Monday, November 29, 2010

Natural Pest Controls

Today’s New York Times features a report on the efforts by organic farms to control insect pests without using chemicals. “Farmers Find Organic Arsenal to Wage War on pests may be viewed at The author briefly describes several pest control strategies using natural biological controls. He stresses the benefit of having more varieties of plants growing around agricultural fields. The plants encourage beneficial insects that feed on pest insects. Today’s monoculture agriculture doesn’t provide for the natural enemies that help control many crop-destroying insects. Monoculture planting may have contributed in part to this year’s overwhelming populations of insect pests in the Arkansas Delta. The article describes the use of “trap crops” planted to lure pest insects away from cash crops. To keep bugs away from strawberry plants, alfalfa is planted nearby. The alfalfa is more attractive to a pest bug than the strawberry plant, thus the strawberry crop is saved. Other farmers use a vacuum to suck bugs from the strawberry plants. Ed Anderson is experimenting with a vacuum arrangement that he built to remove small hive beetles from his Tennessee bee hives. Such mechanical controls are good choices for inclusion in integrated pest management programs; there is no chance of a pest developing a resistance to a sucking machine. Bats are effective controllers of certain insect pests. Unfortunately, these flying mammals, that are also useful pollinators, are declining in numbers. For information about bats and White-nose Syndrome, the fungal disease that is seriously reducing their populations, visit

The Times article speaks of the benefit of nutrient-rich soil and the use of cover crops including legumes. Some organic farmers are using essential oil sprays to protect crops. They are spraying clove, mint, and thyme to repel and kill pests. This sounds like our non-chemical approaches to beekeeping, using essential oils to kill Varroa mites. It appears that organic crop farmers and beekeepers have much to share. Today’s photo: monocultural plantings leave little habitat for beneficial insects.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Operation Migration

We see evidence of successes in wildlife conservation efforts. In recent decades, the whooping crane almost became extinct. However, with the concerted efforts of public and private groups, these beautiful birds are slowly increasing in numbers. The whooping crane population declined from an estimated high of 1400 cranes in 1860 to an all-time low of 15 birds in 1941. The only naturally-occurring flock of whooping cranes summers in Alberta and Northwest Territories, Canada. The wild flock, which now numbers 180 birds, migrates to the Gulf of Mexico coast of Texas. A consortium of wildlife experts recognized that the population was at risk with all of the birds sharing the same territory and migration route. In an effort to protect the whooping crane from extinction, another flock of cranes was established with a separate migration path through its historic range. This Eastern population now has 96 cranes which migrate from Wisconsin to Northwest Florida. Whooping cranes are guided on their first migration by pilots using ultralight aircraft. My friend, Shirley Murphy, keeps me informed of the whooping crane migration. Today the 11 young cranes making the migration guided by human fliers in ultralight aircraft are resting in Hardin County, Tennessee in the vicinity of Shirley’s Tennessee River home and bee yard. They are at the half-way point of their 1285 mile migration. You can follow the progress of the flight at The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is a group of non-profit organizations, individuals, and governmental agencies that are working together to establish the Eastern population of cranes. Their work can be viewed at

Here at Peace Farm, we also see the results of successful conservation efforts. We are visited by birds extending their range: black-necked stilt, tundra swan, and bald eagle. This week, I noticed that a number of the nesting holes that Rita drilled into a dead tree trunk had been used by blue orchard bees, like the one I photographed gathering pollen from evening primrose flowers.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Live or Let Die?

After two weeks in place in the bee hives, the thymol treatments have evaporated from their gelled state. The thymol vapors have killed a large proportion of the colony’s parasitic mites.   The mites fell from the bees and can be seen on the plastic inserts that covered the screened bottom boards and concentrated the thymol fumes. My 10-year-old grandson, Ethan, removes the inserts and hive spacer shims used to administer the thymol. Thymol is a product of the thyme plant, a common herb used to make pizza sauce. It is considered less dangerous to the honey bees than chemical miticides. The harsh miticides are known to lead to infertility in queens and drones. These agents have also led to resistant strains of parasitic mites.

