Walter T. Kelley Summer Field Day, 2012

By Camilla Bee, Editor

If you could specify the weather you’d want for an outdoor event you’d say, “exactly what we had in 2012 on the first weekend of June in Clarkson, Kentucky.” The event planners for Kelley’s Field Day—and its 300+ participants from all over the U.S.—could not have enjoyed more ideal weather. The air was freshly cleaned from rain, the grass green and lush, the sky clear so the sunlight could pour through, with the temperature hovering in the high 60s so the undiluted sunlight felt just right.

Perhaps the only thing more perfect than the weather was the tasty pulled pork sandwich, or the perfect buffet of “bee industry rock stars” who shared their wit and wisdom throughout the day.

Field Day 2012 began with the keynote address “Making Hard Decisions About Your Honeybee Queens” by Dr. James Tew, of Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University. Although tethered by a short microphone cord, Tew’s bigger-than-life personality was undiminished as he shared wisdom from his years of beekeeping and industry research. A key point he repeatedly stressed is that things don’t always go as planned, a point he humorously illustrated with anecdotes of how even highly credentialed experts, with all the resources imaginable, get it wrong.

Tew encouraged us to raise our own queens, noting that while we may occasionally make mistakes, bees make mistakes too. If you don’t believe him, he advised you to check the grill of any vehicle in the summer. Tew continued to entertain and educate throughout the day, heading up later sessions on handling hot hives.

Following the keynote speech, attendees were forced to make tough decisions between a variety of speakers. Continuing the rock star line-up was Michael Bush, probably best known for his extensive writings, including many for this newsletter in 2012. Bush spoke on wintering nucs, top bar hives, swarm prevention and splits, and his “Four Simple Steps to Healthy Bees.” Highlights of the latter session will be covered in a future issue of this newsletter. While Bush has certainly done the research and gained the experience through three decades of beekeeping, he additionally offers an extensive command of what has been researched and pondered by others, and supports his insights by referencing other industry experts who have advanced our knowledge of beekeeping.

Making his nearly annual appearance at Field Day was rock star Dr. Tom Webster, of the College of Agriculture, Kentucky State University. The amiable Dr. Webster headed two sessions—Drone Congregation Areas (DCAs), and Queen Rearing.

While an international shortage of helium prevented Dr. Webster from launching a queen attached to a small weather balloon and drone “umbrella,” he showed the equipment used for such research, and promised to make it happen in the future. Webster’s insights into DCAs also will be shared in a future newsletter.

The other speakers arguably don’t have the same national / international status as the big three, but in overhearing comments about the other sessions, it was clear they had their share of “groupies” who appreciated the knowledge they imparted. They include:

Cleo Hogan, pulling in such large crowds you’d think we were all bees and he was wearing queen pheromone, covering his swarm harvester and making a split.

In making a split, Hogan strives to put two frames of brood in each nuc, a dark-capped one and a lighter one. This allows the nuc to have a “soon” hatching of bees, as well as a later boost. In demonstrating split-making, Hogan found the queen and announced this to the many captivated folks gathering around him. One attendee later shared that the group swarmed the frame Hogan was holding to see this monarch of the hive. I guess Tew, Bush and Webster weren’t the only rock starts in attendance?

When making a split, Hogan isn’t concerned about finding the queen. He makes the split, and knows she’s either ending up in the nuc or staying with the parent hive. He prefers the former, as moving her may help diminish any swarming urge, but notes either way typically works. Weather permitting, he gives the splits about two days before adding a queen to the queenless hive. He noted it’s usually fairly easy to tell which one of the two it is; a queenless hive will be agitated and restless. Unlike some of the other speakers, Hogan has no issue with purchased queens, obtaining them (of course!) from Kelley’s. He doesn’t like being queenless for a month and a half while the bees make a queen.

Tamara Rahm, returning again this year, covered “Cappings to Candles” and then “Extracting.” Tamara inspirationally makes it look so easy—experience will do that!

Charlotte Hubbard spoke on “Bee Issues Worldwide,” an overview of some of what she observed at Apimondia 2011, the international bee show, held in Argentina last fall. Apitherapy was a big topic at Apimondia, and this session at Kelley’s morphed into an open discussion amongst participants. A few participants shared their absolutely positive testimonials to the use of apitherapy, via stings, for their personal medical conditions. Willis Willoughby strongly recommends it, adding that he follows Charles Mraz’ book, Health and the Honeybee, available from Kelley’s.

In a later session, Hubbard humorously detailed nearly two dozen “oopsie” lessons she’s learned in her years of beekeeping. A couple of these have been shared in her “Dronings from a Queen Bee” column, which anchors the back page of our monthly newsletter.

Joe Taylor, past President of KSBA and long time beekeeper and Kelley customer, helped attendees understand what to look for in pulling supers.

Taylor, also an annual favorite, led additional sessions on pollen collection and hive inspections. Hive inspections sessions were offered throughout the day, also led by Sean Burgess, Mike Taylor, and Trevor Qualls. Other ongoing sessions included hive management, covered by Bush, Rahm, Burgess, and Hogan.

Beekeeping has so many dimensions, and Kathy Sherrard was very instructive in sharing information on making lip balms and lotions.

Somewhere in the schedule participants had to find time to enjoy their complimentary picnic lunch. While I wanted to figure out how to finagle a second lunch ticket to have another excellent pulled pork sandwich, I didn’t dare give up on any afternoon sessions to feed my face. You can find pulled pork at other places. All that bee knowledge at one easily accessed location on one day? You have to be at Kelley’s annually for that.

Queen rearing is becoming a more mainstream topic, and many attendees swarmed to a presentation by John Pace on non-grafting queen rearing. Pace is a longtime Glasgow beekeeper and owner of Green Palace Meadery.

Back again this year was Trevor Qualls, to share his knowledge of one of the pests we all hate, the Small Hive Beetle. Qualls, as usual, packed the session with people eager to learn from his experience. Qualls is owner of BonAqua Springs Apiaries and Woodenware, in Tennessee.

Kelsey Salmon, Indiana State Honey Princess, shared some wonderful honey recipes. Some of these recipes appear in this issue and future issues.

John Seaborn was also on-site this year with a variety of information on natural treatments for bee conditions. Seaborn is owner of Wolf Creek Apiaries, dedicated to the organic management of bees.

Concurrent to all the sessions listed above were tours of the Kelley facility with a bit of history, led by Kelley’s President Jane Burgess, and Earl King.

From registration beginning at 7 a.m., to door prizes at 3 in the afternoon, the Walter T. Kelley Field Day was jam-packed with information, fun and sharing of knowledge. If you weren’t there, you missed a great, helpful and very enjoyable gathering.

Field Day is held annually, the first Saturday of every June. Mark your calendar for next year.

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