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Beekeepers have a field day

State’s beekeepers swarm to Deerfield for Mass. Beekeepers Assoc. annual field day

  • Master beekeeper Mary Duane, of Worcester, shows beginning beekeepers how to examine their hives for signs of disease, parasites and proper hive development. Duane was one of many speakers at the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association's annual field day at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield Saturday.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville

    Master beekeeper Mary Duane, of Worcester, shows beginning beekeepers how to examine their hives for signs of disease, parasites and proper hive development. Duane was one of many speakers at the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association's annual field day at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield Saturday.
    Recorder/David Rainville Purchase photo reprints »

  • Worker bees build a honeycomb in a man-made hive during the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association's annual field day Saturday at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville

    Worker bees build a honeycomb in a man-made hive during the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association's annual field day Saturday at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield.
    Recorder/David Rainville Purchase photo reprints »

  • Honeybees crawl over the cells of their hive, which contain immature bees in several stages of development, from eggs to larvae to capped cells. Minding their own beeswax, the insects were unaware that they were on display at the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association's annual field day at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield Saturday.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville

    Honeybees crawl over the cells of their hive, which contain immature bees in several stages of development, from eggs to larvae to capped cells. Minding their own beeswax, the insects were unaware that they were on display at the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association's annual field day at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield Saturday.
    Recorder/David Rainville Purchase photo reprints »

  • Master beekeeper Mary Duane, of Worcester, shows beginning beekeepers how to examine their hives for signs of disease, parasites and proper hive development. Duane was one of many speakers at the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association's annual field day at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield Saturday.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville
  • Worker bees build a honeycomb in a man-made hive during the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association's annual field day Saturday at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville
  • Honeybees crawl over the cells of their hive, which contain immature bees in several stages of development, from eggs to larvae to capped cells. Minding their own beeswax, the insects were unaware that they were on display at the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association's annual field day at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield Saturday.<br/>Recorder/David Rainville

DEERFIELD — “You’ve got to be a little bit crazy to keep bees.”

Master beekeeper Mary Duane, of Worcester, gave budding beekeepers some expert advice at the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association’s annual field day at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield Saturday.

“Most people see a beehive and run away,” she joked. “You come closer. What’s wrong with you?”

Hundreds of people from several local beekeepers’ associations swarmed to South Deerfield for Saturday’s event.

Though Duane, the past president of the Worcester County Beekeepers Association, has had her own hives since 1999, she said she still learns something new whenever she visits another beekeeper’s apiary.

While established beekeepers can offer valuable advice and resources, beginners may be bees’ best friends.

“Beginner (beekeepers) are the solution to the problems bees face,” Duane said. “Whether your goal is to produce honey, breed pollinators or help the environment, if more people kept bees in their backyards all across the country, it could be part of the solution.”

While first-time beekeepers could help restore the honeybee population, if they go into it expecting to harvest several jars of golden honey the first year, she said, they’re likely to be disappointed.

“If you get honey in your first year of beekeeping, consider it a gift,” she advised. “The first year is about learning, and getting a hive going.”

For a beginner, she said, just keeping a hive of bees alive through the winter is a big accomplishment.

Sometimes, she said, you’ve got to kill a queen bee to ensure the survival of the hive.

To make it through the cold New England winter, bees will cluster around their queen to keep her warm. If you don’t have enough bees in the hive, she said, the whole colony could freeze to death.

Duane advised that first-timers maintain at least two hives, so they can be combined in the winter to keep the queen warm. The problem is, both hives should have their own queen, and they don’t play well together.

If you introduce a queen from one hive into another, the two will fight to the death, and neither queen may survive.

When a hive is thriving, bees may begin to prepare themselves for exodus — a “queen cell” will be formed in the old hive, to develop into a new queen, and the old queen will leave with about half the other bees in search of a new home.

While many beekeepers lament the loss of half a hive, Duane said it’s a sign that you’re doing well.

To prevent this, beekeepers can check for signs that bees are about to swarm, like an overabundance of male drone bees. If it’s caught in time, the hive can be divided, by moving the queen and several other bees into a new full-size hive or a smaller “nucleus hive.”

While swarming is a sign of a prosperous hive, other indicators can spell trouble for the colony.

“Look for headless bees and punctured cells,” Duane said. These are signs that parasitic mites may be breeding alongside your honeybees.

If your hive shows signs of disease or mites, Duane said your best bet is to call another beekeeper for advice and assistance.

If you’re thinking about getting into beekeeping, established beekeepers can help get you up and running. They can provide you with expert advice, and may also be able to give or sell you some starter bees. Local bees are already adapted to the climate and have a better chance of making it than bees shipped from far away, according to Duane.

Duane’s was just one of several demonstrations on honeybees, geared toward everyone from beginners to established beekeepers.

If you’d like to start your own hive, or find out more about beekeeping, visit the Franklin County Beekeepers Assoc. website at www.franklinmabeekeepers.org.

You can also check out the statewide association at www.massbee.org.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

On Twitter, follow @RecorderRain

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