The meeting of the beekeepers

The meeting of the beekeepers

Tuesday night’s meeting of the Somerset Beekeepers was a good one.  We probably have somewhere around 35 or so members now, and a core group of about 12-15 who typically show up for meetings, which our speakers tend to appreciate since a small group is easier to manage than a group of say–100.

I think I’ve grown a lot as President of the group–and as a person.  Being president has forced me to learn to communicate better with people in general, but I’ve also learned public speaking skills, and I’ve overcome most of my anxiety related to socializing.  My mother-in-law once called me “Woods-queer”–her technical term for a person who’s been alone in the forest for far too long.  And essentially I had been alone in the forest for too long, living in a two-hundred acre forest, surrounded by even more forest, an eighth of a mile from the nearest road, and five miles from the nearest town.  There were no neighbors, and the remoteness of the location discouraged most visitors.  I was a stay-at-home-mom spending my days wandering through the old forest trails with my babies and the dog and cats–I was happy.

But that sort of life does not foster good social skills.  And anyway it all changed when we moved from the forest of solitude into town–but that’s another story.

We were joined Tuesday night by Matt Scott, who is a retired state biologist and one of the original founding members of the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association.  Matt is a very kind and knowledgeable speaker, and he talked this night about how Maine’s beekeeper’s can best manage their apiaries against marauding bears.

black bear
Photo credit:

Maine has a black bear population of approximately 40,000–up from 32,000 in the last ten or twenty years.  We have a very good population control program, through hunting and trapping, and about 4000 bears are “harvested” every year to reduce contact of these animals with humans.

bear damage to beehive
Photo credit: Richard Horne, Somerset Beekeeper

For beekeepers bears can pose a real problem.  The bear will stand up on his hind-legs to topple over a beehive, and then he will proceed to tear apart the boxes and frames with his massive paws and claws.  He’s looking for a good protein source (contrary to the common misconception that bears want honey) and the larvae and wax inside the hive offer him just that.

Once they discover a good food source they will keep returning until they’ve cleaned it out–so if a bear discovers your apiary even once, you’ll need to take action in order to save your remaining hives.

Many beekeepers install electric fences around the perimeter of their bee-yards, using a solar powered battery to keep the current running.  There are a couple different kinds, but generally you would use the portable livestock fencing–with a least three strands high.  Once you’ve installed electric fencing then you’ll need to make sure to maintain it by trimming the grass at the base of the fence so that it won’t be grounded out.  Matt also suggested this electric net fencing (check it out here at the Farm Tek website) could be used even if the grass gets tall so long as the fencing retains enough charge–he used an electronic fence tester to determine that–rather than having to physically test the electrified fencing yourself.  Smart man.  😉

Some other methods to deter bears from apiaries–flood lights (if your apiary is near your house or garage, or barn) or dogs.  By having your dog mark or scent the area around your apiary it will help repel the bears, since bears really hate dogs.

Overall it was a good meeting–poor Matt was about an hour late because apparently he got halfway to Skowhegan without his lap-top, which he needed in order to project his slide-show for us.  But we made the most of our time be going over club-business, which basically consists of be reporting to the members present what I’ve been doing over the last month on behalf of the Somerset Beekeepers, and any up-coming events.

We also inducted two new beekeepers to the group, so we all introduced ourselves to them to make them feel welcome.

We discussed as a group any problems we were having with our hives, trying to help each other figure out the best way to handle those issues.

And when the meeting was over we thanked Matt for coming from Belgrade and the group dispersed.

I was left alone in the quiet sanctity of the extension office’s classroom to clean up and trundle my gear and equipment back out to my car.   Then I locked the doors to the building and left.

I’m quite proud of the progress the Somerset Beekeepers has made.  Two years ago when we started we had maybe a half-dozen members.  Since then we’ve grown in numbers and as a presence within the community. I’ve gotten numerous calls this year for the beekeepers to participate in events, speak as a guest, or even just to answer bee-related questions from the public.

Saturday is the annual meeting of the Maine State Beekeepers Association, being held in Portland this year. I missed it last year because of poor scheduling at Keith’s place of employment–no sitter for the kidos means Mommy can’t go out to play–but this year he’s taken a vacation the same week as the conference, and I’ve pre-registered, and even lined up back-up sitters just in case. I’ll be posting more about the meeting soon!

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