In the future, it is hoped that we will not have to use any treatments at all to control mites. Great efforts are being made to breed strains of honey bees that are resistant to the deadly Varroa mites. These bees have a genetically heritable behavior trait that allows them to detect reproducing Varroa growing in the cells with developing honey bee pupae. The bees open the cells and remove the pupae along with the parasitic Varroa. This is called hygienic behavior. It is hoped that through genetic selection honey bees will evolve that can live in the presence of parasitic mites.  That seems to have occurred to a considerable degree with tracheal mites, but not yet with Varroa. In practicality, we are a long way away from pure honey bee genetic control of Varroa mites. Mite resistance is greatly diminished with each supersedure of a colony’s queen. A few beekeepers are attempting to use a “live or let die” approach to Varroa control, letting the mites select the resistant colonies. A more practical approach, however, seems to be an integrated pest management plan that employs numerous mite controls including “soft” chemicals, like thymol” as needed to rapidly knock down mite populations exceeding self-defined thresholds.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thymol Treatment for Varroa

Varroa mites were first detected in the United States around 1987. These visible parasitic mites followed by just three years the detection of microscopic mites that live in the trachea, or breathing tubes of the honey bee. The two species of mites decimated honey bee colonies. For a number of years it was common to not see a single honey bee in a stand of clover on a warm spring day when foraging bees should be abundant. Over the next couple of decades, tracheal mites became less of a killer of honey bees, but Varroa mites remained the most deadly pest of bees. Varroa mites puncture the exoskeleton of the honey bees and suck the bees’ blood, called hemolymph. The resulting wound exposes the bees to a number of viruses; several are suspected of being associated with Colony Collapse Disorder. In an attempt the stop the deaths of honey bee colonies, beekeepers relied upon chemical miticides to kill the parasitic mites. This was a most difficult task of attempting to kill a pest on a living insect without harming the insect. Each of the available miticides killed parasitic mites effectively for a while, and then strains of mites resistant to the chemicals replaced the original mites. Other strategies now being preferred include the use of “softer” agents, like organic acids and essential oils.

In the photo, I am inspecting a frame from the center of the brood nest. Here, bees are completing their last brood cycle of the year. In the center of the frame, a few capped cells hold pupae ready to emerge as adults. Around these capped cells are the empty cells of recently emerged bees. Farther out, a band of worker bees tend to uncapped honey. The outside edges of the frame contain honey capped with beeswax, the colony’s stored food for winter. Photographer and beekeeper, Brandon Dill,, took this picture of me wearing protective gloves to apply thymol to treat a hive for mites.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bees Control Beetles

It is common for insect populations to explode every few years and then to return to normal levels for a number of years. This pattern may result from external conditions like weather, food supply, or reduced predation. In the few years that the small hive beetle has been established in the United States, we have seen its population fluctuate somewhat from year to year. I suspect that the quite controlled environment of a bee hive regulates the small hive beetle population considerably. However, there is one stage of the small hive beetle’s life cycle when the insect lives outside the bee hive. Beetle larvae crawl from the hive to pupate in the soil. The beetles continue their development as pupae in moist soil. Beetle populations are generally higher in hives located in the shade than in the full sun. Perhaps the beetle larvae experience considerable predation from insects and birds as they crawl long distances seeking moist soil.

When migratory beekeepers move their hives, they leave behind the beetle pupae in the soil. Of course, the pupae emerge as adults and fly to surrounding managed hives and feral honey bee colonies. Control of small hive beetles is best achieved by the bees themselves. Strong colonies of bees filling the hive’s internal space keep beetle reproduction in check. Beetles thrive in hives with plenty of hiding space, such as those stacked with excess brood boxes or honey supers. Internal feeders holding drowned bees are breeding grounds for small hive beetles. Beekeepers should not use chemical treatments in the hive against small hive beetles. Even if the chemicals are effective, the housekeeping bees spread toxins throughout the hive as they remove the dead beetles. Some beekeepers have success trapping beetles with small pieces of corrugated plastic, like old campaign signs, placed in the bottom of the hive. Beetles enter the holes, and worker bees seal them inside with propolis. Today’s photo: yucca blooms in a Peace Bee Farm bee yard.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Small Hive Beetle Damage

