Words by
Honeybee Helper
Photography by Michelle Peters &
State Apiarist Jennifer Lund keeps Maine hives buzzing

If Maine was a honeybee colony, you might think Maine State Apiarist Jennifer Lund would be the queen. But you would be wrong. Given the scope of her job—helping Maine’s 1,200 beekeepers maintain their 10,000 hives—Lund would certainly be classified as a worker bee.


Healthy hives have one egg-laying queen, a couple hundred male drones who exist only to pass along genetic material to a virgin queen—should they ever get lucky enough to meet one—and tens of thousands of female worker bees who do literally everything else.


A worker bee performs specific duties based upon her age. She starts as a nurse, spending the first week after emerging from her hexagonal honeycomb cell cleaning up after the queen, feeding larvae, and making honey. She then rotates to the hive maintenance crew to make wax, build comb, fan her wings for hive ventilation, and escort deceased sisters out of the hive. At three weeks old, she ventures out into the world to collect nectar and pollen. In the height of summer, foraging worker bees can literally work themselves to death after six weeks. If they overwinter in a hive, they can expand their lifespan to about six months.


Lund’s duties mirror the tasks of worker bees. She nurses sick hives back to health, inspects up to 80,000 migratory hives trucked in to assist with wild Maine blueberry pollination, gives 60 talks to keepers annually on topics ranging from Bee Nasties to The Art of Beekeeping, and conducts hive autopsies to determine how a colony met its demise.


Fortunately for Maine bees, their keepers, local farmers, and local produce lovers, Lund is enjoying a much longer lifespan than her kindred sisters at 41 years old. She does not have wings, either, although she has been known to fly around the roller derby track.


No bees, no food


Worker bees are the heroines of the local food scene, says Lund. They fly from flower to flower, and as they accumulate pollen on their hind legs (creating what are called “bee pants”), these ladies make the necessary connections between male and female flowering plants so they can bear fruit and vegetables. In addition to appreciating their role in feeding us, humans should look to worker bees to understand more about an individual’s responsibility to the community, Lund adds.


“All hives are cooperatives. The workers are individuals, sure. But they work towards the center. Their collective goal is community survival. We can learn from them if we watch closely,” she says.


When she assumed the post in 2017, Lund was only the second person to be named as Maine’s top beekeeper: Fellow entomologist Tony Jadczak had filled the role for over 30 years. It is a fabulous job, concedes Lund, but it was not her dream job—mainly because she had not grown up knowing that State Apiarist was a position she could shoot for.


As a child, Lund spent many afternoons under a jumble of trees and bushes in the front yard of her downstate New York family home, listening to the hum of a vibrant entomological hub. “I was always putting insects in boxes and hiding them around the house. My parents were saints. They never really knew when they went to open a container if they would be greeted by a bug, dead or alive,” says Lund.


It wasn’t until she’d moved to Maine, earned her master’s degree studying Asian long-horned beetles, and began working as a research technician in the entomology department at the University of Maine in Orono that she became focused on bees. She teamed up with UMaine Professor Francis Drummond, an expert in insect ecology and insect pest management. Together, their work includes studies concerning colony collapse disorder; effects of low-level pesticide exposure on bee colonies; integrated Varroa mite control effectiveness (the mites are the most common pest found in Maine beehives); and the role of honeybees as vectors of blueberry diseases.


Lund has the résumé of a seasoned scientist. Nonetheless, she’s the first to admit that much of the language she uses to talk about the life of bees makes her sound more like an 8-year-old boy. During a Zoom talk she gave in late March to the Knox Lincoln County Beekeepers Association as part of its Beekeeping 101 class, Lund described how to tell if a hive had fallen prey to American foulbrood disease.


“Hives infected with AFB smell like dirty sweat socks or like a teenager’s hockey gear,” said Lund. When you insert a toothpick into an infected larvae cell and draw it out, “you get what’s called roping. So that is like drawing out a snot that just won’t stop.”


If a hive has contracted the highly contagious AFB, the only way to deal with it is to dispatch the bees and burn the hive gear, as spores of the deadly bacteria can lie dormant in equipment for 80 years. Maine had only two known cases of foulbrood disease last year, and both resulted from the use of old spore-infested equipment.


“It’s a hard thing to watch a hive burning. You’ve worked so hard to keep the hives healthy and it becomes a total loss,” said Lund, who keeps five hives at her Argyle home and 40 more for research on campus in Orono.

During the Maine mud season, Lund conducts on average 250 autopsies on hives that haven’t made it through the winter. She says keepers are typically pretty broken up when they lose a hive. “Every hive has its own personality—the temperamental one, the funny one, the problem one—and keepers tend to form attachments to them, have relationships with them,” says Lund.


But, since there are so many reasons why hive loss it can happen—mites, extreme weather events, fluctuating proteins in the available pollen—autopsies are crucial learning events for all beekeepers.


Lund says, “I pitch any autopsy as a way for a keeper to learn from their mistakes. It’s an opportunity to make a better management choice for their bees next time. It’s about learning how to help the whole community be resilient, so that if something does happen, we know we can survive it.”

Christine has lived in many places, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, England and France. But her professional world has consistently been grounded in just two: in journalism and in the kitchen. Throughout her 30-year writing career, she’s covered sports, politics, business and technology. But for the past 10 years after completing culinary school, she’s focused on food. Her words and recipes about eating locally and sustainably have appeared in publications from The Portland Press Herald to Fine Cooking. Her award-winning cookbook Green Plate Special (link is: https://www.amazon.com/Green-Plate-Special-Sustainable-Delicious/dp/1944762140) was published in 2017. When she’s not laboring over a cutting board or a keyboard, she’s learning from her two semi-adult children, a community of food-minded friends, hundreds of productive Maine farmers, thousands of innovative chefs near and far, and her 30,000 honeybees.

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