Because I have the good fortune to be involved with the Greater Lovell Land Trust, I spend my summers attending talks and walks on a variety of topics. Prior to this week, we learned about lichens, bryophytes, pileated woodpeckers, fungi, flowers, ferns, medicinal plants, peat bogs, wild turkeys, and land conservation. And then last night our focus turned to pollinators and the pollinated.
Guy Pilla, a beekeeper from Fryeburg, Maine, gave an informational talk on the art of beekeeping, followed by a question and answer period, and the crème de la crème –honey tasting. How often have you had a chance to taste Tupelo honey?
This morning we met up with Guy again, as he took us to a hive he has set up on private property under conservation easement with the land trust. Twenty-six of us gathered around to listen, watch, and wonder.
In his alien costume, Guy passed around frames, giving us an opportunity to look at a range of cells as he explained about spacing for honey expansion, storage and more. We learned about the good and the bad of beekeeping, but mostly the good.
As frames were passed around, we noted variations and the fact that some were lightweight and others heavy.
At last it was time for Guy to open the hive. Notice the electric fence surrounding it? And the fact that it’s strapped down. Bear defense. And we know there’s at least one in the area.
And then he walked through the crowd and chose Mary to be his assistant. She donned a hat and veil to protect her face and neck, and took on the look.
Into the bee yard, she followed Guy. If you look closely, you’ll see two platforms on the ground and might notice that the one directly below the hive has nails sticking up (the other is turned upside down because Guy only has one hive at this location this year). Those are to deter skunks, another predator. As Mary watched from behind and the rest of us watched from a few feet away beyond the fence (and out of the bee line), Guy ignited the smoker he’d filled with pine needles.
It took a few minutes, but finally, smoke puffed out.
He then passed it to Mary, and her task was to press the bellows and create smoke. The smoker is an important line of defense.
As we continued to watch, Guy took the straps off and explained the construction of the hive with one super stacked atop another in a vertical fashion. Though he ordered his equipment, he refashioned some of it including the roof, designed to let wet weather flow off rather than gather in puddles on the top of the structure.
As Guy wedged a hive tool into the bee glue (a resin-like propolis), Mary got ready to use the smoker. Smoke fools the honeybees into thinking a wildfire is nearby, thus prompting them to eat more honey in case they need to move to a new location.
And with honey in their bellies, they become more docile. Note that Guy isn’t wearing any gloves. Usually he does, but Mary wore his gloves this morning and he trusted all would go well and the bees would remain calm. He was certainly calm, but spoke of his early days in the beekeeping business and how sometimes he would jump. Bees sense fear behavior exhibited by heavy breathing and that’s when stings occur. Having been stung recently after some youngsters received stings, I thought I was remaining calm, but apparently my breath spoke for me.
We learned so much from Guy last night and today–about their various jobs as male drones, queens, and female workers who really do so much of the work. The workers clean out old material from inside the cells, attend to the queen, carry dead bees or larvae outside the hive, guard the hive’s entrance, fan at the entrance during the hot weather to keep the inside temperature down and to circulate fresh air throughout the hive, receive nectar and pollen, store it away in cells, nurse newly laid egg, and seal cells around larvae at the appropriate moment. After doing all of this for about three weeks, they’ll earn the rights to collect nectar and pollen for about six. And then . . . they’ll die of exhaustion. Indeed.
After our time at the hive, one of the land owners, Linda, took us on a mini-tour of the 100-hundred-acre property. Her goal was to take us to a flower meadow she and her husband have created. Originally, it was a garden with raised beds, but Linda has been collecting wildflower seeds from roadsides in Maine and New Hampshire and sowing them in the meadow.
Today we were wowed by the results.
And so were Guy’s honeybees.
They were on the move everywhere we looked.
We watched as they sucked nectar with their proboscis mouth part.
Bumblebees also took advantage of the sweet offerings.
And filled their pollen baskets with the goods.
Not to be left out, a fritillary was among those seeking reward.
And because we were there, we saw meadowhawk dragonflies on the prowl, he being red . . .
and she similar but brown.
Guy was tickled to see his bees at work and share his knowledge to all as we listened.
Linda was thrilled to see so many enjoying what she and her husband, Heinrich, had created.
And speaking of Heinrich, just before we left he had one more insect to share.
An orb spider known as a yellow and black garden spider or argiope aurantia had built its web near the greenhouse. I used to see these in our gardens frequently, but haven’t lately. Of course, I say that and tomorrow I’ll spy one.
In my brain, this is the smartest spider of them all for they create a web consisting of a series of concentric circles divided into sectors by lines that radiate out. And in the center–that amazing zigzag pattern, which is called a stabilimentum and perhaps intended to attract other insects. Or maybe its a message written in code and intended for a certain pig named Wilbur. This is Maine after all.
We do know one message we learned in the last 24 hours: Bee kind–to one another for we’re all interconnected and we need each other to survive. And that includes letting the undesirables flourish in our yards, including the dandelions. Do so and watch them and just maybe you’ll realize they are desirable after all.
(Two final notes: Support your local beekeepers. Guy’s honey is available at Spice and Grain in Fryeburg; but really, you should buy honey from your area. And if you are interested in learning more about beekeeping, look for your local chapter of the Maine State Beekeepers Association.