Originally published in Castine Patriot, April 11, 2019
Beekeeping is a buzz among backyard hobbyists
by Monique Labbe
With warmer spring temperatures around the corner, area beekeepers are busy getting their hives ready for the transition from winter. Needed for that are both supplies and knowledge, and many bee enthusiasts in Penobscot and Castine look to Mary Jo Norris and her husband Shawn, owners of Back Ridge Bee Farm and Supply in Orland, for both.
Norris and her husband started keeping bees a few years ago, to help with pollination of their orchards and fields at Silveridge Farm. It did not take long for them to add a few more hives, and then a few more.
“It’s addicting really,” said Norris. “We quickly found out that we loved working with bees, and wanted to learn more about them.”
The couple now has about 50 hives and is involved with the Tri County Beekeepers Association. Norris said that beekeeping has become a popular hobby among locals in the area over the last few years, and that as the popularity rises, so, too, does the need for the backyard hobbyists to educate themselves on what goes into successfully raising bees.
“I would encourage anyone who is interested to take a couple of classes before getting serious about it,” she said. “There really is a lot to know, from what food to give them during the different seasons, to what to look out for with diseases, to if you have a difficult queen you might have to get rid of.”
Disease is particularly prominent in the area, according to Norris, due to harsh winters and an up tick in mites. The rate of bees lost during the year in the area is slightly higher than the national average, but overall keepers have been learning new methods of detecting disease faster and are sometimes able to save them before it is too late.
What is called the varroa virus, the mites, like ticks to humans, embed themselves in the fatty tissues of the bees’ underbelly. Instead of just biting its host, the mite will slowly suck out enzymes from the bee, and then regurgitate it back into the bees’ tissues. This can cause everything from losing wings to leaving holes in the body, said Norris.
“I came across one beekeeper who asked me to come take a look at his bees, and as soon as I saw them I had to tell him that they were too far gone to be saved,” she said. “It’s really quite heartbreaking.”
Norris said the more she has raised bees, the more she and her husband have become “obsessed.” At the couple’s store, one can find everything from hives, to beekeeping suits, to food and other supplies. The store also has things like pure honey, candles made from beeswax, and resin necklaces that feature a real bee in the center, the majority of which Norris said have died from natural causes.
“We opened it last year because we wanted to be able to provide people in our area with a place to get supplies and other items and not have to drive long distances or order online,” she said.
The store, located on Acadia Highway in Orland, is open 12 to 5 p.m. on Thursdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays. Appointments can be made for Monday-Wednesday.