Many Mid-South beekeepers reported their hives heavily infested with small hive beetles this year. It appears that rainy conditions in the previous two years lead to successful reproduction of large populations of these bee hive scavengers. While the beetles are often a secondary pest of the honey bee, once their populations explode they become a primary pest of the hive. A strong honey bee colony may share a small hive beetle population living within its hive numbering several hundred insects. The bees drive the beetles into distant corners of the hive, away from the brood nest. Today’s photo shows a small hive beetle hiding from guard bees in the space between the top bar of a frame and the edge of a super. Small hive beetles can overtake the bee hive when the bee population is weak, the colony is stressed by disease or other pests, the colony is queenless, or multiple generations of beetles are reproducing in the hive.

While handling small hive beetles in the bee hives is an ongoing challenge for beekeepers, they can be a real concern in the honey house. Leigh, a beekeeper in Hawaii, was most disappointed to find that small hive beetle larvae had emerged in his frames of honey to be extracted. The honey was fermented, and the flavor and aroma greatly affected. When harvesting honey, we should try to avoid bringing beetles into the honey house. To prevent beetles from destroying harvested honey, the honey should be extracted within a day or two. Supers of honey should not be stored in the honey house for long periods of time. Frames of honeycomb “slimed” by small hive beetles have the odor of fermenting oranges. The islands of Hawaii have been immune to a number of honey bee pests and pathogens until recent years. World trade can accidentally transfer unwanted pests, pathogens, and invasive species along with cargo. For beekeepers, like Leigh, small hive beetles add a level of complexity to our craft.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bee Hive in the Fall

A visit to the bee yards on a warm fall day finds many foragers entering some of the hives with their pollen baskets bulging with bright orange pollen. These hives are the ones that are still producing brood. Other hives show no pollen being collected. In these hives, the queens have either slowed egg laying or stopped for the season. Most of the pollen is converted into bee bread to be fed to the larvae. Little pollen is stored over winter. The earliest brood of next year will be fed from nutrients stored in fat bodies of the worker bees. I find no drone bees in the hives. To conserve food, the colonies have removed many drones during the drought and nectar dearth of late summer. The remaining drones were expelled from the hives with the first few cold nights of fall. Beekeepers look for hives with large populations of drones in the fall, as this is an indication that a colony may bee queen-less. The colonies have concentrated their honey stores into the brood nest. Most of the honey is capped with beeswax, but the bees leave some honey uncapped and ready to eat.

Today’s photo of foragers bringing pollen into the hive was taken by beekeeper Brandon Dill. You can see his work at Brandon studied beekeeping at Heifer International, a most interesting charitable organization devoted to relieving global hunger and poverty. Heifer began its work by providing animals such as cattle, goats, water buffalos, or camels to needy people to provide meat, milk, muscle, manure, money, materials, and motivation. Along with sustainable agriculture training, Heifer’s efforts are designed to help entire communities by having recipients pass along a female offspring animal to a family who has also undergone sustainability training. Among Heifer International’s many worldwide projects are “Beekeeping to Stop Poverty and Illiteracy” in Kosovo and “Seeds of Hope” in the southern counties of the Arkansas Delta region. Heifer International’s efforts may be viewed at

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Urban Farm

Mary Phillips manages a farm in the center of the city of Memphis. Within a short distance of the city’s residential areas and major transportation and commercial hubs she grows vegetables and even fish. In the spring, she plans to add honey bees. Mary worked with us at Peace Bee Farm to gain experience after she took a beekeeping class while attending college. At Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, Mary studied sustainable agriculture. Now she is building a farm in an abandoned cotton field that sat fallow for 60 years. After trees were cleared and stumps removed, Mary and a few helpers planted their first crops this year. When Rita, Tod, and I visited the farm on a cool, damp fall day, the ground was covered with lush cool-weather crops of lettuce, radish, arugula, turnips, mustard, collards, kale and other salad greens. In the photo, Mary and Rita inspect compost beds of earthworms turning vegetable scraps into organic material to be added to the silty Memphis soil. By amending the soil with organic matter to help retain moisture, the farm was able to produce vegetables this year, Memphis’ hottest on record.

