Building up

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January is the month most northern climate beekeepers recognize as the beginning of spring build-up. While waiting for a weather break to see signs of this increase first-hand, I took the opportunity to do a little build-up of my own last week.

Tuesday marked the start of the 2016 Oregon Master Beekeeper (OMB) Apprentice program year.  This introductory event allows the mentors to meet with their new apprentices and begins a year full of learning for everyone.  The Lane County Beekeepers Association (LCBA) meeting followed featuring Judy Scher’s presentation about the under-appreciated products of the hive.  She illustrated practical ways of processing by-products like propolis and wax to create useful and potentially marketable items including chunk honey, food-safe wood finishes, health-enhancing creams and sore throat remedies.  Even Polly Habliston’s budget report was inspiring; it revealed a robust educational fund ready to be rolled into improving our local beekeepers’ skills.

On Wednesday, I was fortunate to attend the Oregon State University Citizen Science Hummingbird Project (OSCHP) workshop, coordinated by the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program (ONREP).   Modeled on a research project that analyzed the effects of forest fragmentation and habitat loss on key hummingbird and plant species in Costa Rica, this citizen science project allows students to collect and upload data that experienced researchers will use to track populations in an attempt to determine whether habitat fragmentation and loss of forage is driving hummingbird declines.  Because hummingbirds play important roles as pollinators (not unlike our beloved honey bees, bumble bees, and native pollinating insects), this project clearly touches on some of the same issues that concern beekeepers.  It’s an exciting project that I hope to be sharing with my favorite second graders at our local school later this spring.

During the Hummingbird workshop, I also learned about Oregon Season Tracker.  Many beekeepers either formally or informally observe the phenological signs of the seasons as we work our bees…filbert, maple, or blackberry bloom, for instance.  Making a record of these natural occurrences can sometimes give us insights about what is (or will be) happening inside our hives and whether or not our current year is “on schedule.”  Oregon Season Tracker also enlists citizen scientists to observe, record, and contribute data that will ultimately give researchers a better understanding of what’s happening in our environment.  OST is a partner group of the nation-wide Nature’s Notebook program.  Whereas Nature’s Notebook tracks seasonal indicators of species across the country, OST focuses on about eight species prominent in Oregon’s ecosystems.

As it happened, the Linn Benton Beekeepers Association January meeting took place just down the street from where I finished up with the hummingbird workshop, so off I went to rub elbows with Corvallis area beekeepers. The LBBA runs a lovely meeting, with the first half-hour or so devoted to a bit of club business and a good deal of Q & A geared toward helping new beekeepers with issues relevant to the season.  Stephanie Parreira from the OSU Bee Lab then gave an overview of her work with neonicitinoid/fungicide interactions in honey bee colonies.  She did an excellent job of communicating extremely technical information in way that I could (mostly ; ) understand.  The very much simplified message was that the two chemicals she studied, Imidacloprid and Clorothalonil, did affect the bees’ foraging behavior, but not for many weeks after exposure.  She impressed us with the fact that what is happening to pollinators in the current agricultural environment is vastly complex and will take a great deal of time and money to sort out.  Overall, I found the intelligence, enthusiasm, and dedication that Parreia brings to bear on issues of pollinator health incredibly encouraging.

All in all, it was a pretty motivating 48 hours of new information and inspiring company, and while I miss playing with my bees in the winter, I am grateful for the chance to learn and reflect before spring’s wild rush.  What people, events, books, or meetings are energizing you lately?

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