As you may recall, Penobscot County Beekeepers hosted the Maine State Beekeepers Association’s annual meeting and conference at Hampden Academy last fall. It was attended by more than 220 beekeepers from all over the state. This event triggered quite a bit of interest in beekeeping among staff and students at the school.

My wife, Anne, who works in the library, suggested to other staff members that they should start a school beekeeping club. This was met with an enthusiastic response, with many identifying the numerous links with school curriculum in which the bees could be used to demonstrate. The principal and members of the Hampden school board were incredibly supportive of the idea. Even before the club had been given approval to proceed, students were lining up to participate. I must say how impressed I have been with the “can do” approach of all involved with the school administration.

Naturally, one of the early questions that needed addressing was what the school insurers would say. The response there, too, was laudably constructive. As long as the school followed best beekeeping practices, under the supervision of an experienced beekeeper, they were all for it. Kudos, Liberty Mutual!

A number of locations within the school grounds were considered. After very constructive input from all quarters, an apiary site just to the northeast of the school building, away from most pedestrian traffic, finally was selected and ringed with an 8-foot fence. The fence serves two purposes. It keeps people and animals at a safe distance from the hives to avoid their disturbance. It also serves as a way to deflect the bees’ flight paths skyward, meaning bystanders admiring them outside the fence are less likely to encounter bees as they fly well above their heads.

After months of planning and preparation, we stocked the first hives in the Hampden Academy school apiary in mid-June. There are more than 20 students and more than half a dozen staff members involved with the club. There are plans for more hives, a large observation hive and for the school to have its own honey extractor. The students will run a small business selling honey and other bee-derived products such as beeswax lip balms, hand creams, etc. I am not aware of any other school in Maine with its own school apiary, but hopefully this will serve as a model for others to soon follow.

The club already has been the recipient of a small University of Maine grant and has received sponsorship from several local individuals for which we are very grateful. If you or your company would like to help or be associated with the beekeeping initiative in this way, you can send a check to RSU 22 Education Foundation BEEKEEPING PROJECT, care of Anne Cowin, Hampden Academy, 89 Western Avenue, Hampden ME 04444.

Hampden Academy again will be the venue for this year’s Maine State Beekeepers Association annual meeting and conference on Nov. 14. This year, many HA students and staff will be conference attendees and, perhaps, who knows, even speakers at the event!

After what have been some of the busiest few months of my life, this week I have been the speaker at the Star Island Natural History week. Star Island is one of the group of Islands in the Isles of Shoals about 7 miles off the Maine and New Hampshire coast. More than 100 attendees of all ages are here. Each day I have been giving a talk on different aspects of beekeeping. We also have been looking into the observation hive on wet days, and as weather has allowed we have opened up the Island’s other honeybee hive. The island is full of birdlife and surrounded by breath taking views. What a wonderful place to spend a week after nearly three months of 15-hour days, seven days per week, building bee hives, teaching classes, building up bee hives for local beekeepers, selling equipment, collecting swarms, etc., etc., etc. Not to mention the day job!

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, email or call 207-299-6948.