May Farms is an earthy plot of 65 acres nestled in the backroads of northeast Greenville complete with small groves of growing fruits, a three-acre lake and around 40 buzzing beehives. “This is my sand pile,” chuckles Buddy May.
May, owner and operator of May Farms and a 1962 industrial management graduate, spent most of his career in textiles management. When it came time to retire, a friend from church gifted May with his first beehive in 2003. Since then, he has been harvesting and selling the honey gathered from his hives along with homemade propolis salve. Propolis is a wax-like material made with resins from tree trunks, limbs and bark and used by bees to patch small holes in the comb. May touts its excellent medicinal qualities when used to heal wounds and cuts. Honey also boasts significant health benefits, and according to May, allergies can be virtually cleared by eating honey produced in local flora regions. “The honey has pollen in it, and that’s where it is beneficial for an allergy. So, you can say local, but the best thing to say is if it’s similar to the plants in your area,” he explains.
At 83 years old, May is a double master beekeeper and master craftsman beekeeper, holding certifications from the Eastern Apiculture Society (EAS) and the S.C. Beekeepers Association. May is the first person in South Carolina to receive the EAS master beekeeper title as well as the first to achieve master craftsman status from South Carolina. The tests and requirements for these accomplishments are extensive. For example, May studied three years for his EAS master beekeeper test, which is given over three days and consists of a written, practical, laboratory and oral sections. “I studied anything and everything and for years because any question about beekeeping — and there must be a blue bazillion of them — is fair game.”
Caring for bees is just as important to May as keeping them. On the road to becoming a master craftsman beekeeper, he investigated the ways oxalic acid could improve the conditions of the hive, specifically how the acid could address nosema disease, which affects the gut of the bee, and the varroa destructor, a devastating mite. After compiling his findings into a research paper, May published “Continuous Treatment of Bee Colonies with Oxalic Acid” in the American Bee Journal in October 2017.
Concern for these honey-producing insects stems from deep-seated admiration and respect. “The bee is blessed with a lot of things that I could talk to you for hours and days about. It’s the vastness of the bee itself that caught my interest.” May muses about the bee’s amazing and equally puzzling abilities. In order to produce honey, bees reduce nectar (which is about 90 percent water) to 18.6 percent moisture. That process never ceases to impress him: “How do they know when it’s 18.6? No one’s given me an answer for that, but I think it’s the antennae because the antennae can pick up moisture level.” According to May, the queen bee can lay more than 1500 eggs a day. “The mysterious part about that is that she can decide whether it’s going to be a female or a male,” he says. “It’s mind-boggling.”
His desire to know more about the bee inspires him to educate others and hopefully shed light on the bee’s current, disturbing situation. Increasing amounts of mites and viruses along with decreasing amounts of agricultural land and the misuse of insecticides have resulted in a reduction in the number of feral bees. “They can’t be treated in trees, so they die,” he says. “The feral bees are just about gone. If we ever get to the point where we have to pollinate, we’re going to have a whole lot less to eat.”
As the current vice president (and soon-to-be president) of the Eastern Apiculture Society, May is working on scheduling its first conference in South Carolina in 2019. Having lived in the Carolinas most of his life and with two sons and two grandsons as Clemson alumni, May is excited to show South Carolina off to the beekeeping community.
When asked about his motivation behind becoming an expert beekeeper in retirement, May credits the support of his late wife of 55 years, Pat Pressley, and adds with a smile, “I didn’t have anything else to do.”