The mild winter continues, and as spring approaches, my hopes rise for early flows of pollen and nectar from the willows and maples. Until then, I will continue to keep an eye on food levels in my hives, and feed winter patties or sugar if necessary. Once it starts to get warmer with regular days in the 50s, it will be possible to feed sugar syrup.

Very soon thereafter, it will be time to stock new hives. My plans this year will be to increase several of my beekeeping activities, and consequently, I will need more hives. The more hives you have, the more options you have.

I will be doing a lot more renting out of my hives for pollination. Normally each year I send a couple of hives to one or two small, private blueberry fields. Last year, however, I started to help out a small, organic blueberry grower in Frankfort, Foggy Hill Farm. I was only able to supply five hives at the last minute when they were let down by their normal, out of state bee supplier.

This year I have promised them 16 hives. Renting out bee hives is a great way to help local farms and to increase the revenue generated by your bees. Local farmers are all too aware of the importance of buying locally. If you can provide a good product; which means strong, healthy hives, they will rent your bees. Rental costs for bees depend upon the strength of the hive. $100 for a hive with five to six frames of bees to $140 for hives with eight to 10 frames of bees or more.

Personally, I am only interested in taking my hives to organic growers or those farmers who promise not to use herbicides or pesticides while my bees are present.

Once the blueberry bloom is over, I will be moving my bees to my house and one or two other yards. Here, I know they will find a lot of good forage for making honey in June and July and also later in the summer and fall. One of my favorite new bee yards is at Bangor International Airport. The airport maintains hundreds of acres of open land, where the plant cover is mowed about once a week, at a height a few inches higher than most lawns (4-7 inches). The plant cover is predominantly grasses but also a rich mixture of clovers, vetch, dandelions and others; all great food for pollinators such as honeybees.

In the summer I met with the airport director, Tony Caruso, and director of airfield operations, Robbie Beaton, to ask permission to keep bees there. I was met with enthusiastic support. Caruso said, “The city and airport were very pleased to help with this exciting project. With acres of clover fields at the airfield, it was a great site to support new honeybee hives.”

My bees did very well there in the fall, but I think they will do even better in the spring and early summer, with all the dandelions and clover. This is a great example of how a large or small business can use the resources at their disposal to make a positive impact on the environment.

I would like to see more businesses, schools and towns doing the same thing. You don’t need a lot of land like an airport, bees will travel for miles to find food. The important thing is to manage the land you have to be a food source for pollinators, and if you really want to help, contact a local beekeeper and host some bee hives.

Another Maine company set to make an impact on local bees and beekeepers is Maine Mead Works. This Portland-based company makes “Honeymaker” mead sold in many stores in the region. Mead is a wine made by fermenting honey.

Ben Alexander, the founder of the company, was our guest speaker at Penobscot County Beekeepers Association last week, and said, “We try to source as much of our raw materials from Maine as we can.”

Alexander and I have been working on a project to deliver to him thousands of pounds of local Penobscot County honey, which I will collect from local beekeepers. This will then be incorporated into his great products. Honey can be sourced much cheaper from large scale producers outside the state where hives have better weather, a longer summer and produce much more honey. But the aim here is to help Maine beekeepers, by giving them an outlet for any extra honey they can produce. This provides Maine Mead Works with a reliable source of Maine honey and local beekeepers with extra revenue to invest in their bees. This means keeping more hives and pollinating more flowers. A win-win if ever there was one!

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 or call 299-6948.