2015-09-25 / Front Page

Club busied with bees, construction

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Keith Kettelhut, of Durham, a bee expert known as The Maine Honeybee Man, works Monday, Sept. 21, to remove the last of the bees that recently infested the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club in Cape Elizabeth, for transport to winter hives in Falmouth. (courtesy photo) Keith Kettelhut, of Durham, a bee expert known as The Maine Honeybee Man, works Monday, Sept. 21, to remove the last of the bees that recently infested the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club in Cape Elizabeth, for transport to winter hives in Falmouth. (courtesy photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — Although the sound of gunfire has not been heard at the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club for more than two months, that does not mean the facility, located on Sawyer Road in Cape Elizabeth, has fallen into complete silence.

Lately, the explosion of ordnance has been replaced by the ping of hammers and the buzz of honeybees.

This past weekend, club members worked to move large cement blocks into place, creating a walled-in firing line at what has been, for the past six decades, an open-air facility with only gully walls as a firing line backstop. Although safety improvements to the range’s 25-yard firing line are not expected to wrap up until early December — in addition to the side walls, telephone poles will be used to create a system of baffles to prevent bullets from being accidentally discharged into the air — the club is hopeful the town council will grant an operating license at its October meeting, contingent upon completion of that work.

Meanwhile, club members have been all a-buzz about a recent infestation of bees.

In late August a group of club members working on site improvements at the range witnessed something strange.

“It was a swarm of bees, like a giant black cloud, exactly like you’d see in the cartoons,” said club President Tammy Walter on Monday. “The cloud landed on the clubhouse wall and, within a matter of moments, the whole thing had disappeared, as if it has been absorbed into the wall.”

According to Keith Kettelhut, a Durhambased bee expert better known as “The Maine Honeybee Man,” the cloud was not absorbed into the wall, although that’s certainly how it would have looked from a distance, he said. Instead, they marched one-by-one in orderly fashion through a tiny-3-inch gap in the wall likely discovered days earlier by a couple of scouts from the bee’s mother hive. On the other side of that gap was a window frame covered over by the club, which, being about 42 square inches, was the perfect size for a new hive.

Kettelhut said the bees likely came from another hive less than 2 miles from the gun club.

“I know of at least six people who keep bees within that radius,” he said. “They could have come from anyone.”

Wherever the original hive originated, it probably had become overcrowded, forcing the colony to spawn a new queen and, once mature, to follow her en masse to the new site located by the scouts. Kettelhut estimates the swarm that took up residence inside the wall of the Spurwink club contains as many as 20,000 individual bees, likely about 50 to 60 percent of the original hive.

“That old window frame was about the perfect home for them — warm, dry, free from drafts and almost exactly the perfect size,” Kettelhut said.

Still, while the spot may have been perfect for the bees, the surprise subletting was less than an ideal circumstance for the gun club.

Already taxed to its financial limits with the range upgrades, the club could illafford to have the bees moved. Kettelhut says he normally charges $150 for the first hour and $100 per hour thereafter to relocate hives. The Spurwink job, he estimated, was at least a $700 project.

And yet, Walter said, no one at the club wanted to go the cheaper route and simply call an exterminator. Luckily, Kettelhut is a firearms enthusiast himself, and a member of his local gun club in Durham.

“When they called me up and asked what it would cost, they didn’t give me a sob story, but I was familiar with their story, so I offered to do it at no charge,” he said.

Kettelhut worked Sept. 2 to cut sheets of honeycomb out of the clubhouse wall and move them into portable hives, located a short distance away. However, not all bees in the hive got the eviction notice. While Kettelhut was able to move the queen — a key aspect of any successful relocation project — many of the bees continued to make use of the clubhouse wall.

“Bees operate by smell, and while they will normally react to the pheromones of the queen, and follow her, the colony had by that time been pretty well established. There was a lot of honey inside the walls and it was easy for them to get confused,” he explained.

On Monday, Sept. 21, Kettelhut returned to the gun club for a second round of work, smoking the bees to further confuse their pheromone receptors and calm them down, and moving the remaining bits of the hive from the wall.

Walter was there to help both times, and says she got stung right on the tip of her nose during the earlier effort.

“For the most part, they were very friendly, but, ow, that one hurt,” she said.

Kettelhut said he now expects to return within a couple of weeks, once all of the bees have managed to find and settle into their new digs. Then, he will transport the hives to a beekeeping area in Falmouth.

However, that may not be a one-way ticket for the bees.

Walter has said she spoke to club members and, while a couple are not wild about sharing club grounds with a colony of bees, no matter how domesticated, most support brining back at least a hive or two.

For Walter, it just seems the right thing to do, since the bees had chosen the club as a home. Plus, there could be an upside. Although the club is saving on its modernization drive by taking advantage of free labor from its many members, who include engineers, architects, carpenters, electricians and steel fabricators among their number, the overall project is not cheap. And even when that work is finished, there will be ongoing maintenance to consider.

And so, Walter is always on the lookout for fundraising ideas.

“I’m thinking we could process and sell the honey from these bees,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I’m thinking we could call it ‘Gunny Honey.’”

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