Having seen my bees fly in early January, I had to wait till last week to see them fly again. Sure enough, once we had temperatures in the 40s and sun shining on the hives, there they were.

Until last year, I had all my hives painted the traditional white, then I changed them all to a darker color and moved them to the sunniest spots available. I believe this was the single best thing I could do for my hives bar treating them for mites. The dark color absorbs the warmth of the sun and the difference was plain to see last summer. Getting direct sunlight early in the day, and warming up the dark green hives meant the bees were flying an hour or two earlier in the day. This winter, it has been even more pronounced as the hives are warm to the touch in bright sun even when the temperature was in the 20s.

I keep my bees in three locations around Hampden. Two yards get lots of sun from early in the morning and so far they have overwintered much better than the third location. This one did well in the summer, but I noticed the sun was not getting over the treeline for long in the winter. They were all buried deep in the snow and fewer have survived the cold. Instead, they would have fared better with insulation rather than a dark color. Lesson learned.

February marks the start of the great honeybee migrations round the country as commercial beekeepers move more than 1.4 million hives to the growing almond plantations in California. This is when we usually start to hear how good or bad the national winter losses of honeybees have been. For the last 6 years the news has rarely been good, with losses of 30-50 percent being reported. The good news is that honeybees in the southeastern U.S. have done fairly well so far. Most starter packages of bees used in Maine come from the south east so provided they don’t have a really cold snap, we look set to have a reliable supply of bees this year.

Part of my role as an experienced beekeeper is to spread the word about beekeeping and the importance of the honeybee. I try to do that with this column, my many beekeeping classes and by giving lots of talks at schools and clubs around the state. Next month I will be part of a group of beekeepers at Maine Ag. day at the legislature. We will be there as a reminder of how critical our state insect, the honeybee, is to our economy and our food supply. More than half of the items in any supermarket produce section depend upon pollinators and honeybees in particular for their production.

I will also be speaking on all three days at the BDN Maine Garden Show at the Cross Insurance Center April 4-6. When I am not at the lectern, I will be at my booth along with others from Penobscot County Beekeepers Association and Maine State Beekeepers Association where there will be a range of honey, bee products and equipment on display and for sale. One of the themes I will be promoting is how you can help honeybees and other pollinators. Of course, the best way is to become a beekeeper. If that’s not your thing, you can help a great deal by NOT using herbicides and pesticides on your lawn and garden and also to plant “Bee Friendly Zones” of wildflowers in your yard. More on this next month.

One very exciting piece of news for Down East beekeepers was confirmed in the last month. This year, Penobscot County Beekeepers Association will host the annual meeting of the Maine State Beekeepers Association at the new Hampden Academy on Saturday Oct. 18. More than 250 beekeepers from all over New England will come to Hampden to learn from nationally renowned beekeepers such as Dr. Dewey Caron and others.

My beekeeping for beginners classes have proven popular and grown so much we have had to schedule more classes. Check out Bangor, Bucksport, Ellsworth, Hampden, Newport and Orono Adult Education for details and availability. In between classes I will be building more beekeeping equipment in preparation for spring.

Peter Cowin, aka The Bee Whisperer, is president of the Penobscot County Beekeepers Association. His activities include honey production, pollination services, beekeeping lessons, sales of bees and bee equipment and the removal of feral bee hives from homes and other structures. Check out “The Bee Whisperer” on Facebook, email petercowin@tds.net or call 299-6948.