Hundreds of beekeepers are expected to attend a conference Saturday at Finger Lakes Community College

HOPEWELL — An estimated 300 to 400 beekeepers are poised to descend on the Finger Lakes Community College campus this Saturday.

They’ll be attending the largest one-day beekeeping conference in upstate New York, according to Master Beekeeper Ben Carpenter of Hungry Bear Farms in Middlesex.

“As a child we all learned how to care for a dog or a cat, but how many of us learned to keep 60,000 insects alive and well? Very few,” said Carpenter. “Beekeeping is not natural to us, we need to be educated.”

Hosted by the Canandaigua-based Ontario Finger Lakes Beekeepers Association, the Geneva Bee Conference is slated for March 24, from 8:15 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Throughout the day, 12 speakers will present 15 different workshops on the subjects of sustainable backyard beekeeping, queen quality, bee nutrition, the impact of pesticides, gardening with native plants, candlemaking, hive management and how to win honey shows. 

The event will also feature a honey swap, raffles and silent auction, and closes with an evening social at The Inn on the Lake.

“Beekeeping is a behind the scene industry,” said Carpenter. “Upstate New York is deep in beekeeping history and a great area to keep bees and make honey.”

The Ontario-Finger Lakes Beekeepers Association is about 250 members strong and averages about 75 members at monthly meetings, said Carpenter.

“I would estimate that there probably are 500 to 1,000 beekeepers in Ontario County and those beekeepers probably keep about 2,500 to 5,000 active hives,” he said.

An average of 100 new beekeepers take beekeeping classes in Canandaigua through OFLBA and Hungry Bear Farms, and students come from in and around Ontario County.

“Of course, this all plays into the grand ecosystem too,” said Carpenter, quoting data from Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the State Department of Agriculture and Markets. “Here in New York, the apple industry is estimated at $250 million a year, squash and pumpkins are at $74 million, tomatoes at $47 million and other fruits bring in another $12.5 million each year into the economy of New York. Many of these need to be pollinated in order to offer successful production.”

Honey bees managed by area beekeepers play the largest role in doing this work, he said.

“Not only is the honey bee providing us food, it’s also providing incomes for many families,” said Carpenter. “It’s been often stated that honey bees are directly linked to one-third of the food we eat, and most of those are the foods we really enjoy, like fruits.”

But beekeeping is hard, unforgiving work, he said.

“The bees are fragile and dependent on the weather,” said Carpenter. “Through training we learn other peoples’ styles and techniques. We get to interact directly with other beekeepers, share ideas and always come away with something.”

The Geneva Bee Conference launched in 2008 as a joint meeting between two area beekeepers’ organizations — the Ontario-Finger Lakes Beekeepers Association and the Finger Lakes Beekeeper’s Club. National speakers spoke at the joint meetings and other clubs were invited to sit in and network with other beekeepers, Carpenter said.

“We see many new beekeepers who are worried that this conference will be over their head and they will be lost,” he said. “That thinking couldn't be any further from the truth. Many of the speakers will present in a way that anyone with a basic knowledge of beekeeping will understand, and will cover topics that both experienced beekeepers and beginners will learn from. The Geneva Bee Conference truly is a fantastic conference and opportunity for our local beekeepers.”

The event gained speed and popularity, and in 2010 moved to Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva.

By 2016, the conference drew upwards of 300 beekeepers, and this year a new venue has been chosen because of burgeoning enrollment, Carpenter said.

The public is invited, and registration is required. For more information, visit www.genevabeeconference.org