An Aspiring New Beekeeper Reports from the 2015 North American Beekeeping Conference & Tradeshow
Until recently, my most memorable experience involving honeybees was being stung on the neck while riding my motorcycle. I’m happy to report that attending the American Beekeeping Federation’s 2015 North American Beekeeping Conference & Tradeshow in Anaheim, CA (right next to Disneyland!) was a lot more fun, for the bees and for me! My wife Khrys and I are true NewBees, and the ABF conference was our first bee-related event; since we live in the Los Angeles area, it was right in our backyard and seemed like the perfect place to start.
We decided to go because after many generations of livestock overgrazing, Khrys’s family ranch south of Gallup, NM has (like the whole region) seen a significant decline in forage and forbs, and devastation to the environment. We are hoping that by pollinating native plants, honeybees will aid in the restoration and regeneration of the land. Plus, the allure of harvesting honey for consumption is very appealing! To find out if European honeybees are compatible with the indigenous bees, other pollinators, and plants of the region, we reached out to NMBKA’s Jessie Brown, who felt that there should not be any compatibility issues.
The conference included honey tasting, the crowning of the 2015 honey queen, a silent auction, meetings for breeders, large and small scale honey producers and packers, and sideliners. Naturally, there were presentations covering colony collapse. One went over the use of biopesticides, mechanical controls, and other measures that can be taken when a colony is infected with varroa mites. Another option mentioned was to use Russian bees since they have adapted to varroa mites. Since Russian bees are less prolific producers of honey than the Italian species, using pollen paddies can increase their honey production. Another presentation stressed maintaining a strong and healthy colony through a clean hive, a good diet of pollen, nectar, and clean water, and avoiding condensation build-up. Both lectures mentioned a technique involving dusting the bees in the hive with powdered sugar to elicit grooming, which helps remove the varroa mites. This was a lot of information for NewBees, but we felt a little less overwhelmed when presenter Chappie McChesney, who has been raising bees successfully for over 60 years (!) told us that colony collapse tends to be a more pressing concern for commercial beekeepers than it will likely be for us as we start out.
The session that had the biggest impact on me was Paul Stamets’s talk on “How Mushrooms Can Save Bees and Our Food Supply.” (You can find him giving similar presentations at other venues on YouTube.) I had recently read a book about how healthy soils can restore plant life, attract and retain water, and reduce carbon dioxide in the air, so I was very interested in his discussion of how fungi can build soil health to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Stamets has also observed his honeybees harvesting the exudate from the mycelium of the Garden Giant mushroom in his home garden, and confirmed through his research that the compounds from the exudate increase worker bee longevity and decrease viral loads contracted from varroa mites.
Khrys and I also toured the Sioux Honey Association’s nearby facility, where Sue Bee honey is produced by a co-op of American beekeepers – the largest honey marketing co-op in the world. We saw 55-gallon steel drums of honey arriving and being washed in a giant stainless steel washer. The honey is then poured into a melting and blending oven. From there, the honey goes through a filtering system and is heated to facilitate honey flow through a pipe array. Finally, it is transported to the bottling area, which is mostly automated. After the bottles are sealed, capped, labeled, date stamped, inspected, and boxed, they are stacked on pallets for shipping. The facility processes organic, raw and unfiltered, clover, and orange honey; the bottling run for each type is done on different days with the system flushed with hot water and dried in between runs. The tour concluded with light refreshments – and of course, honey to squeeze on the eats.
Throughout the conference, there were opportunities to network with beekeepers and wannabe beekeepers alike. There was the hall full of exhibitors: insurance companies, organizations, books, equipment, hats, suits, nutrients, medications, hives, and honey. Browsing the aisles proved fun and educational as the exhibitors were helpful and informative.
Now, our next big challenge is to educate our family in New Mexico about the benefits of honeybees for the ranch, since we ourselves will only be able to travel there several times during the year. Fortunately, the conference armed us with a plethora of information and left us feeling energized, knowing there is a support system out there for NewBees like us.
Find the article in the NMBKA March, 2015 Newsletter