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Weekend beekeeping seminar creates big buzz in Laporte

Lyle Robinson, left, and John Lindahl, try on beekeeping gear. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)1 / 3
JoAnne Sabin explains the science of efficient beekeeping. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)2 / 3
JoAnne Sabin showed off healthy honeycombs, which she said hobbyists and professionals should strive for.(Sarah Smith/Enterprise)3 / 3

Classes on the art and science of beekeeping were a sweet success, judging from the 60+ people crammed into the Laporte fire hall last weekend.

Many came as hobbyists, to brush up on the latest trends. Some were professional beekeepers continuing their education.

Some, like 12-year-old Fritz Anderson of Shevlin, were there to learn a new pastime.

"I just thought it would be interesting," the youngster said. "I've been reading books on it."

He was attending the course with his mother and paid rapt attention to the PowerPoint presentation from Master Gardener and beekeeper JoAnne Sabin of Eagan.

He paid rapt attention, asked pointed questions about disease, and seemed to have gathered a good background to start.

On the other end of the learning curve was Lester Hiltz, a professional beekeeper from Bemidji.

Even he said he was learning something.

Current information is a must, he insisted. "Those older books, just get rid of 'em," he suggested. "The way we raise 'em has changed a lot," he added.

Sabin brought dozens of books on the history of ancient apiaries to modern methods of raising bees for fun and profit.

Although many attendees said they were taking the course for a hobby, several also said they sell small quantities of honey at summer craft fairs and farmers markets throughout the region.

Sabin took her audience through the careful handling of bees "so you don't squish them."

She educated her audience about protecting the queen and the brood frames the bees pollinate and live in.

"Move slowly, quietly and send them love," she advised.

And, to minimize the possibility of bee stings, she urged the audience to handle the bee trays "when there's the least amount of bees possible" on the frames, generally midday when they're out seeking nectar.

The intricacies of feeding bees "pollen patties" to stimulate hive growth, or sugar water when nectar is scarce, will maximize honey output and colony efficiency, she advised.

"You want to build your colonies to good, healthy populations," she said.

Because of the large response from the Hubbard County and surrounding regions, Sabin suggested forming a local beekeepers group. The nearest one is in Brainerd.

She discussed bee mites that sicken hives and other diseases that are relatively new to the industry.

"Years ago we never had to treat hives for disease," Hiltz said.

A particularly nasty disease called foulbrood, can decimate bee populations, Sabin said.

"You get that, just start a big bonfire and burn everything," suggested one beekeeper familiar with the disease. He said the only way to get rid of the disease is to start from scratch.

Hiltz urged young Fritz to find a mentor to help him get started.

"That first year you'll be on pins and needles," Hiltz said. "You'll be asking yourself, 'Should I have done this, shouldn't I have done this,'" he recalls thinking.

And more experienced beekeepers advised against trying some of the newer equipment and methods touted on Internet sites.

"I bought one," said one beekeeper, referring to a blower designed to rid bees of mites. "It was a joke."

"It seemed like everyone learned something," said Hubbard County board chairman Lyle Robinson, who attended the seminar.

"Maybe we can get some honey around the country now."

Even a pro like Hiltz left satisfied that it was a good use of a weekend.

He has 11-12 colonies, from which, in good years, he can produce 1,700 pounds of honey.

"Last year was a bad one," he said. "There was too much rain; not enough sun and warmth for the bees to get out and get nectar. They sat inside (the hives) and ate up the reserves."

Hubbard County Extension Service and Master Gardeners sponsored the free seminar.

And that burning question that was the proverbial elephant in the room?

"She said in five years of beekeeping she's only been stung four times," one participant said admiringly of Sabin. "That's amazing!"

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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