Tod looks over the hydroponic vegetable production arrangement built above a tank holding tilapia fish. Water is pumped continuously from the fish tank to the vegetable growth area. The water gathers nitrogen and nutrients from the waste of the fish. These nutrients feed the roots of tomatoes and watercress plants growing in a bed of gravel. Oxygen-rich water splashes back into the fish tank filled with rapidly-growing tilapia. Elsewhere on the urban farm, chickens live in a coop on wheels. Equipped with a small grazing yard, the coop can be rolled periodically to new locations. As the chickens scratch and feed, they remove weed plants and seeds while enriching the soil with their high-nitrogen waste. A few fainting goats are employed to clear brush and weeds. I look forward to helping Mary establish her urban honey bee hives.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Investigating Nosema Disease

Nosema disease is receiving considerable attention, because it is now being seen as possibly associated with honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder. As researchers began their study of all known honey bee pathogens in their search for possible causes of the large-scale die-off of honey bee colonies that started in 2006, they discovered that a new strain of Nosema disease was present In the United States. The new strain, known as Nosema ceranae, is thought to have originated with the Asian honey bee. Our honey bees, of European origin, have carried another strain of this bee disease, Nosema apis. This microorganism, which has been reclassified several times and is very similar to a fungus, causes dysentery in honey bees. Now, surprisingly, the original strain has been largely replaced by the new strain. Nosema apis has easily identified symptoms, mainly waste streaking on the hive; Nosema ceranae shows no symptoms. Nosema apis is normally a winter time disease; Nosema ceranae affects bees throughout the year. While Nosema apis was rarely considered a serious condition, Nosema ceranae seems to be much more lethal. Honey bees affected by Nosema ceranae have a shortened lifespan. For honey producers, this results in a lesser number of foragers and reduced honey harvests. The new strain is being reported to exist along with certain viruses in collapsing honey bee colonies. Both strains can be controlled by Fumagillin, our only available treatment.

Researchers at The University of Tennessee are among those studying Nosema disease. At the recent Tennessee Beekeepers Association’s annual conference, Dr. John Skinner and entomology graduate students Michael Wilson and Paul Rhoades demonstrated how to remove the honey bee mid-gut and examine the contents for Nosema spores. Like American foulbrood and chalkbrood, Nosema is a spore-forming pathogen. Nosema exists in both vegetative and spore-producing states. Microscopic analysis of infected honey bees often reveals millions of reproductive Nosema spores. In the photo Paul removes the mid-gut of a honey bee. Beekeeper Shirley Murphy observes in the background.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Feral Bees in a Tree

At times honey bees and people conflict when living close together. Ron has a colony of feral honey bees living in a cavity in a tree along his driveway. The bees are alerted when he works in the area, and he would like to remove the bees. Recognizing the importance of honey bees, Ron would like to remove the bees without killing the colony. Some have told him that the only way to remove the bees is to cut down the tree. Ron asks if the method of removing bees from a structure using a funnel is effective. I have removed bees from trees in this manner on a number of occasions. The funnel method allows a beekeeper to transfer the bees into a modern bee hive without killing the colony. Other bee removal techniques often require cutting the tree or using chemicals to drive the bees from their cavity.

I prefer to attempt a colony transfer in the spring when queen bees are available in newly established hives. A tree suitable for a funnel transfer has an entrance close to the ground. Easy access to the opening in the tree is important. The beekeeper must fashion a stand for the hive to receive the bees. It needs to be near the point where the bees enter the tree. The hive stand must be substantial, because the expanding hive can easily weigh several hundred pounds. The beekeeper places a queen-right hive with a small population of bees near the tree’s opening. Next, he closes all tree openings except one which he covers with a screen funnel. This allows the bees to exit, but not reenter the tree. Foraging bees returning to the tree overpower the guard bees of the close-by hive. The receiving hive’s population expands rapidly. The transfer requires six to 12 weeks to complete. Today’s picture shows feral bees fighting with guard bees moments after I placed a funnel over the opening to their tree.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

To Treat as a Precaution?

