This is now my 12th monthly Bee Whisperer’s Diary entry in the BDN, I hope you have enjoyed them and would love your feedback.
A lot has happened in my year of beekeeping in 2014. It started with a pretty tough winter for bees with long periods of brutal cold which killed a lot of colonies. So far this season has been relatively mild even if there has been lots of rain and snow. We will continue to get a scattering of warm days for flying and not many prolonged periods in single digits or worse — fingers crossed.
Last winter I gave a lot more beekeeping for beginners and intermediate beekeeping classes, up from two adult education regions to five with almost all the classes sold out. In these classes I try to give a good grounding in the basic life cycle of the bees, how the colony works and how the beekeeper can work with the bees to reduce risks and maximize survival and productivity.
We also cover costs and where to buy bees and equipment. In 2015 I will be giving classes in nine adult ed regions, including Bangor, Belfast, Ellsworth, Hampden, Howland, Newport, Orono, Pittsfield and Sullivan. If you are interested in booking a place in one of these classes, call the appropriate adult education office. Most charge $45 for the three two-hour-long classes.
As the snow started to melt the BDN Maine Garden Show at the Cross Insurance Center got the season off to a fine start. I gave talks about keeping bees in Maine on the Saturday and Sunday and sold out of most of my honey, candles, lip balms, etc., at the booth I shared with Penobscot County Beekeepers. I will again be talking at this year’s show and will have a booth full of bee craft items.
This spring I also had my first beekeeping encounter with a black bear. This was the first time I had kept bees in this particular location on Manning Mill Road in Hampden. The bear turned over all seven of those hives looking for bee larvae and honey. The cold, wet weather finished the remaining bees. Fortunately, this was the only real low point of an otherwise great bee year for me.
During the spring I was also busy building nucleus colonies of bees (or “nucs”) for others to start up their own hives. It’s a lot of work, but the pleasure of seeing so many excited new beekeepers, and others not so new, picking up their bees makes it all worthwhile. This year I am building more nucs and also I’m taking over the sales and pickup of 200 packages of bees from Harold Swan of Swan’s Bee Supply.
Its going to be a busy spring!
In late spring bees began to swarm. It wasn’t the most hectic of swarming seasons but it was a lot of fun teaching swarm wrangling to a number of the members of Penobscot County Beekeeper, “Swarm Busters.” The good folks at WABI TV5 even made a public service announcement for us, advising those who come across swarms “who you going to call?”
Penobscot County Beekeepers also had a number of “Open Hive” meetings. Each month through the summer one member of the club hosted the event opening their hives for other to see. This was then followed by a potluck BBQ. This was a great way for inexperienced beekeepers in the club or even nonbeekeepers, to get a great close-up view inside working bee hives. The club usually meets every month.
Check out Penobscot County Beekeepers on Facebook or contact me for more information. You don’t have to keep bees to join.
Each summer I get called upon to relocate bees who have made their home in someone’s house or building. This year WABI TV5 came with me to remove a colony from the roof of Las Palapas Mexican restaurant near the Bangor Mall. I am always very pleased to meet people who are prepared to go through the extra time (and a little expense) to help honeybees by having colonies such as these relocated rather than exterminated. Those bees are in one of my copper topped “English garden” hives.
They are in pride of place nearest to my driveway for everyone to see, I love the look of them.
Of course, the honey harvest is always a time to look forward to! It’s a tradition in our house that when I extract the first honey of the year my wife Anne makes some hot biscuits to welcome in the crop. I also love to help new beekeepers who don’t yet have their own honey extractor. We go through the process of cutting the white wax cappings from the comb and spin the open combs in the extractor. One medium super of nine combs will hold about 35 pounds of golden honey. That’ll cover a lot of hot biscuits!
The highlight of my beekeeping year had to be the hosting of the Maine State Beekeepers annual meeting and conference at Hampden Academy in October. With more than 200 beekeepers in attendance we had a great time at a perfect venue. We had fascinating talks, some great vendors and a raffle with thousands of dollars worth of prizes. We are very excited that in 2015 we will be hosting the meeting in Hampden again.
There is not a lot going on in the bee hives now so I’m busy making equipment and preparing classes for 2015’s newbees.
Peter Cowin, aka The Bee Whisperer, is President of the Penobscot County Beekeepers Association. His activities include honey production, pollination services, beekeeping lessons, sales of bees and bee equipment and the removal of feral bee hives from homes and other structures. Check out “The Bee Whisperer” on Facebook, firstname.lastname@example.org