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More in Community
Beekeeping success in the Oxford Hills
BEEKEEPERS – Members of the Honey Bee Club check the hives at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension office on Route 26. The group has recently formed and is looking for new members. From left, Kenny Record, John Seilonen, Curtis Whitman and Wally Frank.
OXFORD HILLS – Beekeeping can be a fascinating hobby. It has become increasingly popular around the world and it’s easy to see why.
Lately, it has become even more popular in the Oxford Hills area with a new beekeeping club called the Honey Bee Club.
According to member John Seilonen, anyone can be an apiarist ... apiarist being a beekeeper.
“You can produce your own honey, pollinate your plants and flowers and help out Mother Nature,” he smiled. “It’s pretty rewarding and can even turn into quite an obsession for some.”
“I just wouldn’t recommend it for someone who is allergic to bee stings!” he added.
All you need is a little knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm.
“I actually started at the age of 13,” said John. “I had an elderly man for a neighbor and he said I could have a swarm of his bees ... a bit later he told me ‘today is your lucky day!’ and he gave me a hive and showed me where the swarm was. And I actually was pretty lucky that day because all I had on was a bathing suit!”
How did his first family of bees make out?
“Not so good!” he laughed. “I had the enthusiasm; I just didn’t have the knowledge. The following year I got another swarm ... I wasn’t so lucky getting the swarm and got stung all over, but the hive survived longer.”
The swarm, as John explained is one way of getting started in beekeeping.
“There is only one queen bee in the house,” he said. “When a new one emerges in the colony, the old one, along with some of the worker bees, is forced out of the hive and when they do, they stick together and form a swarm.”
“This usually happens at the end of May or the first two weeks of June,” he added. “But you can also buy them.”
Over the years John has learned that honey isn’t the only reason for keeping bees. He has found the mystery and fascination of the hive.
“It is so interesting to watch them. There are three different bees in the hive and they all have their own jobs to do.”
The life of the honey bee colony revolves around the queen. Without her eggs, the colony would die. She begins her life like any other female bee, but is fed extremely rich food by the worker bees, which transforms her into their new queen. She is continually protected and fed by the worker bees.
“The queen lives around three years,” said John. “And she stores enough sperm to lay thousands of eggs a day.”
Worker bees are female laborers in the colony. They gather nectar and pollen, feed larvae, protect eggs, secrete beeswax and build the comb. Although an individual worker can only produce one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey, an entire colony can produce 200 pounds a year.
“The worker bees probably only live about a month and I swear they work themselves to death.”
Last is the drone, who is the male. Except for mating, the drone is unessential.
“Kind of like us at home sometimes,” laughed the apiarist. “They don’t do much around the house.”
John said that without honey bees, we would not enjoy many of the fruits, vegetables and plants of the earth.
“Without pollination, these plants can’t reproduce. That’s why you see so many bee hives on farms and near gardens.”
But gardening can also bring harm to the bees.
“Some pesticides can kill the bees,” he said. “An entire hive can have to be replaced.”
That’s all the more reason to have a beekeepers club in the area; to encourage, assist and educate others about the wonderful world of beekeeping. And as word spread of a possible club, interest rose.
“It was mentioned one day,” said John. “Then come March, I started getting calls, so we had a meeting.”
The group is up to 16 members.
“We get together and talk about our hives, the problems we encounter and help each other to solve them. We also hope to educate the community about bees and things that can harm them.”
“Like the pesticides,” he added. “We hope our neighbors can at least use them at night, so it has the best chance to dissipate by morning when the bees head back out to do their jobs.”
Also the group hopes to help newcomers to the hobby.
“It’s not hard to have bees, but you do need to be aware of mites, diseases and things like not buying used equipment unless it has been inspected.”
The club’s next meeting is July 23 at 1 p.m. at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service in South Paris. For more information call John at 743-5009.
“Anyone who has been stung by the hobby, or would like to be, is welcome. Beekeeping is something to look forward to for the rest of your life.”