Once again we’re down at Kellogg Conference Center on Michigan State University’s Campus. We’re here for the annual Michigan Beekeepers Association Spring Conference. This year the crowd seems larger than ever, and if you don’t get a seat in the breakout sessions 30 minutes before they start you’ll be sitting on the floor or standing in the back! In any case its great to be back. What follows is a brief summary of the talks I attended, as well as the “Beekeepers Online!” presentation that I gave.

Day 1:

Keynote Address: Honey Bees Have Come to Town, by Dr. Jim Tew.   Jim Tew gave a very humorous and informative talk on the topic of how well our bees get along (or don’t get along) with our non-beekeeping neighbors.  Take away: go on vacation during swarming season so you don’t have to deal with neighbors who are more than mildly irate over your trespassing bees!   Jim is a really entertaining speaker and it was great to have him at the conference this year.

Vendor area was packed with vendors selling everything from bee equipment to beekeeper insurance.

Chemical Free Beekeeping by Don Schram.  Don has been successfully keeping bees chemical free for 8 years now.  Don’s definition of “chemical free” is NO CHEMICALS, hard or soft in the hive.  Don walked us through the various threats we have to deal with here and Michigan and then talked about how he addresses (or ignores) them.  His emphasis is on raising resistant stock.  He also stressed the importance of monitoring colony health and never intervening until you have a problem.  Don also summarized a quick and easy “walk away” split method.  Compelling, but I think I’ll stick with my double screen method.  One interesting take away I noted was adding a capful of bleach to a gallon of syrup to combat nosema ceranae.  Not exactly chemical free, but worth a try if you have a problem in this area.

Beekeeper’s Online! by yours truly.  My talk was broken into two parts. First we walked through my top 10 list of most useful online resources for beekeepers.  In the second part we focused on how to become a resource to other beekeepers yourself by establishing your own online beekeeping outpost.  We recommend using WordPress for setting up your website and gave a short overview on how to accomplish this.  We also pointed attendees to a free online 2 part screencast we’ve posted to YouTube that walks through setting up a beekeeping website in less than 20 minutes using WordPress.  Links to the slides and tutorials are embedded in this article.  If you’d prefer to download a PDF copy to your hard disk, simply click here to download. Enjoy!

Commercial Beekeeping by Oren Best.  This was by far the most interesting talk that I attended on Day 1 of the conference.  While life as a migratory beekeeper is less than compelling to me, it was most fascinated to hear Oren walk through his family’s annual calendar and what they are involved in each month as migratory commercial beekeepers.  Oren and his family run 2400 colonies that produce anywhere from 20-300 barrels of honey a year.  They rent their bees for pollination in the California almonds as well as cherries, blueberries and apples in Michigan.  They also raise their own queens from their own stock rather than risking what they might get from other commercial queen producers.  Oren gave a great talk with a lot of interesting anecdotes, including his advice to truck drivers hauling bees: wear a bee veil at the highway weigh scales for easy in and out.

Day 2:
Keynote Address: The Desperate World of Laying Workers, by Dr. Jim Tew. Wow! This guy totally missed his calling. 20 minutes into his keynote he had yet to say anything relevant to bees or beekeeping, but we didn’t mind a bit. He’s very original and very funny. His talk was on laying workers, and the futility of doing anything other than simply joining them up with another colony. The last 15 minutes he pulled out his “ran out of things to talk about” deck of slides which was a humorous enumeration of beekeeping contraptions that didn’t work out as originally anticipated. Hilarious, and had most of us close to tears in laughter. If Jim Tew is the scheduled speaker at your beekeepers meeting, don’t miss it, he’s a real entertainer.

Queen Rearing: by Jim Withers.  Jim gave an informative talk covering a number of practical issues concerned with queen rearing ranging from monitoring for selection (mite resistance, hygiene, etc.) to different grafting methods.   His talk was less of a queen rearing “how to” tutorial, and more of a broad survey of the various issues and alternatives one might have in the process.  For a more detailed step-by-step description of a method for raising queens on a small scale for your own apiary, I’d recommend you take a look at Jerry Freeman’s no-graft method.  We’ve had good success with this method and have written about it earlier on this site.

Dr. Zachery Huang lectures on honeybee mating biology.

Mating Biology of the Honey Bee. Dr. Zachary Huang. Zach unraveled some of the mysteries of honey bee mating.  We now have a much better understanding of the bee portion of the “birds and the bees”!  Kidding aside, what an absolutely amazing creation we live in. Soaking up information like this on the complexity and beauty of the natural world makes it difficult for met to understand how anybody can remain skeptical about the Creator behind it all.   Jim Tew emphasized in his keynote that there is so much about honey bees that we simply don’t know.  At the same time, even the little bit that is understood is simply amazing.

Once again it was an excellent conference, and it was great to be there to learn and mingle with fellow beekeepers.