Mass Bee Field Day – A Carnival For Beekeepers

They even have tents and prizes!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Massachusetts Beekeeper’s Field Day in South Deerfield, MA.  This event is a free exhibition for beekeepers that takes place every year, with educational workshops, bee raffles, smoker contests, talks and demonstrations about all things bee. With 129 attendees and speakers from all over the state and beyond there was plenty of knowledge to be passed around and friendly beekeepers to meet.


One of the most impressive speakers I saw was Ken Warchol, the Worcester County Bee Inspector and “Bee Whisperer.”

Ken gave a talk on hive inspections and showed us what he looks for to determine if a hive is healthy.  He was incredible to watch. The air was filled with hundreds of thousands of bees flying all around him and he did not wear a stitch of protection.  The only tools he used were his smoker and his hive tool.

When there were too many bees on the frame he used a technique that was amazing to watch.  Without gloves, he took his open palm and gently touched it to the bees on the frame and just like that they moved out of the way allowing Ken to see what was underneath them.  Now I understand why he is called the “Bee Whisperer”.

He told us some incredible stories. My favorite was one that landed him in the paper and garnered the attention of police and firemen.  Although he tells it best I will try and sum it up for you the best I remember.

During a routine hive inspection Ken felt some weight pulling on the back of his veil.  It started getting heavier and heavier and he reached behind him to see what was happening. Suddenly, he realized a queen bee from a hive behind him had swarmed and landed on his veil. Now the entire massive bee swarm was collecting together and landing on the back and top of his head.

Thinking quickly he walked very carefully and slowly, so as not to disturb the swarm, to a shed on the hive owner’s property.  He hoped to find something to put the bees inside until the owner of the hives returned home. Unfortunately, every door was locked.  Then Ken noticed someone was home across the street.

So walking stiffly and carefully across the street, up the driveway and to the front door of an unsuspecting neighbor, Ken rang the door bell.  An elderly Ukrainian woman, who spoke very little English, opened the door. Upon seeing Ken with his head covered in a massive bee swarm, the woman started screaming and slammed the door shut.  Ken just stood there bemused and knocked again.  Unbeknownst to Ken she was inside calling 911.

A few minutes later. the woman emerged out of the house.  She was armed with a broom raised high, ready to swat the bees away to save Ken’s life.  Ken screamed “No! No!” and backed away.  He tried to ask the woman for a cardboard box, by motioning a box shape to her.

Just then the police, ambulance and fire trucks showed up.  After a bit of chaos and explaining to authorities, Ken did get the cardboard box and also wound up with his picture in the paper.  He was forever after named the “Bee Whisperer.”

He hived the swarm on his head by stepping into the box and jumping once to dislodge the bees.  Many bees fell inside, then Ken took off his veil and shook the rest inside the box.  He finished his original hive inspection and left a note for the owner on the box containing the swarm.  The note said “Here’s your swarm. You have no idea what I went through to get this.”

Another exciting event at field day was the smoker contest.  This was fascinating for me as a new beekeeper because it takes me forever to light my own smoker and keeping it lit is almost a full time job in itself.  I was keen to discover some new techniques and identify the secret fuel ingredient.

Here’s how the smoker contest worked.  Each beekeeper that wanted to enter brought their own smoker and a bucket of their favorite fuel.  After getting three minutes to light the smoker, the smokers had to sit for 45 minutes. Then each contestant gave four puffs of smoke and whomever had the best puffs won.  Most of the contestants choose pine needles, which is apparently the secret fuel, but the winner, second to the far end, used wood chips he made from a tree stump and newspaper (Hat Tip Joyce Maher).

Several other interesting classes and presentations took place, including Raising Queens, Nuc Management, Mite Control, Natural Beekeeping, Preparing Honey & Beeswax for Show, How to Use the Snellgrove Board, Swarm Management and more.  The hardest thing about the field day was the overlapping class schedule.  My friends and I had a blast and vowed to go again next year to take advantage of the classes we missed.

One of my beekeeping friends ended up winning the best of all the raffle prizes, a brand new Nuc (or small hive of bees).  Needless to say we were all happy for her and very jealous at the same time (Congratulations Debbie!)

Thanks Mass Bee for such a wonderful event!  I can’t wait until next year!

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