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Honeybee Festival buzzes with pollinator proponents

By Staff | Jul 28, 2017

Chronicle photos by Toni Milbourne Bill Bundy, guest honey judge, shines a light into some entries of light honey to check for any imperfections.

HARPERS FERRY – A joint effort between the Eastern Panhandle Beekeepers Association and the Harpers Ferry Council of Churches in Harpers Ferry showcased the honeybees at Saturday’s Appalachian Honeybee Festival.

Spread throughout the town, events were held at Camp Hill Wesley United Methodist Church, St. John Episcopal Church and St. John Lutheran Church. All three are pastored by John Unger, who, in working on this event, hoped to offer a unique experience for the community.

“This is, to my knowledge, the first Appalachian Honeybee Festival,” Unger said.

He went on to say explain the importance of the bees both to pollination but also to the economy.

“About a third of the food consumed in the United States requires pollination by bees, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Unger shared.

A hive of bees was on display for guests to observe as the colony moved around.

Bees have been in danger of possible extinction and efforts are being made to ensure that they are protected. According to Marti Steiner, organizer of Saturday’s festival, danger to the bees comes from varrao mite, a parasite that kills bees, both young and old. The increased use of pesticides in agriculture have also contributed to the lower number.

“It is critical to repopulate the bees for pollination of the flowers and for food,” Unger added.

Steiner relayed that this is the first of what the Beekeepers Association plans as an annual event. The plan for next year may be to move it to a little later in the year, to take advantage of fall temperatures and to occur when less people are traveling.

This year’s festival offered several demonstrations of honey extraction from the hives as well as the opportunity for individuals to purchase honey in several forms to take home. In addition to the vendors selling their wares, they were able to enter honey into a contest. Artwork was also judged and Unger offered a blessing of the bees at the end of the day. A “beard” contest was also part of the day’s activities as Steiner joked that beekeepers often have long beards.

Guest honey judge Bill Bundy, who is a member of the Loudoun Beekeepers Association as well as the Virginia State Beekeepers, arrived from Leesburg, Virginia to judge nine entries. While he said there is no certification necessary to judge honey, he has been doing judging for about 15 years.

When judging, Bundy said it is important to look for the density, or amount of water, in the honey.

“If it is too wet, it was harvested too early,” he said. “Then it has a tendency to ferment.”

He judged three categories Saturday, light, amber and dark honey. Prizes were to be awarded at the end of the festival in each category as well as an overall winner.

Bundy explained some benefits of the honey as he was judging, including the antibiotic properties found in raw honey.

“Raw honey,” he said, “is honey that has not been heated.” In today’s world, many products are heated or pasteurized, which removes the natural healing properties. The process was adopted to eliminate possibility of disease such as botulism; however, even members of the Federal Drug Administration have recognized the medicinal use of honey and have approved it for the healing of burns and skin ailments. It is also beneficial in treating sore throats.

Unger associated honey biblically, stating that honey is mentioned 61 times in scripture.

“The Old Testament talks about Moses’ land of milk and honey and contains proverbs about its consumption,” he said. He added, “The New Testament mentions John the Baptist’s sole consumption of locusts and honey.”

Steiner shared that the Beekeeper Association is open to anyone with an interest, although most members are beekeepers. Their purpose, she said, is to promote beekeeping and education about the importance of honey bees. The group meets the second Thursday of each month the Hospice of the Panhandle, at 330 Hospice Lane, Kearneysville. One can visit their website at www.wvepba.org for complete details including upcoming educational opportunities.