The mood of the crowd gathered for the 100th Missouri State Beekeeper's Spring 2003 meeting was tentative.
Blessed with a gorgeous, sunny day and balmy temperatures under azure skies, many of the attendees wondered if they shouldn't have been home tending their own hives rather than sitting inside a meeting room. Suffering through a long winter which had refused to yield any real hope of spring's emanate return, many beekeepers felt this day was a special gift to be used in more constructive ways.
But the 130 registered participants at the Ramada Inn in Eureka, Missouri, discovered great treasure that awaited their interest in the meeting hall.
The day opened with President Chris Gibbons calling the meeting to order, and the 2003 Honey Queen, Hannah Nelson, offering a prayer of invocation. The room was generously displayed with raffle prizes, door prizes and a slough of items for a silent auction benefiting the "Queen's Fund."
Jim Buxton, a beekeeper from Catawissa, Missouri, observed, "This is the best showing for the state meeting we've had in four or five years."
The first presenter treated the audience to a color slide presentation of "Flowers Native to Missouri." Scott Woodbury, from the Shaw Arboretum in St. Louis, was on hand to share his insights on native plants favored by honeybees, humming birds and butterflies. In his opinion, native plants hold a distinct advantage over imported cultivars as the native plants are already adapted to Missouri's difficult seasons and peculiar soils.
Up next on the schedule was Gene Killion, formerly of Killion and Sons Apiaries, who came "out of retirement" to offer his valued insights on comb production. Gene and his father, Carl, used to operate over 1000 hives producing only comb honey.
Gene offered numerous tips for successful production of comb honey, which is not as easy as it may appear, but not impossible if one is careful to pay attention to details, and to the timing of their manipulation of the queen.
The biggest challenge of comb production is building up a strong colony without it swarming, then removing the queen and requeening the colony eight days later. This is done after knocking the hive down to one brood box.
For all his knowledge and experience, Gene suggested his preference today would be to simply cut comb honey from the frame and place it in clear, plastic boxes.
Gene's abundant energy and youthful enthusiasm belied his nearly eighty years of age. He is the author of "Honey in the Comb," published by Dadant (1981). He was found graciously signing copies of his book purchased by eager readers.
A panel presentation followed on "The Many Aspects of Pollination." The panel consisted of Gene Killion, as well as Kevin Jester of Jonesboro, Arkansas, Jann Amos of Troy, Missouri, and Glenn Davis of Bates City, Missouri.
Three key insights were shared in this panel presentation. First, Kevin Jester gave some statistics on almond pollination in California. According to his figures, there are 500,000 acres of almonds in California, the largest, single agricultural crop requiring pollination by honeybees.
Almond growers prefer two hives per acre which means that 1,000,000 hives are needed in California for almond pollination.
About half of those hives, noted Kevin, are already in California, which means 500,000 hives are transported from all parts of the country for this purpose.
Pollination fees ran around $40 to $45 per hive, but with the higher prices offered for honey, fewer beekeepers are going to California and the pollination fees have risen to $60 to $75 per hive.
As this need for pollination takes place in February, Kevin points out it works for most beekeepers as the bees don't have too much going on at this time in other parts of the country. It also brings in a nice slice of extra revenue for the beekeeper willing to truck his or her hives out West.
However, he cautions, transporting hives is not without challenges and obstacles. It is costly to truck bee hives to California, and he recommends hiring a commercial carrier rather than using your own truck.
He also suggested it's easier to work through a pollination broker rather than negotiating the details with individual growers yourself.
"And above all," he added with greater seriousness, "get a contract. A contract protects you."
Kevin has had problems with insecticide sprays and fungicide applications that killed brood. A contract spells out who is responsible and liable. Kevin also shared his problems with the theft of some of hives. With so many hives in so many locations, and beekeepers migrating through the state every day, untended hives are a target for theft.
The second insight into this pollination service was shared by Jann Amos. Jann is a side-liner with twenty hives, and he said there is still plenty of room for beekeepers offering pollination services for smaller growers who need 2, 3 or 4 hives. In his opinion, the "smaller guy" can still play this field, and you don't have to go halfway across the country!
Jann challenged every beekeeper to find local orchard owners, gardeners and farmers' market growers who need but a few hives for their pollination needs. Pollination fees for smaller, local growers offer greater room for negotiation, personalized service and education, as well as opportunities for bartered services for produce. And, he adds, it offers a special niche for additional income.
The third insight was offered through the keen wit of Gene Killion, who brazenly claimed to hold the record fee for pollination services. This statement required a little explanation and the audience was more than willing to indulge him. Gene shared how he now tends four beehives, one of which he gave to a local golf course to pollinate their fruit trees. Gene gave them the hive but he still maintains it.
For the services of the bees' pollination and his management skills, Gene bartered the presence of the beehive for the free use of a golf cart. This allows him to participate in his golfing hobby which he picked up after his retirement, and which he enjoys with his son who is an engineer.
