December 17, 2018
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Beginning beekeeping classes will give ‘newbees’ a head start

Community Author: Peter Cowin
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The bitter winter weather which welcomed in 2018 has taken a toll on Maine’s honeybee population.

In most years, the parasitic varroa mite accounts for the majority of honeybee losses. This year has been different with an unusually large number of hives being lost to an extended period of brutally cold weather from Christmas to mid January. Small hives with relatively low populations of bees are particularly vulnerable to the cold.

Those thinking about starting their own honeybee hives for the first time are well advised to seek the advice of experienced beekeepers.

Peter Cowin, aka, The Bee Whisperer, is President of the Penobscot County Beekeepers Association, and teaches beekeeping for beginners classes all over the region. “Controlling mite levels in hives is certainly the most important lesson to take from the classes. He says, but there are many things we can do to improve health and survival of hives in Maine.”

“That’s one of the great things about taking a class before you start to keep bees. Beekeepers  are always learning from each other, and this is a great way to pick up the latest improvements in techniques.”

Peter keeps more than 50 hives and runs a beekeeping supply store from his home on Maine Road South in Hampden. “Since the age of 11 I have loved keeping bees. I particularly like the fact that they can earn their keep. There is, of course, an up-front cost for bees and equipment, but on a good year they can pay for themselves twice over in honey,” he says. If you have a garden or fruit trees the payback is even better with increased yields.”

For the last 5 years Peter has taught beekeeping in evening classes in Adult Ed. He is now also running a one day, “hands-on” version of the class from his honey barn in Hampden. “These classes allow students to borrow a bee suit and get into live hives with me. Some students find this a much easier way to learn.”

For those who then want to start beekeeping Peter also has bees and beekeeping equipment for sale. “I carry a full range of conventional beekeeping equipment. Each year I am adding new products that may help the beekeeper to improve yields or survival over the winter.

In April and May Peter brings in hundreds of packages of bees with queens from southern states to stock new hives or to restock those that did not make it through the winter. In May and June, he also sells nucleus colonies (nucs) which are small established bee hives with 5 combs of bees, honey and brood.

As the popularity of beekeeping grows a number of large farm supply stores have started to offer beekeeping equipment and even bees for sale. “It does worry me, but my prices are competitive with those guys, especially for bees, but what really sets me apart from them is that I am dedicated to teaching and giving of free advice to my customers.”

Call the appropriate number to register for one of Peter’s classes in Adult Education or at the Bee Whisperer Store in Hampden.

Bangor Beginners class Wednesdays Jan 31, Feb 7 and 14, 6:30 to 8:30pm, call 207 992-5522

Newport Beginners class Mondays Mar 5, 12 and 19, 6:30 to 8:30pm, call 207 368 3290

Sullivan Beginners  class Mondays, March 26 and April 2 , 6:00 to 8:30pm, call 207 422-4794

Ellsworth Beginners class Tuesdays Mar 27, April 3and10, 6:30 to 8:30pm, call 207.664.7110

Bangor Intermediate class Wednesdays March 28, April 4 and 11, 6:30 to 8:30pm, call 207 992-5522

Readfield Beginners class April 7, 8am to 1pm, call 207 685 4923 x 1065   

Hampden ONE DAY Build a Hive Day Sunday April 8 8am to noon, call 207 299 6948

Hampden Beginners ONE DAY HANDS ON CLASS Saturday, April 14, 8am to 2:30pm call 207 299 6948

Hampden Beginners class April 23, 24 and 25, 6pm to 8pm, call 207 299 6948

Presque Isle   Beginners class May 5 9am to 2pm, call 207-764-4776   

Ellsworth   Intermediate class Tuesdays, May 15, 22 and 29, 6:30 to 8:30pm, call 207.664.7110

Readfield   Intermediate class May 19, 8am to 1pm , call 207 685 4923 x 1065   

Hampden Beginners ONE DAY HANDS ON CLASS Saturday, June 2, 8am to 2:30pm call 207 299 6948

Hampden Intermediate ONE DAY HANDS ON CLASS Saturday, June 16, 8am to 2:00pm call 207 299 6948

Presque Isle   Intermediate class June 9 9am to 2pm, call 207-764-4776