray our bees once a week for three weeks using about a third of a gallon per application. Remember if you are going to soak your bees make sure they have adequate time to preen and dry before cold night time temperatures. Remember to always follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for using any chemicals and never use any kind of medication when honey supers are in place.

Poisonous Plants

One of the things that can affect your colonies and queen breeding operations in the south in the early spring is the yellow Jasmine vine. As a mono crop this can be toxic to honeybees. Usually there are other things blooming and this is not too much of a problem, however a well respected queen breeder I know says it will cut his queen production down by as much as 35%. He also mentions that when the oaks start to bloom the jasmine is on its way out.


Ever walk out to your bee yard and fall into an armadillo hole? This is not much of a problem in the north mainly because there aren’t any armadillos, but down south they are common. I remember one morning getting out of the truck and stepping directly into a hole and wrenching my knee and back. This is a bad way to start your day. Make sure when you find them to stick a branch or marker nearby so you don’t do it again.

Also remember to keep an eye peeled for snakes; there are some huge rattlers in the south. Fire ants are another common problem in the south. While they don’t seem to affect the bees much it’s not too fun having them up your britches. They leave a nasty little welt and can burn and itch. Spiders can also be a problem. I don’t know what it is about the handholds on beehives that Black Widows like but I sure find a lot of them there, also Brown Recluse are present as well.

While I have not had a problem with them, feral hogs have been known to topple hives. This is mainly from their rooting around activities.

As you can see there are advantages and disadvantages to being in the Deep South. To me, the positives outweigh the negatives. Oh, and by the way, that thing they talk about, southern hospitality? It is alive and well and I enjoy it every time I am there!

Happy beekeeping,
Education Specialist

  • email