Bees part of the buzz at agriculture conference

Weather forecasting for farmers and gardeners, integrated pest management on the farm and information about bees and other pollinators were among the topics of discussion on Saturday at the inaugural agriculture conference at Sussex County Community College.

The free, half-day conference, open to the public, brought together agricultural professionals and representatives of the college. Thomas Else, SCCC professor and meteorologist, taught about weather and forecasting. Erin Collins, SCCC supervisor of the Agricultural and Horticultural Science Program, shared about integrated pest management. Beekeeper Jenny Shotwell of The Farm at Gnome Hollow in Frelinghuysen, educated the attendees about the art of beekeeping.

“It’s terrific,” said SCCC President Jon Connolly, who sat in on the conference. “Sussex County is the last true place in the Garden State where agriculture is alive and well and where there’s a legacy and future. SCCC is glad to be a part of it.”

Shotwell said she grew up on a local dairy farm but always found beekeeping fascinating. She worked closely with a mentor when she ventured into beekeeping in 2013. She currently maintains eight hives and said she adds more each year. She especially stressed the importance of bees and other pollinators to the food supply.

“Without your pollinators, farming doesn’t happen,” Shotwell said. “We rely on pollinators to propagate plants.”

One of the challenges for beekeeping over the last three decades is that honey bees require a lot more care than they did in the past, Shotwell said. She said bees can often struggle with Varroa mites in their hives and require medications to eradicate the mites. Shotwell has added hives of different varieties including Saskatraz bees, which tend to be more disease-resistant.

Shotwell called herself a “bee nerd” and enjoys observing them. She said they all have different temperaments, which has also been interesting to her.

“I love how they work as a group,” she said. “You can learn so much from their work ethic.”

Attendees asked questions including the types of plants bees may be attracted to. One surprising plant, Shotwell said, is poison ivy. Shotwell told the audience she has eaten raw honey since her early childhood and questions if she does not have a reaction to poison ivy due to her honey consumption. She said bees like a variety of plants including fruit trees, rhodendendron, mountain laurel and dandelions.

Shotwell suggested to attendees looking to branch out into backyard beekeeping they should register their hives, in order to be notified of mosquito spraying and other activities in their area. She also said communities that are more densely populated may have an issue with beekeeping, and it is important to check with a municipality to ensure it is allowable. She did, however, state that beekeeping has become more commonplace even in rooftop gardens in the cities.

Debra Crisman, a key program technician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency in Hackettstown, said the department is a resource for information about beekeeping and potential grants to assist with starting hives.