This past weekend Andrea and I attended the Eastern Kentucky Beekeeping School event. This was the first of six such events scheduled across the state throughout the winter. The event was held at the Hazard Community & Technical College in Hazard, KY.
We were pleasantly surprised, both by how well the event was put together and with the turn out. There were approximately 100 people in attendance, which is very encouraging. Several people had driven an hour or more to get to the event, with some even coming from out of state.
The flyer for the event indicated that door prizes would be given away, but I assumed there would only be a few, relatively low value, items. I could not have been more wrong. I didn't think to keep count of the door prizes, but I believe there were at least 20-30 different prizes given away. While some of the prizes were relatively low value, many were worth more than the cost of admission, including some $25 gift cards, smokers, and bee suits. The grand prize was a complete Langstroth hive, which could have easily been worth as much as $100. The prizes were donated by several organizations, including the present vendors as well as the area extension agencies. Andrea and I left with a bee brush and smoker that we won, the combined value of which was close to the price of admission.
There weren't a lot of vendors present at the event, but there were enough there to provide a good variety of items. We didn't buy anything, but did spot a few books that we want to look into. If we were active beekeepers, or even planning to start this year, I suspect we would have picked up several items.
Walter T. Kelly Company - The Walter T. Kelly Company had the biggest display at the event. Since they are located in Kentucky we are very interested in doing business with them once we do get ready to acquire bees.
Dadant & Sons Inc. - Dadant & Sons was another major exhibitor at the event. Their main location is in Illinois, but they do have a branch in Frankfort, KY, which is closer to us than Walter T. Kelly, so we might have to go visit sometime.
The Honey and Bee Connection - The Honey and Bee Connection had a much bigger selection of hives than the other vendors. They were set up in separate area from the others so I didn't look around at their stuff very much. They are a family-owned company, located in Morehead, KY, so we'll have to check them out when we're ready to start buying supplies.
Abigail Keam - Abigail Keam is a beekeeper and author. I have actually bought soap from her before, which I really liked. I likely would have bought some from her this weekend, but she had apparently already ran out when Andrea stopped by her table, or had not brought any to begin with. In addition to being a vendor she also led a couple of the workshops, including one that Andrea attended.
Lani Basberg Agency, LLC - I thought it was strange to see an insurance agent set up at the event, but it is apparently not common for home owner's policies to provide liability coverage for bees, so it seems that she fills a much needed niche. I later found out that Lani was also leading a couple of workshops, both of which I attended.
The vendors and door prizes were nice additions, but the primary reason that we attended the event was for the workshops. There were four 45 minute sessions, and Andrea and I split up to maximize the amount of info we were able to acquire.
Opening Session - Beekeeping in Bangladesh - Phil Craft
The day begin with a talk by Phil Craft, who is the former Kentucky State Apiarist. The topic of the talk was Phil's visit to Bangladesh as part of a US Aid Program. I enjoyed the talk, but felt that it didn't really focus enough on the beekeeping methods used in the area. I was somewhat put off by the part of the talk where he addressed the fact that Bangladesh is a primarily Muslim nation. The way in which he spoke of the friendliness of the people made it seem as if this were in spite of their religion, and that either he was trying to convince the audience, or was surprised himself to find, that those who practice Islam can be nice people.
Getting Started #1 - Basic Bee Biology - Ray McDonnell
The Basic Bee Biology workshop was led by Ray McDonnell, former Tennessee State Apiarist and current biology professor. I enjoyed this workshop, and learned several interesting facts about the biology of the honey bee. However, it seemed far too technical for a "Getting Started" class, especially the first in a series of such classes. I'm not sure how useful the information presented will be for getting started with beekeeping, but having more knowledge about a topic can't be bad.
Getting Started #2 - Equipment, Costs, Companies, and Smoker Basics - Christine Smith
The Equipment workshop was led by Christine Smith. This workshop featured a wealth of information on topics ranging from choosing a location for you hives, how to acquire bees, what equipment is needed, and having realistic expectations. She made several suggestions, including starting with at least two hives, buying nucs instead of just packages of bees, and practicing using the smoker before using it around the bees. She made it clear that one should not expect to make any money from beekeeping in the first year, and illustrated that by sharing that she had $450 in up front costs her first year and only collected enough honey to fill 4 oz jar.
