This weekend, I attended the first annual Pacific Northwest Treatment-Free Beekeeping Conference out in Forest Grove, OR. The event was dreamed up & orchestrated by Kat Nesbit of Bliss Honeybees. She is an amazing hostess, beekeeper and organizer extraordinaire!
The conference was amazing. I think Kat had to finally cap registration at 150 attendees. We were treated to lectures and classes by the fantastically brilliant Dr. Tom Seeley (Honeybee Democracy), Dr. Deborah Delaney, Les Crowder (of top bar fame), Kirk Webster, Melanie Kirby, Matt Reed (owner of Portland’s Bee Thinking), Dr. Sujaya Rao, Eliese Watson, Dr. Lynn Royce, and Kirk Anderson.
I think when an event is held close to your home, I default to think of it as local. I couldn’t have been more wrong about assuming this was a small little local conference. There were beekeepers there from Washington; Michigan; Delaware; Idaho; all over California; Calgary, Alberta; Vancouver, B.C.; and even New Zealand. Wow!
There’s always something new to learn with bees. The topics ranged from swarm activity & decision making, to different types of hives (Warre, Top Bar), queen grafting, community involvement, bee genetics & sustainability, selective breeding, and even honey ice cream! It was fun to have a combination of lectures and practical experience. There were about 10 hives set up in a soccer field that we got to play with. One of my favorite things was practicing marking queens (using drones since they don’t sting). The hives were were supposed to be using didn’t have any drones, so we had to grab some off of Dr. Seeley’s swarm demo board. Our instructor, Dr. Delaney, was even brave enough to mark a few workers for us!
I was also impressed with Elise Watson’s ability to stand straddle over a ground-level top bar hive and inspect it. That surely would have gotten me stung somewhere undesirable!
bravado comfort level with the bees inspired me, but I came home on Sunday and figured I should check my hives since I hadn’t done so in weeks and was worried there might be some crazy cross-combing going on. There was a little, but nothing too bad. The girls are really starting to bring in the honey! So much so that I may have to start moving things around so they have more space. I had trouble keeping my smoker going and I really think my bees hate the smoke. They seemed to do better when I wasn’t smoking them (i.e. they sent some aggressive guard bees after me when I smoked them), so I might try some sugar water next time & see if that keeps them busy. I got through the first hive and 2/3rds of the way through the second before I got stung on the knuckle of my left ring finger. So much for finishing that hive–I had to run in and pull off my rings quickly before my finger started to swell! For all you gawkers out there, I had one of my kids take a picture of my hands side-by-side. I hope you can tell that I’ve totally lost the bones in my left hand. It’s like I have a pudgy baby hand or when I had swollen pregnancy feet and could push a dent in my skin. I can’t even make a fist. Taking my Benadryl/Ibuprofin cocktail multiple times daily, but it doesn’t do much (or I’m completely terrified at what it might look like if I weren’t taking drugs!). Tomorrow (day 3) is usually the worst for me and then it goes back down from there. *Click for full, horrifying effect.*
After that hand picture, I think it’s appropriate to end with a quote I read today from The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus. The context is that in older mandarin orange groves bees are unwelcome because they could cross pollinate those yummy seedless oranges with pollen from a seeded orange and ruin the whole crop–but for many it’s easier to prohibit bees than to replant with new sterile oranges that aren’t as affected by cross-pollination. But even out of context, I feel this quotation gets to the heart of beekeeping:
Unless, of course, you are a beekeeper. Unless you need billions of flowers to feed billions of insects that you can’t truly possess, that you can’t control, that can’t read NO TRESPASSING signs or understand the concepts of no-fly zones or hybridization or changing consumer preference. Unless you love something that can’t love you back, that is just as happy to hurt you, that lives without concern for its keeper or his profit margins or his pride, and that dies with astonishing indiscretion–that simply does what it was born to do.