Beekeeping taught at bee school

Friday, April 26, 2013


Staff Writer

Aspiring beekeepers from Hollis, Brookline and surrounding towns, and some from Massachusetts, graduated April 9, from Bee School, held in Merrimack.

The six-week, once-a-week, educational event is hosted annually by the Merrimack Valley Beekeepers Association, one of seven regional associations in the New Hampshire Beekeepers Association, an all-volunteer state group.

The weekly, three-hour sessions, held on Tuesday evenings began March 5 and brought together about 80 men, women and youth who assembled in the hall at St. James Methodist Church, 646 Daniel Webster Highway in Merrimack.

The students were taught by a team of experienced beekeepers – John Hamblet, of Lowell, Mass.; Louisa Varnum, of Lowell; David Ross, of Atkinson; Allen Lindahl, of Merrimack; Eric Helgemoe, of Pelham; Alden Marshall, of Hudson; and Chuck Chrisler, of Windham.

The emcee and organizer was MVBA Vice President John Hamblet. Presenters talked about how to begin beekeeping and the equipment needed to proceed. Later, facts about hive occupants and colony activities were offered. David Ross, MVBA president, described the properties and uses of honey, beeswax, pollen and other hive products.

Paul Speir, of Brookline, is a second-year beekeeper with two hives. He has intentions to expand the number to three this season and to follow many of the guidelines shared in the classes.

“The MVBA bee class is great because it connects students with local experts,” Speir said. “I’ve learned a lot in the class about some of the best practices and methods for beekeeping in New England.”

Speir and the other students were attentive as they heard how bees make six-sided cells out of wax secreted in tiny flakes from the bees’ abdomens. The queen bee lays eggs in the cells. They learned that a crowded hive can result in swarming – a mass exodus that most often happens when a colony needs a bigger home.

Stacey Murphy, of Brookline, is celebrating her first full year as a beekeeper. She already is aware of swarming, and had glowing reviews about bee school.

“The MVBA is a wonderful place to learn about bees and to network with experienced beekeepers,” Murphy said. “My bees are doing well and are ready to start visiting plants.”

Many students agreed that the life cycle of the honey bee is a fascinating subject. There are worker bees, all females, that comprise about 90 percent of the hive. Drones, males whose only job in life is to mate with a queen bee, make up the remainder. The queen bee is capable of laying around 1,500 eggs per day. She can live two years or more.

Workers, on the other hand, have a life span of about six weeks. It is the constant replenishment of the hive with newborn bees that keeps the hive well populated.

Alden Marshall, treasurer of the MVBA and owner of B-Line Apiaries in Hudson, noted that acquiring a queen bee, accompanied by a package of honey bees weighing around three pounds, oftentimes provides the launching point for a venture into beekeeping.

Many of the new students were awaiting their first packages and queens. They have already prepared the square, stacked, wooden hive bodies where the bees will live. One queen and one package per hive is the accepted measure.

Laurie MacLean and her daughter, Andrea MacLean, came from their home, Brookline’s Winterberry Farm, to attend the school. The farm is a five-acre homestead where a camp for kids is in the planning stages. Bread baking, soap making, growing vegetables and making candles from beeswax are shared interests.

“We’re going to have bees for the first time,” Laurie said. “We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. I want bees to be here.”

Andrea credited the MVBA mentor program as a valued asset. Graduates have access to expert beekeepers available for advice.

“The mentor program is really helpful in case we need guidance,” said Andrea, who majored in business. “We’ll have the bees pollinating our farm. They’ll help us, and we’ll help them. We’re so excited about it.”

Bedford’s Alexandra Letourneau, 15, and Sarah Letourneau, 9, attended every class. Their father heard about the classes and the girls wholeheartedly embraced the idea of going to bee school.

“We’d like to make our own honey, so we’re thinking of getting bees,” Alexandra said. “It could be a good business and it’s just a really good way to help the environment.”

The Meisner family, also of Bedford, attended bee school, en masse. Kasey and Mark Meisner brought along a daughter and three sons. Youngsters Rachel Meisner, 3, and Joshua Meisner, 4, were especially excited to learn about bees.

“We all went to every class,” Kasey said. “It was family bee night. We already have our hive. The kids painted it a Disney color, Pooh Bear Yellow – a honey yellow. And we get our bees in May.”

Some at bee school wondered about starting a business selling honey or beeswax candles. Others said they just wanted to help bees thrive, knowing that bees pollinate most of the grains, vegetables, fruits and flowers so important for life.

Tom Mikulis, of Merrimack, said he was at the classes to learn how to incorporate honey bees into his home garden, a space of nearly an acre. He grows 360 different flowering perennials, fruit trees and other beauties. He also has a cactus garden. Another space is a mini-bog in which he grows moisture loving plants such as Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

“I purchased one hive,” Mikulis said. “We’ll see if I can use the honey bees to ensure a good crop from my plants.”

Teacher Lindahl soon heard from bee school graduate Ron Therrien, of Weare.

Therrien was given an on-site tour of Lindahl’s business, Hillside Apiaries in Merrimack, where a long row of white hives awaited a new supply of honey bees. New England winters are hard on bees and casualties are common, Lindahl said.

Lindahl and Therrien went to work, opening one at a time some wooden boxes with screened sides that held thousands of bees. A three-pound package, each including a queen bee, are added to the hive boxes and provide the start for many a traditional hive. Lindahl said that bee school makes a great “first step” into beekeeping. He also enjoys adding an additional hands-on aspect.

“It’s not beekeeping until you get your hands into a hive,” Lindahl said. “That’s where the experience comes in. It’s not all in the textbooks.”

The MVBA is an organization for hobbyists and those that make beekeeping a business. The club hosts meetings on the first Saturday of the month at the Hudson Recreation Center, 2 Oakwood St., in Hudson. A social hour with refreshments begins at 6:30 p.m. A business meeting begins at 7:30. A raffle is held and a guest speaker is a frequent highlight. Dues are minimal.

For more details on the Merrimack Valley Beekeepers Association, visit

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