Tough Conversations: The Buzz on Beekeeping

On Wednesday, January 3rd, Audubon Vermont hosted its Tough Conversations Webinar. This semester, we chose to focus on responsible beekeeping and the effects of increased hobby beekeeping on native pollinators and commercial apiaries. We were joined by Dr. Samantha Alger, Research Assistant Professor in the Plan and Soil Science Department at UVM, Brooke Decker, Pollinator Health Specialist and State Apiculturist with the Vermont Department of Agriculture, Food, and Market, Curtis Mraz, a fourth-generation beekeeper and farmer at Champlain Valley Apiaries, and Fred Putnam Jr., a member of the Vermont Beekeepers Association Board of Director and leader of the Addison County Beekeepers Association.  


In the last decade, beekeeping has grown nearly 8% in the United States, with an average of 2.7 million colonies countrywide. In Vermont, there are currently over 900 beekeepers owning over 14,000 hives. One of the most important points given by our panelists is that beekeeping can be a great hobby for a multitude of reasons, including byproducts such as honey, an increased awareness and appreciation of what is going on with bees and other pollinators, and creating habitat for all pollinators by planting native species. However, with this boom in beekeeping, there has also been an increase in parasites spreading not only to other captive hives, but to native bee populations as well. Our panelists agree that beekeeping requires a lot of learning, effort, and understanding of best practices in order to keep your hives healthy, happy, and successfully overwintering and producing honey.  


We discussed the benefits of backyard beekeeping, the potential negative effects of beekeeping and how to avoid those effects, current information on varroa mite mitigation efforts, how beekeepers can better support native bee populations, and why it is important to protect native bee species alongside honeybees. Our panelists gave extremely knowledgeable and insightful answers to these questions and fostered an open atmosphere for further the discussion.  We are so grateful to our speakers for taking the time to participate in this webinar and sharing their thoughts and expertise with our audience.   


To hear everything our panelist’s had to say, please find the recording on the Audubon Vermont YouTube channel. If you’re feeling inspired to take action for the pollinators in our state, you can sign the Protect Our Pollinators Petition. This petition calls for phasing out the use of toxic neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides and helping Vermont farmers transition to more sustainable pest management alternatives.  


Our panelists mentioned some excellent resources for folks who are looking to learn more and/or stay up to date on Vermont pollinator news: 


State of Vermont’s Wild Bees – A  2022 State of Bees report from Vermont Center for Ecostudies and Vermont Fish and Wildlife 

Vermont Bee Lab – Panelist Samantha Alger directs the Vermont Bee Lab, a research and outreach laboratory located at the University of Vermont. They are dedicated to the protection of pollinators through research, education and outreach. You can follow the VT Bee Lab on Facebook and Instagram. Consider supporting the work of the VT Bee Lab by making a donation here. 

Vermont Beekeepers Association (VBA) – Panelist Fred Putnam Jr. is a member of the Board of Directors. VBA is a great one stop shop to stay in the loop on local bee news and find educational resources like mentors, workshops, a training program, and more! The 2024 VBA Winter Meeting is 1/27/24 you can learn more about the event here. 

Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets Apiary Program – Panelist Brooke Decker heads the Apiary Program which works to accomplish the dual purposes of ensuring that Vermont beekeepers comply with the Chapter 172 Inspection of Apiaries and supporting the Vermont beekeeping industry through education, outreach, and promotion, with a focus on pollinator health. 

Vermont Wild Bee Guide – Learn how to ID wild bees using this guide from Vermont Center for Ecostudies and Vermont Fish and Wildlife. 

Record Number of Managed Honeybee Colonies Reported in Vermont in 2023 – Read the report on Vermont’s beekeeping boom! 

Across the Fence: Pollinatorpalooza – Across the Fence video program documented the work of a few of our panelists and the recent spike in Vermont bee colonies. 


A huge thanks again to our amazing panelists, Curtis, Brooke, Fred, and Samantha! Keep an eye out for our next Tough Conversations Webinar later this year! 

How you can help, right now