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Classes train beekeepers, help bees and crops

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As Varroa mites continue to decimate wild honey bee populations nationwide, WSU Extension offers apprentice beekeeping classes throughout the state to help support local populations and spark new interest in the industry.

Extension has teamed up with local beekeepers associations in Lewis, Snohomish and Walla Walla counties to sponsor apprentice-level courses as part of the Washington State Beekeepers Association‘s Master Beekeeper Program. Participants who complete the course and pass the Washington State Beekeeper exam receive apprentice certificates, which qualify them to work toward journey and master beekeeper levels.
Variety of topics, courses

Apprentice beekeeper courses are offered
continuously in various counties.
Upcoming opportunities include
WSU Snohomish County Extension’s five-week
courses held 6:30-9:30 p.m. Mondays.
First session: Jan 24-Feb. 28, 2011
Second session: March 7-April 4, 2011
Cost is $65 and registration is open.
For more information, click here or contact
Karie Christensen at (425)357-6039 or

The multisession course, taught by local professional and hobbyist beekeepers, serves as an introduction to the benefits of beekeeping and focuses on the unique challenges and benefits in the Pacific Northwest. The three-hour sessions cover topics such as bee biology, equipment, pest management and honey harvesting.
Some of the counties offer higher-level beekeeping courses as well.
Sheila Gray, director of WSU Lewis County Extension, said Lewis County’s first apprentice beekeeping series was offered in fall 2009 and drew a large interest from people curious about the process.
“People are asking ‘What can I do to help the bee population in my community?’” Gray said. “And they can help by keeping bees, because (the bee) population is vital for plant pollination.”

“Bee” a part of the solution

Steve Sheppard, Thurber professor and chair of the Department of Entomology, said while professional beekeeping performs valuable services – from pollinating almond, apple, raspberry and other fruit crops on the west coast to producing the majority of the nation’s honey – hobbyists play a key role in preserving genetic diversity for local queen breeding and supplementing services offered by the declining number of commercial beekeepers.
He said because colony collapse disorder and the plight of the nation’s honey bees have been so prevalent in the news, more Washingtonians are taking beekeeping classes than ever before.
“I may have a biased opinion, but I think more local beekeepers are what we need,” Sheppard said. “The upsurge in interest is an important aspect for the honey bee industry. There really aren’t that many commercial beekeepers compared to the thousands of hobbyists, so local beekeepers are responsible for a lot of the political sway and general education in the area.”
Humming hives and holiday honey

Photo courtesy 

of Marie Panesko

Marie Panesko, a Master Gardener and WSU alumna, and her husband completed Lewis County’s apprentice beekeeping course and joined the county beekeepers association in spring 2009. They have since built three hives in their backyard.
“The classes were great because not only did I learn the bee basics, but professional beekeepers and professors were there to mentor us and answer all of our questions,” she said. “Everyone from the class we took has at least one hive – that seems like a pretty good rating system for success, to me.”
Panesko said she loves her bees and enjoys sharing her passion for beekeeping with the people she met in her classes, adding a social perk to her hobby. Thanks to her “overachieving” bees, her once struggling zucchini garden is thriving and she can afford to give honey for the holidays, she said.
Look for an upcoming article in WSU Today about recent WSU research efforts to combat the Varroa mite and protect honey bee health.

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