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Buzz all about it

HoneybeeFrontPage2011L-R: American Honey Princess Allison Adams and Florida State Honey Queen Jayla Gillaspie greet Mary Elizabeth Irby and daughter-in-law Linda Irby during their cooking demonstration at Hitchcock's.

For many people, bees are an insect to be avoided, but folks like Chappie McChesney hope to teach the public how the little buzzing creatures are the critical engines that pollinate the food supply.  Over the last week, McChesney and a host of other beekeepers and enthusiasts set out to unravel the fear and mystery that besets the honey bee.

With Saturday marking National Honeybee Awareness Day, the Alachua County Beekeepers Club hosted its annual event, held this year at Dadant & Sons, a major beekeeping supplier with a branch location between Alachua and High Springs.  The annual event is free and open to the public and brings folks from around the state to learn the latest news on beekeeping, how to become beekeepers, what new pests or diseases are plaguing bees and a host of other subjects.

The University of Florida brought a bee lab, which allowed guests to study bees and other creatures under microscopes while lab members explained what was being viewed.

Folks learned about making beeswax candles, soaps, lotions and more.  They were also able to sample the many varieties of honey produced by bees collecting different types of pollens.

On hand for the occasion were special guests Florida Honey Queen Jayla Gillaspie from Naples, Fla. and the American Honey Princess Allison Adams from Plano, Tex.

The all-day event included guest speakers who livened up the fun by writing introductions for each other.

“This was a fun way our Queen and Princess could introduce each speaker with a novel twist,” said McChesney.

After hearing from several bee experts, demonstrations moved outside where apiary inspector David Westervelt opened several hives and passed around frames with bees on them to show the public bees are not the terrible menace some people make them out to be. Gillaspie and Adams assisted in pointing out the live queen on the frame of bees to an excited crowd.

“Sensationalism sells newspapers, but it does not show the real picture of what honeybees are,” said McChesney.  “Sure they will sting if aggravated, but we teach the public how to avoid stings and how much fun it is to be a beekeeper.”

Later in the afternoon, the club enlisted the expertise of Auctioneer Laurence Cutts who helped with a fundraising auction.  Among the items auctioned were beehives decorated by students at Alachua Elementary School.

“We have some talented students at the school and the hives are beautiful…They will make a wonderful home for some very lucky bees,” McChesney said.

Although Saturday brought the hands-on demonstrations and presentations, Gillaspie and Adams spent the preceding three days jumping through a whirlwind of activities and appearances.

Starting at Hitchcock’s Market in Alachua, the Queen and Princess used honey in cooking demonstrations and then it was off to Gainesville where they were featured on the “Talk of the Town” radio show.  There, they took telephone calls from the public to help educate the listeners on the benefits of honey and honeybees.  They were also guest speakers at the Alachua County Beekeepers Club in Alachua.

Gillaspie and Adams made a presentation to the Honey Technical Council before finally slowing their full itinerary with a stroll through the Butterfly Rainforest at the University of Florida.  They hosted two showings of the documentary movie “Queen of the Sun” at the Hippodrome, taking questions from the audience after each show.

All of the hype might seem to be a buzz all about bees, but it’s more important than that, McChesney said.

“Our precious honeybees and other pollinators are disappearing at an alarming rate,” he said pointing out the array of crops bees help bring to harvest.

“Don’t forget the watermelon we enjoy each year.

“Imagine not having any fruits, vegetables, nuts, or honey to eat,” he said, adding “If the bees all disappear, we would live on breads and other things that can be made from wind pollinated plants like rice and corn.”

Among the most serious woes facing honeybees is colony collapse disorder (CCD).

“Many people have heard of CCD but few understand the real reasons we need to help save the bees,” said McChesney.

The Alachua County Bee Keepers Club has grown and helped start several other clubs in counties including Putnam, Levy, Dixie and Marion, McChesney explained.  The newest club will be starting Friday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. with a meeting at the Melrose public library.

For more information about the Alachua County Bee Keepers Club, contact club founder Chappie McChesney by going to http://alachuacountybeekeepersclub.ning.com.