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Mares: A Swarm Of Beekeepers

08/27/12 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(Host) Earlier this month over 700 beekeepers and a million honeybees swarmed happily around the University of Vermont in Burlington.  Commentator and beekeeper Bill Mares was there.

(Mares) They came from 25 plus states and two Canadian provinces.  Over 700 beekeepers flooded the University of Vermont campus to learn, practice and share information.  For the first time in 32 years, the Eastern Apicultural Society was holding its annual conference in Vermont. 

When EAS last came to Vermont, beekeeping was a lot simpler.  There was really only one disease to worry about.  Honey production was core topic. Today, globalization has brought a host of pests, parasites and pathogens.  And the big money in beekeeping is in pollination for hire.         

Most of these beekeepers were serious amateurs, but there was a sprinkling of professionals  and part-timers, known in the industry as sideliners.  Common to all was a dedication to these fascinating and productive creatures who live on the cusp between the domestic and the wild.           

The conference theme was "Bees and Beyond" with lectures and workshops on  how  bees fit in with other areas of agriculture. One group toured the Intervale with its  manifold and lush agricultural enterprises. Others attended workshops on honey and chocolate, and honey and cheese, the latter led by a world expert on honey tasting from Northern Ireland.     

Organizers put up 20 beehives on the green between Bailey Howe Library and the Fleming Museum. Lent by Champlain Valley Apiaries in Middlebury, the bees were used in workshops throughout the week.       

The keynote speaker was Vermont writer Rowan Jacobsen,  author of a  best selling book about the bee crisis.  His catchy title was "IT'S TERROIR, NOT TERROR"  And then he explained  the vital link in food  between place and taste.   With missionary zeal he urged the attendees to make "honey the next wine."    

MacArthur genius grant winner Dr. Marla Spivak talked about her research with building resistance to the ubiquitous and predacious varroa mite.  The president of the largest national professional beekeeping organization, George Hansen, who has 5,000 hives  in Oregon spoke about  the life of big time migratory beekeeping, which is largely dependent upon pollination. 

At a Bee Olympics, the events included keeping a smoker lit for longest time  and an obstacle course  where teams carried hives full of marbles in a race against the clock.  

Spear-headed by Mike Palmer of St. Albans, there was an elaborate honey contest with awards for different styles of honey like extracted and  creamed, for  mead, for arts and crafts and for the most interesting gadget.

Lectures were great, but it was in the talks at breaks, over bee hives, at dinner, or at the vendors' area,  where you really learn.  I've been to eleven of these conferences and that's the best part-rubbing elbows with world class experts, and other amateurs from other states and climes.  As one regular attendee said, "A day at  EAS is worth a year of experimentation on your own."         

However, there is one occupational hazard at an apicultural conference.   Beekeepers speak their own minds.   "And so, one is reminded that...  The old joke about lawyers applies to beekeeping.  Six beekeepers will have seven opinions. 
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