This busy weekend Spring seems to have finally settled in to stay a while. Our struggling patches of crocus bloomed and appear to finally be spreading. The red maple near the house is covered with bright buds although not yet open for pollinators. Beatrix is bringing in some pale, yellow pollen, which we are guessing is an earlier blooming maple we have yet to locate. And we spent most of the weekend attending the Michigan Beekeepers Association spring conference, acquiring material for several posts. Whether they actually get written is another matter. Given our track record, we had best provide a quick update now.
The high points were the two microscopy courses, one on bee anatomy with Dr. Zachary Huang and the other on bee post-mortems with Dr. Meghan Milbrath. One of us found that laboratory skills return much as bicycle-riding does while the other, who had never had a biology course, suffered some frustrations but we both had fun pulling dead bees apart with forceps and examining fascinating structures under high magnification.
The keynote speaker was Gary Reuter, who works with Dr. Marla Spivak, who is best known for developing the Minnesota hygienic bees. His talk on the first day was about varroa management and on the second about current pollinator projects at the University of Minnesota.
We skipped a number of elementary sessions, valuable for the beginner but a rehash for us, as well as the several sessions on rearing queens. We are still trying to reliably overwinter our bees. We are ready to try making splits or nucs but not to attempt producing large numbers of queens.
Instead, we attended a session on the Cape honey bee with no application to beekeeping in Michigan but interesting nonetheless and an opportunity to see vacation pictures of African nature. The bees themselves boringly resembled Carniolans to the inexpert eye but are otherwise unique among eusocial insects.
And we heard more from the delightful Dr. Milbrath about keeping colonies healthy. Earlier versions of this talk focused on pests and pathogens but after seeing faces in the audience getting sadder and sadder with each revelation of a new danger she switched the emphasis from illness to health. The main message was that beekeepers need a management strategy and neither ignoring the bees while hoping for things to work out nor panicking at every hint of trouble qualifies as a strategy. Of course this was accompanied by more detail and humor.