The Buzz on the Beekeeping Class

Over the course of the next few weeks, students of the Organic Farming Certificate Program will study all things bees with Michael Schmaeling, Resident Beekeeper at Rodale Institute. Students will learn about many aspects of beekeeping, from basic to advanced topics needed to become hive stewards.

“We are going to do everything from building equipment, to putting bees inside the equipment we built, and then take the bees to where the bee yard is set up,” Schmaeling said.

This class provides students with the opportunity to observe and experience different tasks a beekeeper does on a daily basis. Students have begun learning how to propagate bees, how the queen rearing system works and have hands-on experiential learning.

Schmaeling is showing students all of the activities that occur within a beehive. While observing the bee yards on-site, students learn about why bees bring honey and pollen into the hive, the purpose of swarming and how bees can propagate by themselves. Students are also learning about the different roles and tasks that are at play between the queen, worker bees and drones.

Currently, students are creating mating nucs by modifying bee boxes. Mating nucs are made of one bee box with four dividers in it. This modification technique allows for a single bee box to contain four colonies instead of one. Students are learning how to make the bee boxes themselves as well as the bottom boards, lids and frames. They will also be able to identify when it is necessary to add another bee box to their hive.

While viewing a colony, Schmaeling pulled the frame from the bee box and asked students to locate the queen bee. The best way to find the queen bee is by her size, however, this is still a challenging task.

“It takes time to train your eyes and your brain to know what to look for to identify the queen bee,” said Schmaeling.

One of the students was able to find the queen bee just moments after Schmaeling asked the question, which was impressive since this was their first time looking for a queen.

Schmaeling wants students to understand that beekeeping is not rocket science; majority of it is a lot of common sense.

“If you’re going to keep bees, you have to be smart about where you keep them. As a beekeeper, I try to get the students to look at things differently and create a closer relationship with nature and their bees,” said Schmaeling.

He encourages students pay attention to the climate conditions and make sure there is plant diversity wherever they decide to raise their bees.

Students are learning the value of preservation versus production and how to facilitate a non-toxic, healthy hive management.

Jordan, a student participating in the apiary class, has his notebook out and is taking down as much information as he possibly can. Since starting the class, he has learned quite a bit, for example; the beekeeper can repropagate a queen in 10 days and any egg can become a queen as long as it gets royal jelly. This information, along with the rest, is important for Jordan to retain, so when he purchases’ his farm in South Carolina he can set up his apiary as well.

The facts are important, but it is the overall relationship that forms between the bees and keeper, which truly fascinates Jordan. “I enjoy the harmony in the relationship, we provide them with food and shelter, they in turn provide us with honey, pollinate our crops, which we sell and eat, then purchase more food for the bees and the cycle continues.”

Schmaeling is also showing students a way they can create a profitable business off of beekeeping. There are various marketable products that can be produced from beekeeping such as honey, wax, pollen and royal jelly. In the United States, the honeybees’ economic contribution is valued at nearly $15 billion.

“The new generation of beekeepers are going to be the pioneers of where the honeybee community is going to be at 10 years from now,” said Schmaeling.

This is a guest post by Communications Intern Amanda Bialek.

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