A proposal by the Spurwink Rod & Gun president to install a bee colony near the shooting range gets mixed reviews.

Amid the various safety improvement projects taking place at the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club shooting range in Cape Elizabeth, the club’s president has come up with another idea: set up beehives on the property.

While working with Durham resident and beekeeper Keith Kettelhut last month to remove 15,000-20,000 bees from a basement window of the clubhouse – and after learning more about the beekeeping process – Tammy Walter is looking into whether to have at least two hives next spring.

Kettelhut spent several hours Sept. 2 removing pieces of honeycomb from the Sawyer Road building to store in a portable containment box, or hive body, to transport to one of his bee yards for the winter, but the box has yet to be removed from the property. Kettelhut said his original plan was to return to the club a few days later to pick up the box, but there was one problem – not all of the bees settled into the hive box.

“A bunch of the bees that were out foraging, looking for food, returned back to where they were on the window sill and started building more honeycomb,” said Kettelhut, who will return to the clubhouse within the next week or two.

The club needs to formally vote on whether to install the hives, an idea that some club members oppose.

“We discussed it a little bit, and there are a few people that are afraid” of bees, Walter said.

Club member Richard Aspinall does not support Walter’s proposal for a few reasons, including that a few members are allergic to bees, he said.

“I am not for it,” said Aspinall. “Even though they say bees won’t bother you, unless you bother them, I am not inclined to agree with that. When I was a kid I was stung by a bee, and I have been afraid of them ever since.”

Aspinall also said it may not be the best time to pursue the idea, since the club is already busy with renovations, and keeping bees involves training – and dedication.

“I think it’s too much,” he said. “It’s a combination of people being allergic and the fact we already have so much going on with the (nearby Cross Hill Road) neighbors and the range.”

Jim Richard, who lives in the Cross Hill neighborhood and has voiced concerns about the safety conditions at the club, told the Current Monday he supports Walter’s plan.

“With a 60 percent decline in the honeybee population in the last 60 years, and a bee to thank for one in every three bites of food we take, the installation of two beehives at the club would be a great thing,” he said.

A satellite truck operator for television station WMTW, Kettelhut visited the clubhouse for a second time on Sept. 21 to remove the remaining pieces of honeycomb from the window and smoke the bees, a process that calms the insects and interferes with their pheromone receptors.

“Bees communicate through smells, through pheromones,” he said. “The smoke interferes with their ability to receive messages. Hopefully when they are in the air they smell the pheromones fanning from the fumes that are in the (hive) box and go over there instead of going back to the wall.”

Walter, who grew up on a 16-acre farm in Scarborough and whose uncle was a beekeeper, wants the other club members to understand that honeybees are not aggressive.

According to Kettelhut, unless a person is disturbing their nest, honeybees don’t tend to sting. Unlike yellow jackets, hornets and wasps, he added, honeybees “die if they sting you, so in general they don’t sting. They pretty much only sting to protect their hive, or if their lives are in danger.”

Walter plans to recruit at least two club members to maintain the hives if the club decides to set them up. In addition to providing a home for the bees, Walter said, the club could maintain the hives to produce and harvest honey for the members.

“I just thought it was a nice thing to do,” she said. “We can either give it away if we have too much, or we can possibly sell it.”

Half-joking, Walter added, “We could call it ‘gunny honey.’”

According to Ben McDougal, the town’s code enforcement officer, in general residents are not required to obtain a permit for beehives on their properties, especially if it is “relatively small and for personal use.”

Regarding Walter’s proposal, he said, “it probably wouldn’t require any permits or approvals, but I can’t say for sure without knowing the specifics.”

Walter gave Kettelhut permission to keep the bees on the property for as long as necessary, especially if it benefits the bees, Kettelhut said.

It also benefits the club and the environment, he added.

“The club will benefit from having beehives if and when they produce a surplus of honey,” said Kettelhut. “The real benefit will be to those who garden within that area. Plants grow better, fruit more, and are in general more productive when they have been pollinated.”

He added that “the plight of the honeybee has been widely reported as of late and it is of concern. The losses of massive numbers of colonies of bees that are used in commercial pollination can, and does, have an effect on availability and pricing of a large number of things we eat and just plain take for granted.”

Aware of the club’s efforts to raise money to enhance safety on the shooting range, Kettelhut offered to remove the bees – a project that normally costs $500-$600 – at no charge. Without his help, the bees, which likely traveled from another hive within a 2-mile radius of the club, probably wouldn’t have survived through the winter, he said.

According to Kettelhut, several plants for bees to forage grow at the shooting range, and it is the perfect location for the insects to thrive.

“It’s a protective location, it’s a dry location,” Kettelhut said. “In a bee’s mind, there’s nothing better.”

Peter Darling, the gun club treasurer and a Cross Hill resident, agrees.

“We have grassy areas and weedy areas that are nice for bees,” he said, of the shooting range. Plus, “a lot of people (in the area) have gardens, and bees are necessary for gardens.”

Kettelhut, a firearms enthusiast and member of his local gun club, has also offered to help set up the hives next spring if club members approve the operation. He told the Current last week that he has spoken with Walter and club member Mark Mayone about possible locations to install the hives so that they wouldn’t interfere with club activities.

Though he couldn’t describe a specific location, Kettelhut said the hives would be situated 150-200 yards from the shooting range target areas.

“I think it is a great idea,” said Kettelhut. “The forage for (the bees) in that area seems to be fantastic, and they should do well.”

Keith Kettelhut, an expert beekeeper from Durham, shows off pieces of honeycomb he removed from the basement window of the Spurwink Rod & Gun clubhouse on Sawyer Road last month.Spurwink Rod & Gun Club president Tammy Walter assisted beekeeper Keith Kettelhut last month in the removal of nearly 20,000 honeybees from a basement window of the clubhouse.

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