Beekeeping in Bear Country – Simple Things To Help Avoid Disaster

**Please note, this was originally posted to my Steemit blog. It’s a community that pays you in a crytpocurrency called steem to write posts. You can learn more about it over here.  If you become a Steemit user (a Steemian) you can also vote and take part of  contests that I host there. My user’s name over there is @homesteaders life**

“Do you have any bears in Bear Lake?” That’s the top question I answer for people unfamiliar with Northwest Pennsylvania. To which I respond “It’s not just a witty name.”.

This photo was caught on a trail cam in the front yard of the local parsonage in Bear Lake, PA by a friend. It was taken about 1000 feet from my house. I use it with her permission. This particular bear had caused us quite a bit of grief in town before he moved on. Eventually he was harvested by a young Amish boy over in the Tamarack Swamp during bear season. He liked bird seed, trash, and bee larvae. Ask me how I know!

I TOOK LONGER THAN I WANTED TO…

My mom tells me that my grandfather kept bees when she was a kid. I never knew him to, nor did he tell me about it, but I claim some genetic disposition toward my love of beekeeping. It certainly didn’t come from my dad’s side. He’s deathly allergic to hornets and wasps and he’d say honeybees too, although I’m dubious of the latter. I had wanted to get started into beekeeping for a few years, but there were always more important uses for the money it took to get into the “hobby”.

While living in Ohio, I had a friend give me an older hive that he had, which was awesome. What I didn’t have were bees. But I set up the hive in the garden anyway. By the end of that summer a small swarm had set up shop in the hive (yes that does happen) but I didn’t have any other equipment to be a beekeeper so I watched them from afar. They didn’t survive that winter, but I ended up purchasing some old hoods and an old smoker at a farm auction and I was set for the future!

THEN WE MOVED TO NW PA TO START A CHURCH!

I had my hands full the first couple of years after we moved here with a ton of other things going on… finding a job, getting settled into our chosen community, running kids to school and sport events and starting a church. Keeping bees wasn’t something I could do right away, but the urge was still there. Finally, after I had things in motion, I jumped in with both feet!

It’s how I do things… It sometimes costs me money, but it sure is fun learning so many new things. Still, knowing what I do today, there are a lot cheaper ways to get into beekeeping that I can recommend. The first and foremost is to go find a current beek (beekeeper) that is active in capturing swarms. Most likely you have a local beekeeping association… and they are EAGER to share their knowledge and time with you!

But alas… time. Time has always been one of the most precious commodities in my life. You can imagine that because of the fact that I’m a husband, a father of 4 and a bivocational pastor that sometimes it’s hard to get away for an urgent call of a swarm needed removed. And you’d be surprised how many clubs meet on Sundays or have events on Sundays.

So I found a gentleman who is fairly local who provides Nucs (Nucleus) that have a few frames of brood, a laying queen, and about 3 frames of honey.

IMG_20130622_164124_180.jpgHere are my first two hives. I talked to a lot of people, read a lot and watched a lot of video to come up with the stand below. I’m tall (6’5″) so I like a taller stand to work from. The hives also sit out over the rails making it more difficult for mice to climb into the hive.

IMG_20130622_164211_984.jpgHappy bees on their porch! Oh, and the first time beek had the entrance reducer upside down. (no need to point that out!) 😉

A COUPLE OF WEEKS EARLIER, A LOCAL BEAR ATTACK!

We had a church group over from Ohio to help us with our GROW ministry. We basically helped people plant gardens in these things called Garden Soxx. While visiting and planting at a house, the family showed me their loss to bears. I had scheduled to pick up my bees two weeks later and now I was a little concerned.

IMG_20130601_113134_951.jpgBears are not gentle when they attack hives

IMG_20130601_113203_143.jpg*Devastation of equipment and bees is costly. *

ALL QUIET AND I GOT LAX

Although I thought about the bear attack as I set up my hives, my bigger concern was getting the bees established and surviving the winter. This was when CCD was in full swing and there was a panic about beekeepers. I placed the hives within 50 yards of the house up near my garden. The woods were a good 300 yards further back and we’d not had any bears up near the house.

Summer ended and I learned what goldenrod season means to NW Beekeepers. I now knew the vinegary sweet smell that overtook the hives during that precious golden pollen season. My bees looked good, I had another super on top of the hives and I had quite a bit of honey on hand. I was feeling pretty good about winter. I didn’t harvest any honey because I wanted to give the bees every chance to survive.

In all the focus of everything else, I reasoned that the bears wouldn’t really want to come up near the house.

This is the snowbelt. It was a cold, deep winter with snow covering the hive entrance. We made it through winter and I saw some early signs in March of orientation flights and the great news that both hives survived the winter. Some other local beeks were telling me of 60 – 70% loss of their hives. I felt pretty good.

Then one frosty morning in April, as I headed out at 6:30 AM to go to work… I looked up the hill and notice something didn’t look right. So I climbed the hill to see this:

IMG_20140423_071613_006.jpgBear Attack!

ATTACK!

I was a little late to work that day. It was still cold so the bees were all still in the hives. Looking back on it now, I realize that I probably actually scared the bear off when I came out of the house. I put it back together (no hood or gloves needed because of the temperatures) and headed into work. I thought I could salvage the one hive on the far side.

I got home from work and suited up (it had warmed up) and headed back out. I might be able to nurse both hives back. It was going to be tough though. I tidied up and figured the worse was over.

I WAS WRONG!

The next morning I was confronted with this:

IMG_20140424_065458_426.jpgA Second, more devastating attack

Another day late to work. This time, I took the hive (still one queen and about 2 frames of brood and workers believe it or not) and moved it down to the roof of my truck (hey I was in a hurry to get it to safety) which was 15 feet out my door. I went to work and came home and cleaned the rest of it up. The bees on the roof of my truck were still alive and trying to get some semblance of normalcy.

I would bear proof everything the next morning (it was dark now) since that was a Saturday.

Except that the bear came back and climbed on my truck and GRABBED the hive and took it about 50 feet away during that night.

He left me his calling card:
IMG_20140424_065526_774.jpgYou do the math… that’s a big paw swipe!

NO BEES FOR ME THAT SUMMER

Due to the losses that everyone else suffered, all nuc’s were spoken for by December the previous year. So I had work to do. The first thing I had to do was to build a better defense and get smarter. After talking to some folks, they believe that the harder winter (even for us) caused this bear to come out of hibernation earlier.

SOME BEAR FACTS… AFTER THE FACT.

  1. Bears actually are looking for the protein of the larvae in your hive. The honey is fine but they need protein.
  2. The best bear deterrent is a combined approach at protection.
    3)One of the best bear deterrents is a physical one first. Actual enclosures are always beneficial. Bears can break them and climb them but a sturdy enclosure is a good base to build on.
  3. Bear Strapping will help your hive survive if there bear makes contact.
  4. Electrical fence should be your outer defense.
  5. Bears aren’t afraid to come right up to your house.
  6. Once bears find a food source they will keep coming back to it until it’s depleted.
  7. We have some big bear in NW PA. (700+ lbs) Read some more PA Bear facts here.

If funds are limited, bear strapping is easy to do and actually helps a lot!

I’ll post a video of that. Here is the video:

I’ll end this post for now, I know it’s long, but more will be coming on beekeeping! Learn some lessons from me!

And don’t forget… GROW WHERE YOU ARE!

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Post Author: tmhstead

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