A person considering becoming a beekeeper wrote me and asked, “Are mites, moths, and Nosema common, and is it necessary to treat as a precaution?” I replied that each of these pests and pathogens is quite common, but we can keep bees in their presence. I recommend always trying to find a solution that limits the use of chemicals in the hive. One may want to develop an integrated pest management approach that doesn't rely on regular use of chemicals, as they often result in chemical-resistant pests. Using chemical treatments as a precaution can lead to problems. For example, the American foulbrood recently detected in Tennessee proved to be resistant to Terramycin, the approved treatment. Chemicals can be a part of an integrated pest management plan; they just need to be at the end of the list of management tools.

Mites are a major killer of honey bees, and mites exist in all colonies. One should approach them from several integrated pest management angles: Install screened bottom boards on hives; purchase queen bees bred for resistance to mites; dust the bees with powdered sugar; and learn techniques for measuring the hive's mite population. At the end of the honey producing season, apply one of the softer mite treatments if necessary. Wax moths, though plentiful, are not a problem in the hive. Wax moths are hive scavengers that eat the honeycomb and hive residue after the bee colony dies. As long as one keeps the colony queen-right and populated with bees, the workers will remove the wax moth eggs and larvae from the hive. Nosema exists in almost all colonies. Fumagillin is an approved treatment for Nosema that can be added to the bees’ feed. It appears that some of the viruses and Nosema combine to contribute to colony collapses and losses. As we learn more about pests and pathogens, we are able to keep our colonies strong, healthy, and productive.” Today’s picture: fireweed, a great honey plant of the American North-West.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Brood Nest

The honey bee makes a permanent nest. In nature, honey bees build a nest in a cavity of a hollow tree or a hole in a rock wall. Honey bees also find many man-made objects to be suitable cavities: mail boxes, barbecue grills, and the walls of houses. Man long ago learned to house honey bees in hives made of fired clay resembling drain pipes. Woven straw hives, called skeps, having the appearance of inverted baskets, were used by the Europeans who brought honey bee colonies to America. They packed two skeps inside a wooden barrel with ice and sawdust added to lower the temperature of the hives to reduce flying during the three month ocean crossing. The modern bee hive was invented by a Philadelphia pastor, Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth in 1851. The Langstroth hive is an open wooden box, structurally similar to a hollow tree. The observant pastor built his hive after carefully measuring the distances between sheets of honeycomb built by bees in the wild. The Langstroth hive contains removable frames holding the fragile beeswax combs. The ability to remove the combs allows beekeepers to inspect the hive for bee diseases and to harvest honey in a non-destructive manner.

Tod and I agreed to assist a new beekeeper set up his hive for the winter. The active colony of bees was housed in a traditional Langstroth hive with two deep hive bodies for the brood nest. These were topped with one shallow honey super. The super and the upper hive body were each filled frames of capped honey. The frames of the upper hive body were stuck firmly in the hive, so we lifted the box as a unit. The honeycomb in the lower box, containing the brood, was not held in frames. Combs collapsed like a house of cards. Beekeepers should never leave empty boxes in a hive for bees to fill with honeycomb. We will repair the hive next spring if the queen survived the implosion.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nectar and Pollen Sources

An observant Central Virginia beekeeper is identifying flowering plants in his area that are useful for producing nectar and pollen. There is a great diversity of flowering plants in a temperate region like Virginia, and a number of these are important bee plants. Virginia honey bees forage prolific nectar sources: clover, black locust, basswood or linden, and tuliptree. The Appalachian Mountains support the sourwood tree, which produces nectar in the higher altitudes. From the nectar of this flowering tree, bees make the famous sourwood honey. Many of the flowering plants produce both nectar and pollen to attract honey bees. There are seven families of flowering plants that can be considered exceptionally important to the honey bees. The rose family contains almonds, apples, pears, plums, cherries, blackberries, and hawthorns. The mustard family includes spinach, turnips, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, and rape or canola. The legume family has peanuts, soybeans, peas, beans, indigo, alfalfa, kudzu vine, and the most prolific honey plant, clover. Some legumes are trees: mimosa, redbud, Kentucky coffeetree, and black locust. The snapdragon family includes mullein and the empress tree. The composite family includes the sunflowers, dandelion, goldenrod, and many garden flowers, like the coneflower and daisy. The mint family includes spearmint, peppermint, catnip, bee balm, lemon balm, and coleus. Finally, the magnolia family includes one important tree for the honey bees, the tuliptree, also known as yellow poplar. Almost any plant in these families can be expected to provide considerable amounts of nectar and pollen.

