On Thursday of last week, more than a hundred local beekeepers picked up 250 packages of honeybees to start new bee hives in the region. Many were replacing colonies that died during this last harsh winter, but many more were starting their first hives. It is particularly pleasing for me to see the number of new and younger beekeepers taking up the hobby and sharing the experience with their young children.

The three-pound packages contain more than 12,000 worker bees plus one queen bee. Demand this year has been particularly high, with high winter losses after such sustained cold from mid-January through March.

This first shipment of 250 packages sold out some time ago, and I had to arrange for a second delivery in May. I have had to increase this delivery three times. They should arrive May 12.

Those packages started in April are still vulnerable to the raw weather we’ve been getting and need lots of feeding. Sugar syrup, made by mixing one part granulated sugar with one part warm water, is fed to the bees and simulates an early bloom of nectar-producing flowers. This stimulates the bees to make more beeswax honeycomb and the queen bee to lay more eggs. In three weeks, those eggs will hatch and the population of the new hives will begin to grow. We’ll keep on feeding the bees until they have built all the combs in the first two stories of the beehive. The aim is to have the colonies fit and strong by late June, when the clover honey flow starts. A few of these new colonies will produce a surplus of honey of over 80 pounds in their first year. Most will make about 25 to 35 pounds of surplus honey.

Of all the new beekeepers to start beekeeping this year, there is one group that gives me the most satisfaction. For the last few months, I have been working with the staff at Hampden Academy to set up a beekeeping club and apiary at the school. From the day my wife, Anne, who works in the library at the school, floated the idea of keeping bees at the school, the project was met with the most encouraging “can do” attitude. Within days, the principal and several members of staff were right behind it.

Within a few more days the insurance company assured them that with proper attention to safety and best beekeeping practice this was fine by them. Within a few more weeks the first small grant application had been submitted to University of Maine and approved for funding. Two weeks ago the education board unanimously approved the project.

The plan initially is to establish a couple of colonies in a fenced-in enclosure. Interested students and involved staff will receive training and will build, paint and stock the hives, care for the bees, harvest honey and sell honey and beeswax products. There will be many tie-ins to the student’s curriculum ranging from science, biology, environment, woodworking and even running a small business. We also aim to have an observation hive in one of the classrooms and eventually grow the apiary and curriculum tie-ins.

While initial funding is in place to kick-start the project, they will be looking for some sponsors of the apiary, beehives, observation hive and various items of protective equipment and tools, such as a honey extractor. Those interested in being a large or small sponsor should contact Anne Cowin during school hours at 862-3549

My last three adult education beekeeping classes will run in Pittsfield for beginners, Belfast for beginners and Hampden for intermediate in mid-May. If you are interested in starting beekeeping, you can contact those adult education offices to book a place. I also am running one-day beginners classes at my home in Hampden on Saturdays May 9, June 13 and June 20. We will spend a few hours on theory, then after a lunch spend some time opening beehives. To book a place on course call me on 299-6948.

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, petercowin@tds.net cell 207-299-6948.