For many years the Monastery garden has shared space with a trove of bee hives, growing to a whopping six active, thriving hives this summer. In addition to providing pollination for the gardens and beyond, the bees have shared the surplus of their delicious raw honey, which we have been selling at the Monastery Store.
This summer the bee hives took a hard hit from a persistent black bear. The bear was able to push through the electric fence and knock over two of the hives, devouring most of their frames of brood (the larvae of unhatched bees) and honey. We put the hives back together as best we could and strapped them down to concrete blocks. But once a bear gets a taste of brood and honey, an electric fence usually ceases to be a deterrent and the bear will put up with the shock just to get to the hives. On three subsequent nights the bear came back and badly damaged all six hives. We were able to restore some of the hives but we knew time was running out. Scrambling to find a new location off the Monastery property suitable for bees, we were graciously offered the back yard of a sangha member about five miles from the Monastery. Their new home was surrounded by a stockade fence, but even this couldn’t keep the bears out. We had to move the last two hives once again, albeit temporarily, to a well- fortified enclosure at Hudson Valley Bee Supply.
We are eager to move the remaining hives back home once we develop a physical barrier that will keep the bears out permanently. There are various deterrents under consideration, but black bears are smart, agile and very strong. We have been fortunate to have kept them out of the apiary for the last five years as black bears have become a very common nuisance in the Catskill Mountains.
Last year was a very successful year for honey gathering. The bees produced about 250-300 pounds of honey in excess of what they need for themselves to overwinter. The Monastery Store sold out of its entire inventory and this year, because of the bear destruction, we will not be able to harvest any new supplies of honey.
Beekeeping is one of the Monastery’s earth-based right livlihood projects which also include vegetable and flower gardens, fruit orchards, and exploring natural dyes such as marigold flow- ers and indigo to develop new products for the Monastery store.
Joel Sansho Benton, MRO