Lunch Speaker - Hive Count Initiative - Sean Burgess
Lunch was provided, and consisted of sandwiches, chips, and brownies. It wasn't exactly my kind of lunch, since I don't eat cold sandwiches, but most people seemed to enjoy it well enough. The first set of door prizes were given away during lunch, after which there was a short talk. Sean Burgess, current Kentucky State Apiarist, spoke about the Hive Count Initiative that his office has started. The stated goal is to get an accurate count of the managed hives in the state, which will help with acquiring grants and provide increased lobbying power. Apparently, however, even though the count is on a volunteer basis, there has been a lot of confusion and suspicion regarding the initiative. I suspect that many fear that by volunteering information about their hives they would be opening themselves up to increased regulation from the state or federal government, which is a fairly common concern, especially in areas such as Eastern Kentucky where many are distrustful of the government.
Backyard Bees (Bumble, Mason, and Honey) - Lani Basberg & Kate Black
The Backyard Bees workshop was led by Lani Basberg, of Lani Basberg Agency, LLC, and Kate Black, Achivist at University of Kentucky. This was a very informative workshop, with the focus being primarily on Bumblebees and Mason Bees, neither of which I knew very much about. I left the workshop with a desire to work on attracting more pollinators, both to our garden and yard. I think that we'll try to do something for Mason Bees this spring, likely near the herb garden. Several books were also suggested, including Humble Bumblebee and The Orchard Mason Bee, both of which are by Brian L. Griffin, and both of which I have since ordered. Also recommended was Befriending Bumble Bees by Elaine Evans, Ian Burns & Marla Spivak and Pollinator Conservation handbook, the first of which is available from, and the latter of which was produced by, The Xerces Society, which is an organization focusing on invertebrate conservation.
Top Bar Hives - Lani Basberg & Kate Black
The Top Bar Hives workshop was also led by Lani Basberg and Kate Black. It was very interesting having the two of them leading this particular workshop, as they both come from very different backgrounds and have very different approaches to beekeeping. Lani said that she'll have over 100 Langstroth hives this year, and only has two top bar hives. She seems to have done the top bar hives solely as an experiment, but has no plans to switch away from the higher yielding Langstroth hives. Kate, on the other hand, has one of each type. She initially planned to only do top bar, but her mentor, Tammy Horn, who was also present, suggested she start with a hive of each. Kate suggested that other beginners do the same, because of the increased opportunity for learning that having both types provide. I'm not convinced that having both types of hives makes sense for us, but we will at least give it some consideration. Lani suggested a couple of books on the topic of top bar beekeeping. The first was The Thinking Beekeeper, by Christy Hemenway, which lead a workshop in the topic at the Mother Earth News Fair that Andrea attended. The second was Top-Bar hive Beekeeping: Wisdom & Pleasure Combined by Wyatt A. Mangum, PhD, which she said was the best book on the topic that she had read. Unfortunately this book appears to only be available from the author's website, and is quite expensive, but appears to be worth the cost for those serious about top-bar beekeeping.
As mentioned above, Andrea took different workshops than I did. The workshops she attended included Cleaning Wax for Candles, Honey Cooking, Soaps & Lotions, and Getting Started #4: Bee Habitat and Feeding. She seemed to learn a lot from the Soaps & Lotions workshop, which was led by Abigail Keam, although the focus was on the business aspect of making such products rather than the process of actually making them.
The complete list of Kentucky Beekeeping School events can be found on the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association website. Locations for future events include Scottsville, Williamsburg, Morehead, Henderson, and Frankfort. I am considering attending the Williamsburg event, and may consider the Morehead event as well, depending on the workshops being offered. I highly recommend attending one of these events if you're interested in beekeeping and live in an area where one is being offered.
I'm not aware of similar events in other states, but it would be well worth making an inquiry with your local or state beekeeping association if you're interested in such an event. If you live in a state that does have such events, please let us know about them in the comments.