Mankind has long known that honey bees produce honey, a delicious and nutritious food, and beeswax, a valuable item with many uses. To get to these items, people first learned to rob wild colonies and later to manage housed colonies of bees. Beekeepers, throughout history, have relied upon a sharing of skills to exploit and manage honey bees. Beekeepers from across Tennessee and from a number of neighboring states converged upon Cookeville, Tennessee for the annual conference of the Tennessee Beekeepers Association. The audience for Tennessee’s state-wide association included beekeepers from each of the state’s 30 affiliated local associations. Local, state, and regional beekeeping associations provide training and mentoring of new beekeepers. These associations are the foundation for the sharing of beekeeping skills. To effectively manage honey bee colonies, one must be exposed to both the modern scientific understanding of honey bee biology and the traditional beekeeping skills passed down from experienced bee handlers.
The annual conference is first a social event where beekeepers meet old friends and make new ones. It is most importantly an educational event where experienced beekeepers, researchers, and industry experts share information and tips on managing hives, maintaining healthy bees, and marketing honey and bee hive products. Beekeeping equipment manufacturers display and sell bee hives and equipment. One of the ways that beekeepers hone their skills in producing products from the bee hive is through honey shows. Here, beekeepers compete to present the most perfect jars of honey in extracted liquid form, or in chunk or cut comb form. Chunk honey includes a piece of honeycomb in a jar filled with liquid honey. Beekeepers also compete by exhibiting beeswax candles, blocks of beeswax, and products made from beeswax. Competition exists between producers of frames of capped honey, taken from the hive and displayed in boxes behind glass or plastic. Bee-related photography is a popular event at the honey show. I was greeted at the conference hall by larger-than-life and charming honey bees.--Richard