Beekeepers can identify obscure wildflowers that they observe attracting honey bees by following local guides like Weeds of the Northeast, by Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso. One person’s weed may be a beekeeper’s important wildflower. The Hive and the Honey Bee, edited by Joe M. Graham, lists a number of bee plants according to family and identifies them as nectar or pollen sources. Today’s photo is a bumblebee collecting pollen from native wildflowers at the seven thousand foot elevation on Pike’s Peak in Colorado.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Taste of Honey

Honey is concentrated flower nectar. To get a taste of flowers, simply eat some honey. Honey may variety greatly from location to location, from year to year, and even from month to month within a particular year. Honey made from different nectar sources varies in color, flavor, and aroma. Honey harvested from one bee yard may change from year to year depending upon weather, wildflowers in bloom, and agricultural crops planted in the area. There are certain regions that produce honeys that are well known and sought after. Many people seek out the subtle and mild flavors of orange blossom, tupelo, sourwood, fireweed, alfalfa, star thistle, and cotton honeys. A select few are dedicated fans of the strong-flavored buckwheat honey with its lasting aftertaste.

By removing supers of honey after particular nectar flows, beekeepers can separate individual varieties of honey. The National Honey Board describes some of the varietal honeys at From the Peace Bee Farm hives at the Memphis Botanic Garden, with its great diversity of flowers, we have collected four distinct honeys in the same year: honey with the aroma of muscadine grapes, honey with a mild taste of flowers, peppery honey, and chocolate-flavored honey. The flavor of honey doesn’t always reflect the aroma of the flower. Lavender and citrus honeys don’t taste like the flowers. Today’s picture shows some of the many entries in the recent Tennessee Beekeepers Association’s honey show. Honey shows allow beekeepers the opportunity to hone their skills at producing a jar of honey as fine as the honey inside the cells of the bee hive. Competition among beekeepers is keen. For breakfast today, I had some mildly flavored East Tennessee sourwood honey with steel-cut oatmeal and coffee with chicory. From sourwood trees at altitude, honey bees produce a famous honey in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Sourwood trees are not consistent producers of nectar; but in years when there is a good nectar flow, Appalachian beekeepers sell rich sourwood honey to loyal customers.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Goldenrod in Bloom

Goldenrod is one of the most important flowering plants for the honey bee. It is a prolific producer of nectar and pollen late in the year. Blooming in the late summer and fall, this bright yellow-flowered composite provides nectar for the bees to build up stores of honey for winter. Goldenrod also provides pollen to help stimulate the colony to produce brood late into the fall. The pollen adds considerable amounts of protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals to the diet of the late-season bees, helping ensure that they will be capable of producing the food for the next year’s early brood. Goldenrod is a consistent producer of nectar and pollen in most years. The open flowers attract a number of insect species. It is not unusual to see honey bees, bumblebees, and solitary native bees sharing goldenrod blooms with soldier beetles and yellow jacket wasps. Today’s photo shows one honey bee foraging goldenrod for pollen while another collects nectar.

Peace Bee Farm’s hives at the Children’s Museum of Memphis were active today with bees bringing in large amounts of bright yellow pollen, likely from goldenrod. The bees were foraging heavily even though the early morning temperatures were quite cool. The bees were also removing some drones from the hive as well as pupae. The drones, male reproductive bees, are not needed in the winter. They are pushed out the hive entrance to perish the first frosty night of the fall. Honey bee pupae are removed by hygienic bees that have a genetic trait that allows them to detect parasitic Varroa mites living and reproducing in the brood cells with the developing bees. The Varroa puncture the surface of the bee and expose it to a number of pathogens, including viruses. Varroa can be found in all honey bee hives. The mite population in the museum observation hives increased in late summer. I applied a thymol-based treatment to reduce the parasitic mites as part of our integrated pest management plan.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tennessee Beekeepers Meet

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.