Roger Miller’s King of the Road played on the tape deck. My sister, Meghann, was asleep in the passenger seat. We were shooting across Montana, heading for Oregon and the left-coast. It was August 2000. I was just 19; Meghann was 22 and she had recently finished her undergraduate degree. She wanted to take a trip before starting graduate school in the fall. The trip was one of a few I took as a teenager, and it cemented my love of road trips.
Melissa (wife), myself, and two of the three hounds (third-hound, Sarge, is not a traveler, and went to stay with a friend) piled into the Xterra with the travel trailer in tow; this was Friday, July 31st. Our first destination was Melissa’s sister’s house in River Falls, WI. The next morning, after a short delay, we headed east. Our destination for the day ended up being Lafayette, IN. The following day, we pulled into Boone, NC. Melissa planned on doing nothing but read and relax while in Boone; I planned on attending the Eastern Apicultural Society’s annual conference.
Days one and two of the conference were for short courses on various apiculture related things. My first course was an entry level course taught by Portland, ME’s, Erin Forbes of Overland Apiaries. The course was titled, "August to October: beginning the bee year" – at its basic, the course is telling beekeepers that the beekeeping year does not start when the nectar starts to flow in the spring, but it actually starts when you pull the honey and start to get your bees tucked in for the winter. Erin talked about an interesting use of nucleus hives, or nucs. It involves making a double nuc – side by side – under this, there is a double screened bottom board. The nucs get set atop a strong, 10-frame-wide colony. The idea is that the warmth from the colony underneath will keep the nucs warm and snug for the winter.
Tuesday was more of the same – short courses. They were not as interesting as Erin’s course on beginning the spring season the previous fall.
Wednesday was the actual start of the conference. I joined the majority of the conference goers at I.G. Greer Hall for a talk from Dr. David Tarpy, a leading academic on honeybees and colony collapse disorder. He is an Associate Professor of Entomology and the Extension Apiculturist at North Carolina State University. The talk was very interesting. I wondered, as I listened to David talk, how many of the people in the room without science backgrounds and without science-related undergraduate degrees actually understood the more sciencey aspects of the talk. Without going into great detail of the genetics portion of the talk, it came down to this: leading academic research is indicating that the majority of colony failure (whether you call it colony collapse disorder or something else) is caused by a weak queen. And, a weak queen is caused by a queen that has not mated with a significantly diverse and large pool of different drones. As a side note, it was really hard not to think of Appalachia and the stereotype of inbreeding when David talked about, in essence, a queen mating with a drone-brother.
So, as a beekeeper with the end goal of strong colonies producing strong amounts of honey, you want a queen that has mated with lots of different generically drones.
Wednesday evening arrived, and we headed out to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm for a good-ole-Southern-B.B.Q. The hour drive in the high country of North Carolina was spectacular. Being a life-long flatlander from the Midwest, I am always amazed at mountains.
For the evening, I abandoned my newly-embraced-nearly-vegetarian leanings and dug into the southern b.b.q pork. They had a barbecued a full pig; complete with an apple in its mouth. It was by far the best pork I have ever had; no greasy fat-lumps, no random tiny bones; just really well cooked, smoked and delicious pork. Baked beans and coleslaw on the side, a glass of southern sweet tea, and it was one hell of a meal. Well done Brushy Mountain!
The rest of the week at the conference was so-so. I missed Friday, as we decided to head out home.