By HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki
One of the most delightful and informative ways beeks can advance their understanding of bees and beekeeping is by attending conferences. The American Beekeeping Federation conference was held in Anaheim this year in January and I went to several presentations. This was a completely academic conference, combined with a large trade show—no live bees to work with. This group also reflects a strong conventional management and commercial pollinator representation. There are always things to be learned though, and I found the time well spent.
However, a number of smaller and more appropriate conferences for us treatment free folk also occur every year. The 8th Annual Organic Beekeeping conference at Oracle AZ, put on by Dee Lusby allows participants to visit the 9 bee yards kept by Dee in the remote Sonora desert near the Mexican border. These bees are never moved (no migratory pollination) are at least 4 deeps tall, are not re-queened or supported with any feeds, and are visited (on average) just 5 times a year. Dee’s honey is very dry and dark, reflecting the dry climate and mixed desert flora the bees have for forage. These flowers include many desert shrubs, cactus, wildflowers, and introduced weed species too numerous to mention. The Spring rains this year have been abundant and well spaced, so we saw lots of wildflower and cactus blooms. The desert smelled wonderful—fresh, sage-y scented with alternating bright blue skies and looming smokey thunderclouds.
Rob McFarland (Co-Founder of HoneyLove) and I drove to Oracle, which is in a very remote area. The conference is sited at the YMCA, with cabins and bunk beds for sleeping and 3 full cafeteria meals a day. Some of the best time is spent at meals in talking with other bee keepers from all over the US and even other parts of the world.
The conference lasts 3 days, with speakers on a range of subjects—apitherapy (using bee stings for health reasons), introduction of a new national on-line register for swarm calls to beekeepers, the beekeeping management calendar year from a extreme climate perspective, and new information on genetics and breeding of queens. Michael Bush and Sam Comfort, our great friends in treatment free beekeeping not only spoke individually, but on the last night gave us a melodious, heartfelt performance for almost a hour. Michael plays guitar and sings, Sam plays ukelele and banjo and a MEAN harmonica!! It was stupendous and had people’s roaring approval.
Our final day was devoted to driving on dirt roads to Dee’s remote beeyards—she has 700 hives. The day was a bit windy and cold, with threatening rain, but we went anyway, and the desert was glorious with color. The desert bees were very ferocious in defending their colonies, reflecting the weather and forage conditions they must deal with. We were fully suited and gloved to help restore some hives that were tipping wildly from the undermining of the bottom board by tunneling rodents. The hives had to be totally unstacked, the bottom board leveled and supported by fresh soil and the hives re-stacked—each at least 4 deeps.
I urge all that wish to really know beekeeping and infuse the relationship with new knowledge to attend these bee conferences.