Runamuk’s first-ever on-farm workshop!

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Saturday’s “Beekeeping 101” workshop was a success and I am enamored–ecstatic–and relieved, lol.

Okay, so there was only one student–but she was a very important guest on the farm. This woman traded me the new group of birds–the 18 laying hens, 4 heritage breed turkeys, and a goose named Michael–for 2 spots in Runamuk workshops. She was Runamuk VIP while she was here.

Because the morning started out gray and wet, we sat inside the farmhouse at the kitchen table with my laptop and went through a few of the slide shows that I also use for the bee-schools I teach. Over coffee we talked about bees, about how the relationship between plants and pollinators came to exist, how bees communicate, their life cycle and the life of the colony.

I shared with my VIP one of the double-apple muffins I’d made the day before─made with apples brought home from the orchard and applesauce made from the apples of the tree just outside the front door of this very farmhouse. They were topped with cinnamon streusel and they were delicious !

We trekked out to the barn to look at and talk about some of the different hive parts and equipment that make up an apiary–she said hi to all of the birds–and we looked at protective gear and some of the tools that beekeepers use. I mixed in some of the stories of my experiences (read “mishaps”) that I’ve had along my beekeeping-journey and we shared some laughs.

Since I needed to get inside the hives anyway to check their status, I invited my pupil to join me in the apiary. We went through 3 hives under a bright blue sky and a warm sun and she got to experience the intoxicating aroma of beeswax and honey that hangs in the air around the hives; she listened to the mesmerizing buzzing of tens of thousands of busy bees and saw up close and personal the crawling fuzzy bodies on the frames of honeycomb.

I demonstrated how to fire up the smoker and talked about the importance of remembering to keep the thing going while you’re in the hive. We looked at the difference in the appearance of capped honey in the combs versus the capped brood, looked at a few drones and compared them to the smaller female workers, and she even got to see a couple of lovely Queens. She watched me manipulate the frames–moving frames of brood from the second story brood box to the first-floor box, and moving heavy frames of capped honey upstairs in preparation for the on-coming winter.

After we’d closed the hives back up and put away our tools and gear, we shared a simple lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches. We talked about pests and diseases–about the dreaded varroa mite and IPM. We discussed honey production and  concluded the workshop by going over fall and winter management of hives here in Maine.

With the workshop I decided to also give participants a paperback manual to take home with them, and after some debate and research, I settled on Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honeybees. I’ve always found Storey’s reference books to be excellent compilations of information and I have every confidence that these books will serve new beekeepers well. I also included a sheaf of handouts–many of the handouts I would normally give to students of my bee-schools; with information about the various breeds of honeybees, gardening for pollinators, and more.

My VIP student seemed happy with the experience. She remarked on the old farmhouse and the barn and our updates for the coop areas. She commented too on the amount of material and the work I’ve put into the various slide shows. I’m confident that she left a happy woman.

There are 3 people signed up for the upcoming soap-making workshop, and so far just 1 person signed up for the salve-making workshop. There’s still time to sign up if you or someone you know might be interested in learning these skills. Soaps and salves are fun to make, they’re useful products to have on hand, and also make great gifts.

I suppose I could be bummed that this workshop only had one student; but I’m not. Instead I look at the one-participant just as I’ve portrayed it here–one lucky person got to come to this farm and receive special treatment and my undivided attention, along with gaining a better understanding of bees and beekeeping in Maine. I couldn’t have taken a class of 6 to the apiary and torn not one, but 3 different hives apart─but I happen to have an extra suit and veil, so one person is a different story. It was an excellent dry-run for me and Runamuk and this old farm–and gave me a better understanding of how to manage future workshops here.

I’m brainstorming possibilities for future workshops here at Runamuk─any suggestions?

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About Samantha Burns

Maine blogger, beekeeper and farmer. Follow along with my many misadventures in the pursuit of a more sustainable life. Find out how I am advocating for local food in my community and working to promote pollinator conservation here in the state of Maine. Every day is an adventure!

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