It is unfortunate most organizations do not have a historian. Without one, folks need to rely on word of mouth or old secretary notes that may have been passed down through the decades and from membership to learn of their beginnings.
Such is the fate of the history of the Barnstable County Beekeepers Association (BCBA) on Cape Cod. Fortunately, a few of us remain that have been members over the last three decades. What we do know of the origins of BCBA is that back in April of 1973, a swarm of fifteen to twenty beekeepers met as a group. And with the continued dedication of now deceased Herbert Graham, PhD of NOAA, the club was born. The first constitution and by-laws were established in November of 1974. With Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the Marine Biological Laboratories and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the area, many of these scientists and researchers have been beekeepers and members over the years.
Then in 1987, the Varroa mite arrived on our shores. As with many clubs during this time, membership waned as beekeepers decided it was too difficult to keep their bees alive. Membership numbers dropped precipitously until the late 1990’s when a new swarm of members struck down an invading force that attempted to take over. From this time, membership rose steadily from three to four dozen to the current staggering number of 420 members!
Beginning in the early 1990’s, the opportunity to purchase packaged bees through the club was organized. Due to our geographic location, a sand spit at the tail of the state completely surrounded by water, filling a hive was a challenge. Thus, this bulk delivery annually has proved to be a well received benefit of membership.
In the summer of 2001, during a very hot and muggy week in July, the officers of BCBA with the help of the MA Beekeepers’ Association sponsored the Eastern Apicultural Society’s conference at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay. Members planned the workshops and outside adventures while attendees searched for fans for the dormitory rooms. All things taken into consideration, between the enormous effort and humid weather, it was a successful event.
Rolling ahead to 2010, a group from our board of directors wrote and received a Specialty Crop Funding grant. This was the beginning of the BCBA queen rearing program. This grant was written to educate members as to how to replace their queens using the Miller method of queen rearing. This fell short as the majority of the members had little interest. What did rise out of the effort was a queen rearing initiative where three members developed their grafting skills. A member in the lower Cape grafts and sells queen cells while two members in the upper Cape meet weekly and graft from their strong overwintered hives. We now provide over 100 virgin queens each season to members to either requeen or to build nucleus colonies.
In 2013, a new county jail was being built, so the club was invited to use land and buildings on the former site for their first apiary. Equipment was purchased and donated along with packages and nucleus colonies to fill the hives. From here, Cape Bee was formed. A move across the farm due to new county construction was required in the winter of 2019; this resulted in our new apiary in the back corner of the Cape Cod Organic Farm in Barnstable. With the help of a local grant, the club has purchased Arnia and BroodMinder equipment allowing members to experience the temperature and weight changes in the hives to compare against their own over the internet. The managing members also participate in the annual Sentinel monitoring program of the University of Maryland. The apiary has been available to members for monthly hive openings and workshops until disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Realizing the benefits, BCBA applied for and received 501©3 status in 2016.
Our educational endeavors over the decades have included a monthly newsletter and an annual Bee School. 2021 will be the first cancellation of the annual Bee School since its inception.
The Barnstable County Beekeepers are the only organization that owns their own building on the Barnstable County Fairgrounds. This shed was purchased prior to 1985. Since that first shed, it has doubled in size and has moved to a perfect location adjacent to the gardens. Although only opened one week each year, the shed is an important educational resource where crowds can walk through to enjoy the educational display, buy local honey, hive products and honey sticks and try to find the queen in the observation hive. Except for a few hurricanes that have disrupted the fair, it has also been an annual event without interruption until its cancellation in 2020.
Perhaps considered a young organization compared with other county clubs, BCBA has slowly grown to over 400 families from across the Cape all in awe of this fascinating little insect!! Claire Desilets