He figures a golf cart costs $10 a day to play golf, and last year he played 170 daily rounds of golf. Through simple multiplication, he calculates his pollination fee for that one hive has cost the golf course $1,700 likely an undisputed record for pollination fees!
The morning session was rounded out with a short presentation by 2003 Missouri Honey Queen, Hannah Nelson, a bright, articulate high school senior at East Buchanan High School in Gower, Missouri.
Hannah has six hives which originated four years ago as an FFA project. It's likely that as she leaves for college, her brother will take over her hives as his FFA project.
Hannah's itinerary around the state is funded by the Ladies' Auxiliary, and several impromptu auctions during the meeting helped replenish the Queen's Fund. She demonstrated apt skills and a personable enthusiasm for helping us promote our products.
Lunch included a special 100th anniversary cake ceremonially cut by past presidents.
The highlight of the afternoon session was a delightfully informed and passionate presentation of apitherapy by Mary Reid of Farmington, Missouri. Mary firmly believes everyone is responsible for their own health, both preventative and curative, and apitherapy includes all products from the beehive, not just bee sting therapy. Mary refers to her hives as her "backyard pharmacy." Beehives offer a host of products to enhance our health.
Mary is quick to point out that she is not "anti-medicine" and she has nothing against today's medical doctors. She makes no claim to "practice medicine." She helps people help their bodies heal through the use of hive products.
Among her many pieces of literature, her "hero" is Charles Mraz, author of "Health and the Honeybee" (Queen City Publications, Burlington, Vermont, 1995). Another favorite author is Dr. D.C. Jarvis, M.D., author of "Folk Medicine," (Fawcett Crest, New York, 1958).
A willing volunteer from the audience came forward to receive a sting. Mary says the most potent stings come from honeybees 18 to 20 days of age. If you want to try bee sting therapy, Mary suggests you gather bees from around the hive entrance.
The presentations shifted to outdoors with Ted Jansen's live demonstration of queen finding, spring splits and over-wintered five-frame nucs. Ted brought these hives to the meeting from his home and set them up on the far corner of the Ramada Inn's property.
Ted revealed how he establishes his nucs in August with a new queen and one frame of brood. One participant asked incredulously, "In August?" Ted nodded in the affirmative and explained.
Ted shared that nucs started in August build up into the fall and over-winter in a smaller cluster that requires less stored honey. On top of the five-frame brood chamber, Ted built a five-frame medium super for honey storage. Despite their smaller size, Ted observes how they seem to come through the winter healthier and these young queens start laying eggs earlier the following spring.
As Ted opened his nuc, we were dumfounded. Here we were in the middle of March, after a long and cold Missouri winter, and Ted's five-frame nucs had large, solid patterns of sealed brood. Several envious murmurs rippled through the amazed crowd.
Beekeeper to Beekeeper
Past-president Ian Brown finished with the day back inside with the last presentation. He and his wife, Pam, made a trip to Uzbekistan, a country of the former Soviet Union.
Ian visited several extremely competent beekeepers, staying with families and personally opening over 500 hives. He was deeply moved by their desire to raise bees in the face of all kinds of shortages of raw materials, and a collapse of conventional markets that fell with the fall of communism.
As their equipment cannot match the efficiency of the conventional Langstroth hive, their productivity is held down to around 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds) of honey per hive. They utilize a 27-frame, "Russian Long Hive," which does not allow them to produce enough honey to satisfy the country's needs.
Ian also marveled at the diverse realm of chemicals and applications these Russian beekeepers have at their disposal to suppress mites and diseases. One of his hosts showed him an innovative treatment of natural plant acids which effectively killed mites, but left the honeybees unharmed. And, as a natural treatment, left no residues in the honey or the comb.
He hopes to return and find some economical way to deliver conventional Langstroth equipment to these people. Ian and Pam established a "sister" relationship between Missouri beekeepers and the beekeepers of Uzbekistan, including a proclamation to be sent to Missouri governor Robert Holden.
It was a remarkable trip for Ian and Pam. However, ask him about the greatest educational experience he "enjoyed" as he tried to slip Chai tea past a suspicious and observant Russian customs agent at the airport!
After a short business meeting, the last of the raffle tickets were drawn and the meeting concluded.
Representatives and participants came from many of the state's beekeeping associations, from St. Claire (Illinois), Webster County, South Central, Parkland, Missouri Valley, Ozarks, Boone Regional, Easter, Jefferson County, Mid-Missouri, Midwestern, and the newly formed Jackson Area Beekeepers down by Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
It was a splendid day in the company of new friends, well-spent despite any reservations we had about losing a rare spring day with weather suitable for working our own hives. There is perhaps nothing more enjoyable than working our own hives than that of visiting and sharing in the fellowship of those who experience and understand one's joy of keeping bees.
The MSBA Fall Meeting is scheduled for October 24 and 25 in Jefferson City. Questions and inquiries can be directed to the MSBA, 52 Saline Valley Drive, Eldon, MO 65026.