Spring buzz: KLBC Bee School

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Saturday, April 6, 2013 - 7:45pm
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Knox-Lincoln Beekeepers Club member Jane Dunstan is one of a number of honeybee enthusiasts currently teaching nearly 50 new potential beekeepers in the Midcoast at this year's Bee School in Thomaston. (Courtesy John Webster)

THOMASTON — To the members of the Knox-Lincoln Beekeepers Club, springtime means the appearance of the honeybees that have wintered over in their hives.

But, it also means bringing together a class of new beekeepers for six weeks of Bee School.

Of the nearly 50 people at a class in the American Legion Hall in Thomaston, fewer than 10 people already have their bees.

Karen Carroll of St. George purchased her bees last year and is now attending her second Bee School. She was proud to say that her bees survived this hard winter, when many veteran beekeepers lost theirs. She started with bees in her first year because she didn't want to just test the waters. "I wanted to start right in with a hive," she said.

Jean Vose opened the first class with information about managing your hive in spring and summer. A beekeeper for 27 years, Vose and her husband, Dick, have cared for many hives, first in Massachusetts and in recent years in Nobleboro.

Vose emphasized the importance of feeding the bees over the long winter. In warmer weather, honeybees forage in gardens within several miles of the hive. They also take advantage of flowers along roadsides, including ragweed in the fall. Karen Caroll recently added several Montauk daisy plants to her garden. Bees love this fall blooming plant.

But when winter approaches, the wise beekeeper feeds their bees, to keep them going. Feeding means putting sugar in the hive.

In addition to feeding, Vose encouraged new beekeepers to "read." KLBC recommends Beekeeping for Dummies, which comes with the tuition to the class, along with a one-year membership in the Knox-Lincoln Bee Club.

Other advice? Make sure your bees have a source of water nearby. That doesn't include your neighbor's kiddie pool, or the chlorinated water in larger swimming pools. A birdbath works well, as does a Boardman Feeder. This feeder fits on the front of the hive, near the entrance, giving youy bees their private water source. That consideration and a jar of honey will foster better relationships in the neighborhood.

Finally, Vose encouraged people to join a club, like KLBC, which holds monthly meetings spring, summer and fall at the homes of other beekeepers. It's also a chance to get advice and participate in hive openings.

Mo Barnard works on a 50-acre farm in Appleton where her bees also "work." In the near future, she plans to set up at least two new hives. She found last year's Bee School so helpful that she is repeating it this year. She volunteered that the members of the KLBC have been very supportive for her.

Bill Cooney and neighbor Sandy Besecker are sharing the ride from Westport Island to Thomaston for the Bee School. Both are waiting to get their hives. Cooney wants to learn more about caring for the bees before he purchases a hive and the equipment. Besecker said, she's always been fascinated by honeybees. She also said she thinks we should be doing more to protect them.

Others agree with Besecker's concern. It is common knowledge that honeybees everywhere are in danger.

While there are many theories about what is causing colony collapse disorder, there are few solutions. Right now, "backyard" bee hives are not in danger of CCD. But, part of caring for your hives is checking them for verroa mites and other diseases. It is "commercial bees" that are in danger. These working hives are trucked from farm to farm in different parts of the country, fertilizing crops and being exposed to a variety of fertilizers and other chemicals.

Next, Matt Kopishke talked about when and how honeybees create a new queen. Although this sounds "God-like," it happens when the present queen is not performing well and the hive feels threatened. Then, bees will create a supercedure cell, in which the bee is fed "royal jelly." Eventually, the new queen will emerge.

Whether this means the hive is in danger, or not, Kopishke advises that the beekeeper find out why they are trying to replace the queen.

Swarming is a natural part of a hive, according to Jane Dunstan, who has at least 10 hives on her farm in Newcastle. A swarm is a remarkable sight, with an amazing "soundtrack." About half the bees leave the hive with the queen, like a dark buzzing cloud. It could take from two hours to many days for them to find a new home. Dunstan herself has "caught" a number of swarms, thereby adding to the number of hives on her farm.

A final tip from the experts: Watch your bees. It can be great entertainment, and you become more familiar with their habits.

• For more information about the Knox-Lincoln Beekeepers and information about Bee School, visit www.klcbee.com.