Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bears

You can see scratch marks on the frame in this hive

Nancy, with her keen eye, noticed tracks. That's her hand next to the paw print

The electric fence--ready for nightime

Nancy and I have been keeping bees for something like 6 years. In this time we've never had a problem with bears going after our hives, despite them having gone after hives within a mile or so of where we live. Not sure why, perhaps its just been luck.

On Monday morning we received an email from the Central Vermont Beekeeping group detailing how someone's hives had been got by a bear. At dinner we were discussing this and Nancy said something like "You know, we're not immune". I admit that a certain whiff of feeling like it just wasn't going to happen to us had settled in over the years as we seemed to pass each season unscathed.

Late Monday night I had just climbed into bed and was doing a little reading before nodding off when "WHAM!" I heard a crash coming from a direction that suggested only one thing. With my heart racing I ran outside in a t-shirt and no glasses and had the briefest glimpse of something. I ran back in woke Nance up, threw on some clothes, grabbed my glasses and went back out, clinking a spoon on a metal coffee mug. As I moved through the garden I heard rustling as the bear moved into the woods. When I got to the hives I could see that the bear had pulled one hive over completely and was just starting to pull things apart when I scared him away.

Knowing the bear was gone for the time being, I suited up in my bee veil and went back out, only to discover that in fact this hive was dead. Not because of the bear--hives die and this one wasn't able to hold on all the way through the winter. As it turns out, this was probably a good thing in that the bear alerted us to his or her presence before doing any damage to a living hive. Fearing the bear coming back, the best I could do was gather all the wratchet straps we own and strap the hives together as a unit so if the bear came back and knocked over another hive, it would likely hold together like a big box rather then a series of stacked units. This took some work, but I managed to strap all six hives and carried away the dead hive. Nance and I laid in bed and considered everything we might be able to do, but for the moment we had done our best. It was with an anxious ear that we fell asleep sometime after one.

"DAVE, THE BEAR!!" I shot up in the thickness of dream turning to panic. Nance had heard another crash and we knew the night's work was not over. This time Nance went out with a pot and banging away cried out "Go away you bear!!" (Nancy had to comment on this: For those of you from our Bowdoin days, this was a familiar, yet little twist on our "Go You Bears" rallying cry!) Once again the bear departed. This time the bear had knocked over two hives that were very much alive, so we again donned our bee gear and went back out to stand the hives up. Luckily the strapping worked pretty well, so the hives were mostly fine. That said, its no fun to be messing with mad bees in the dark with one flashlight and a general feeling of bewilderment. Again we crawled into bed and decided we could only hope for the best. By this point a few birds were starting to sing, so we were hopeful that dawn might carry us through without another incident.

The morning showed that the bear had not returned.

Despite a very full schedule related to taking down the garage we knew we had to erect an electric fence before the next night. Among my errands, i stopped at the local farm supply store and bought everything we needed to put an electric fence around our apiary. Just as the sun was going down Nancy, our neighbor Erika and I finished installing the fence. Nancy took some raw bacon and clipped pieces of it to the fence with clothes hanger clips to bait the bear to get a most unpleasant zap. Knowing we'd done our best, we went to sleep with our finger crossed.

To our relief, there was no sign of the bear returning that night or any night since.

Bears are hungry at this time of year, so we know we need to make it into the late spring when the danger will really be past. If you are wondering, bear around here are generally black bears and present no significant threat. Of course I wouldn't want to challenge them or threaten them.

1 comment:

greg said...

Yikes. I don't know if it works with bears, but we have a 4' fence with one strand of electric wire around the top. We put peanut butter on the wire and when critters lick it...not so good. We have had no deer at all, though they browse within 15' of our garden on the striped maple. Maybe a little honey on your fence to deter the thick skinned bears? I don't think their tongues are hairy.