September 24 – October 4, 2023 – Ukraine and Apimondia

I wrote this article for Walter T. Kelley November newsletter, but I thought I would post it here too for those of you that do not have access to the link.

 Like a duo of scout bees, my travel partner Therese and I set out to explore a new bee land far from the comfort of our local flower patch. We oriented with a variety of bee aficionados from around the world, huddled as a small swarm in the ‘bee’ bus and set out to discover Ukraine before attending the 43rd Apimondia.

Like a duo of scout bees, my travel partner Therese and I set out to explore a new bee land far from the comfort of our local flower patch. We oriented with a variety of bee aficionados from around the world, huddled as a small swarm in the ‘bee’ bus and set out to discover Ukraine before attending the 43rd Apimondia.

 We were welcomed into the hives of local beekeepers, which in general run small scale operations. Commercial operations average 500 hives in Ukraine, these family run businesses were colorful and spotless with modern feeding/harvesting techniques. The traditional single layer 15-16 deep (Dadant) frame hives are still in use, while Langstoth hives seem to slowly be gaining in popularity.

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 We foraged marvelous apitherapy beds where an individual is healed by sleeping with/on beehives. Upon one luscious whiff of the hive scent and the lulling buzzing sound of the bees, we instantly planned backyard installations for next year.

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 The Agricultural University was scholastic yet revealing in the socio-economic agricultural ways of Ukraine. An eco-settlement was enlightening.

 Our ‘Bee Doctor ‘ rolled out the royal carpet to share the tastes and techniques of procuring drone milk and royal jelly, which he ships around the world.

 We were greeted like queens with the traditional gift of bread and salt by enthusiastic, traditionally dressed children at a K-12 school. For more than 20 years, school children have enrolled in an integrated mandatory beekeeping program. Many of the children graduates are now beekeepers.

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 And finally, a small city beekeeping supply store gifted us honey bears while we bought their bargain colorful veils and suits.

 We were amazed by the innovative and integrative nature of beekeepers throughout Ukraine. We were also struck by the amount and variety of bee products produced and used both locally and worldwide. The Ukraine ranks fifth in the world in honey exports. Especially, we were touched by the endearing Ukrainian beekeepers we met on our tour.

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 On to Apimondia, the international bee congress and its scientific program.

 Back in Kiev, our small swarm was suddenly combined with a much stronger colony. The organizers of Apimondia forgot to remove the entrance reducer as 8 thousand delegates and exhibit hall participants bearded at the registration desk. Like diligent little bees, foregoing any personal space, festooning and at times even levitating with the crowd, we waited between 4 and 6 hours, many of us in the rain, to gain our registration badge. It was indeed a scary nightmare… but we must admit that the rest of the congress experience was successfully pollinated by this memorable queue. Pressed extremely close together for hours, we quickly bonded with people from all over the world, exchanged bee stories and areas of interest and passion.

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 Once in, we of course divided the labor.  There were 7 themes; Apitherapy, Bee Biology, Bee Health, Beekeeping Economy, Pollination and Bee Flora, Beekeeping for Rural Development and Beekeeping Technology and Quality. Each of us went out to survey the different rooms and presentations, and brought back the valuable food for thought. For the next 4 days, the information flowed like the nectar on a sunny day in August.

 Colony losses and varroa destructor were hot topics and coveted by many, with the exception of new friends from Colombia and South Africa dealing with scutellata and capensis bees respectively who have no such problems.  These issues are felt almost worlwide although the survey numbers are significantly higher in the United States. The Swiss documentary More Than Honey directed by Markus Imhoof was showcased on the first day following the opening ceremonies. The main message strongly hinted at the intensive beekeeping practices in America as a cause of the demise of our bees.

 Tom Seeley’s keynote presentation forced us to look at honey bees surviving well in the wild and reconsider our current approaches to beekeeping. His conclusions might advise us to think about smaller colonies, spread further apart and allowed to swarm regularly. And we might want to keep them 30 feet high, if only we can figure out a practical way…

 Another keynote presentation by Koos Biesmeijer from the Netherlands approached pollination as a complex interaction system. He concluded that a sustainable pollination system requires integrated and holistic data collection and modeling to assess where pollination deficit will occur, involving managed and wild pollinators and landscapes. We were fairly sure vast monoculture areas don’t fit his area of study.

 There were also many talks about selection, the variety of crops and GMO’s in the environment, much about pollen and other bee products, as well as a variety of pesticide residues in the hive, honey adulterations and hive monitoring.

Apimondia 2013 covered just about everything bee. The experience was fascinating and overwhelming all at the same time.

 Now back in the nest, we will revisit and digest this new found knowledge, stored and capped to sustain us through the cold winter days while we long for the eternal hopes of the new season to come.

 Anne Marie Fauvel

Grand Valley State University

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One response

  1. Dear Anne Marie,

    With great pleasure I read your article on sleeping on bees, I’m working momentarily on a thesis about apitherapy. I would like to ask you if I could use your article with the pictures for my thesis?

    P.s. Do you have the address of the apiary for sleeping on bees?

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