Maine beekeepers converge on Portland

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I was downright giddy as I left the house just as the sun was coming up Saturday morning. The only vehicles on the road seemed to belong to men dressed in hunter orange, and I imagine that my excitement at going to my first-ever beekeeper’s conference surpassed their’s at a prospective day of hunting.

It took me two hours to reach Portland–even with having to stop at the local gas station to put air in my front tires before leaving town (nearly freezing my fingers off in the process).  The sun was just reaching some height in the sky, golden sunshine glittering across the bay, and I listened to Let it Grow as I drove through to downtown Portland where the Italian Heritage Center is located.

Everything was right and lovely, and I was filled with such a sense of joy and purpose, knowing that the path I’ve chosen is the right one for me–knowing that I’m really doing something worthwhile–that I am on my way to doing something really great with my life.

It’s an interesting mix of people who make up the members of the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association–from older gentlemen with long white hair, some had it pulled back into a pony-tail, reminding you of the 70s, some with long beards to match.  Other gentlemens’ white hair was a little shorter, somehow sticking up off their heads reminding you of a mad scientist or that crazy uncle that everybody has and adores.  There were older women, graceful and poised, knowledgeable and wise; there were young folks too, like myself–newer to beekeeping, but no less passionate.  And all were gathered together in the spirit of beekeeping.  It was a really wonderful feeling.

I was welcomed by a number of the other officers of county beekeeping chapters, Carol Cottrill of the Western Maine Beekeepers, Larry Peiffer who is MSBA’s vice president, Erin Forbes, MSBA’s president, and Roy Cronkhite who is president of the Kennebec Beekeepers as well as a member of the Somerset group.  Before this event I’d only had the pleasure of corresponding with most of these folks via email and facebook, with the exception of Roy, whom I got to know a little bit at open-hive sessions this summer that the Somerset and Kennebec groups shared.

erin forbes

Erin Forbes, MSBA president.

Erin drew the conference to order, covering details about the day’s events as well as some association business.  But that didn’t last long before Tony Jadczak, Maine state apiarist took front and center to cover the beekeeping season’s outcome.

Maine now has something like 859 beekeepers with approximately 10,177 beehives.

That’s a huge jump from the less than 400 hives we had after the emergence of tracheal and varroa mites in the early 1980s.  And Tony talked about how there’s been an outbreak of American Foulbrood this year, which he attributes to the many new beekeepers–some of whom may be unwittingly using 30-year old comb they found in their grandfather’s barn.

Old comb can harbor old diseases for an interminably long time, so it is recommended that if you’re going to use second hand or old equipment, scorch the inside of the boxes with a propane torch, and use fresh frames and wax foundation.

Tony cautioned beekeepers to keep in mind that what one individual does with their hives can affect other beekeepers; he urged folks to think local–at the neighborhood level–and even by the apiary.  What a beekeeper does with one hive can affect all of the hives within a given apiary.

tony jadczak

Tony Jadczak, Maine’s state apiarist.

With such a mild winter, this was a good year for honeybees.  But it was not without it’s setbacks.  Because of the early warm up here in Maine, the bees built up their populations quickly, and then in June when we had a period of wet, rainy weeks the bees were cooped up in their hives eating up the honey stores.  Some bees starved once they’d consumed their reserves, such as some that Tony has discovered on the blueberry barrens.  He even reported some incidents of bees absconding, which is typically a very rare occurrence.

Tony also talked about how mites had had ideal conditions too, and warned beekeepers to monitor their hives closely, perform mite-tests to verify levels, and treat if necessary.  Mites will introduce a whole spectrum of pathogens and sickness can spread throughout an apiary quickly.

But most hives just swarmed.  Many swarmed multiple times.  Even hives that were heavily split swarmed.  With such an early build up of population, to be cooped up inside together for such a long period during the wet spell, made colonies feel congested–so they sought out new homes, leaving a smaller population and a new Queen behind.

Probably the most disturbing thing Tony talked about was sighting Zombie bees in New Brunswick at the apiary of a commercial beekeeper.  More about Zombie bees in a future post.

Tony pointed out the much needed state-wide hive inspection help he’s been granted this season in the form of David Smith. Apparently Tony and he have a long history.  It was entertaining to me seeing the good-natured ribbing that goes on between comrades that have known each other and worked together for years.  There was quite a lot of that between members of this group, and particularly between Tony and David.  David let slip that both he and Tony had participated in a filming of Reading Rainbow called The Life Cycle of the Honeybee–about 20 years ago.  It is rather humorous to see the Tony of yester-year compared to the wisened gentleman he has become.  And also somewhat  thrilling to me, who grew up on Reading Rainbow, to see someone I’ve made acquaintance with, on a show I still adore today.  Here is the video–Tony is about 6 minutes in and David is 13 minutes in.

The Life Cycle of the Honeybee from WVPT on Vimeo.

More about the MSBA annual conference coming up–and don’t forget to check back for more info on “Monsanto’s Commitment to the Honeybee Industry”.  I know we’re all watching and waiting to see where that leads to, knowing what we do about Monsanto’s agricultural practices.

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