CAPE ELIZABETH — Melinda Johnson believes in bees.
Johnson, a 31-year-old Portland resident, has rheumatoid arthritis. She was diagnosed with the painful joint disorder at age 20, and now keeps bees for the holistic health benefits of their venom.
“The bee sting mimics a reaction the body has to a cortisone injection,” Johnson said. “The stings are good for people with multiple sclerosis, arthritis and even nerve damage.”
She also said after the initial pain of the sting itself, the bee sting can help manage joint pain and inflammation.
“In the few months I have had the bees, I’ve been stung 10 times and feel a relief from the soreness in my joints,” she said.
Johnson works in a restaurant and said the time she spends on her feet can be difficult and occasionally painful. The bee venom helps, she said.
In addition to their healing qualities, Johnson noted, bees are necessary for the food chain.
Her hives are on land in that was once Fox Hill Farm. Owner Adam Salve responded to an add Johnson placed on craigslist.org for a place to house her hives.
Salve said he planted 150 blueberry bushes this year, and plans for another 1,000 next year. He needed the bees to pollinate the bushes, and was thankful someone had offered the hives.
“This is a good relationship,” he said.
Johnson said it a perfect arrangement, since she and Salve can trade blueberries for honey.
For about $1,000, she ordered the bees, bought the materials to construct three hives and gathered materials such as a mask, a smoker and books. She attended a beekeeping class for six weeks to start her education, and said she continues to learn about beekeeping as she goes. She said local beekeepers have been incredibly supportive, and nearly every county in Maine has a local organization.
Tony Jadczak, Maine state apiarist and bee inspector with the Department of Agriculture, said there are about 700 registered beekeepers in Maine, and probably more people who are beekeeping hobbyists.
“Beekeeping was popular in the ’60s and ’70s but it diminished because of a parasitic mite problem in the mid-1980s,” he said. “Now, the population is rebounding to where it used to be before the virus.”
For Johnson, there is nothing negative about beekeeping. She doesn’t mind the stings, and in fact, welcomes the relief it brings from arthritis pain. She respects the honeybee for pollination and importance within the environmental and farming community. She admires their colony lifestyle, their efficiency and the roles they play to survive as a community.
And honey tastes good, too.
“I want to have as many hives as I can. I’d love to sell honey, help with pollination and work to learn more about the benefits of bee sting therapy,” she said. “Bees are so important for many reasons. They make me happy.”
For more information on beekeeping or to join the organization, visit the Maine State Beekeepers Association at mainebeekeepers.org.
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Beekeeper Melinda Johnson takes out and inspects a wooden frame from inside one of her beehives in Cape Elizabeth. Within the walls of the hive honey is produced from gathered nectar and stored for food in the winter months.
Beekeeper Melinda Johnson holds a slat with many bees performing different functions within the hive.
Melinda Johnson, a Portland resident and Cape Elizabeth beekeeper, forces smoke into the hive to calm the bees before she manipulates the beehive.