Do all towns have email lists these days? I suppose so. Our town’s list announces church suppers and firewood for sale; requests proposals for mowing the town green; advertises sporting equipment, cars, pianos, and livestock for sale or barter; and invites us to school plays, concerts, farmers markets. Around elections, they bustle with political opinions. And at the hinge of each season, they announce signs of change.
Children returning to school. Geese leaving town. First snowflakes and dicey roads. First robin sighted.
A couple weeks ago, a message on our town email list warned that a bear had been seen on a nearby deck, checking out the empty bird feeders. It’s a bit early for bears to wake up, but the mild winter and the quick snow melt have us on high alert. Bears waking up right now are looking for food, and nothing’s growing yet.
We’ve nothing at all against bears. They belong on the land more than we do. But we don’t really want them to eat our bees, especially since we’ve managed to somehow keep them alive through the winter.*
Every morning since that email posting, we woke up nervously, stopping to peer out the bedroom window even while still half asleep to make sure the hives were still standing.
Once bitten, twice shy.
Of course, we now have the hives protected by electric fence, but last year’s bear knows there were bees here last year and may come sniffing.
So we decided to add one more level of protection by building an “unwelcome mat,” which is essentially a bed of nails. You place the mat on the approach to the hives and hope that any bear who steps on it will be unpleasantly surprised and turn right around (the nails protrude enough to feel uncomfortable, but not enough to permanently hurt the bear).
We built two mats to extend along the length of the eastern side of the bee yard fencing, which we figure is the direction the bear is most likely to come from (the north and south fences are more protected because of the goat pasture and pen, and the west side is protected by the extra gate, our presence, and the road).
When I say “we” I mean that M pounded all those nails (two nails, every two inches, on 10 boards, 12 feet long). He’s the one who set up the clever jig on the deck railing. But I did help him assemble the mats and I used a power tool without harming myself or the mats, so there’s that.
We still check the hives from the bedroom window every morning, but with a little less anxiety. They’ve got their fondant, their fence, and their unwelcome mat. I think we’ve done all we can, and now we just need to wait for spring to bloom.
* Let’s face it: they kept themselves alive through the winter. The only thing we did was not get in their way.