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Bee-ginner beekeeper class attracts all ages
When the West Sound Beekeepers Association decided to start a beekeeping class in 1999, members had no idea how popular the class would become.
This year’s class, titled, “Bee-ginner Beekeeper” drew more than 80 participants during the first session of the five-week course on Monday, much to the surprise of members.
“The classes used to be small,” said Paul Lundy, a West Sound Beekeepers Association member and course volunteer teacher. “I remember there used to be no more than 10 to 20 people in them. We thought that was great.”
But times have changed. And once the buzz got out about the class, there was no stopping the bee workers from flying in to pick up the skills.
At the end of each class, future beekeepers take an open-book test. After passing the last exam, attendees will earn their apprentice beekeeper certificate and a patch. The certificate allows them to practice beekeeping in the state of Washington.
Erik Peffer of Bainbridge Island brought his whole family to the course. Peffer said there’s a “bunch of beekeepers out there” on the island, and it was after meeting some beekeepers at farmer’s markets that he decided to give it a try himself.
“I knew that it would be taught by people who are very, very excited to talk about beekeeping,” he said.
Peffer brought his two children and wife to the course as a family educational experience. He and his wife recently purchased chicks and the family also collects clams from a nearby beach.
“We’re all into this self-sustaining in our household,” he said.
After glancing through the book, Peffer said he was impressed by the amount of material he’ll be required to learn to become a beekeeper. Topics such as bee and hive life cycles, hive types, tools and clothing, swarm management and other concepts will be covered.
For $50, an entire family can attend the course. The cost covers one book and a one-year family membership in the West Sound Beekeepers Association. Additional books may be purchased for $15 a piece.
Participants may join in at any time during the five-week class, but it is most beneficial to be involved from the start, said Kim Redmond, newsletter editor and member of West Sound Beekeepers Association.
Redmond won the 2013 “Beekeeper of the Year” award for the skill she picked up years ago unintentionally. She is also one of four journeyman certified in the association, she said, which requires her to educate through public service hours.
She took the Bee-ginner course in 2007 after she killed two hives that a friend had given her. Now, she’s got nine thriving hives, and a honey farm business in Jefferson County. She attributes much of her success to the beginner’s course she took through West Sound Beekeepers Association.
“The whole goal is to help people succeed at beekeeping,” she said. “I took the class and just started building on that.”
Redmond also recommends the other classes offered through the association for the participants who plan to really get into beekeeping.
When the bees arrive in late April from California, local beekeepers start buzzing with excitement about getting their bee hives started.
To keep the excitement going, there are hands-on courses to get the beekeepers prepared. The association is also offering a 1-day “Beekeeping in the Pacific Northwest” course and a 2-day “Queen Rearing” course.
Because of how much the public’s interest has grown, the class was moved from the Stedman’s Bee Supplies location to the Silverdale Community Center this year. The cost of the class is mainly to help with the rental room cost.
Instead of participants sitting on the floor or standing in a separate room, the center allows for everyone to sit together, Redmond said.
Redmond noted that almost everyone stays throughout the entire course, and some students even come back for more training before making the investment in bees.
“Every year it amazes me there are that many people,” she said of attendance.
While some attendees look forward to keeping bees for their honey, others plan to enjoy quality family time in a unique setting.
Joe Bartle brought his daughter Claire, 7, to the class for some father-daughter bonding time. He plans to bring her to all five sessions for an early introduction to beekeeping. Looking around, it was quite obvious Bartle wasn’t the only one who had the same idea.
“It’s just something for dad and daughter to do,” he said. “It’s good for her to know for later if she ever decides to do it too.”
One of his coworkers owns three hives, and his mother-in-law once kept 10 hives at one time, which exposed him to beekeeping long before the class. With two-and-a-half acres in Olalla, he said he knows that his plants aren’t being as productive for the environment as he’d like.
“A lot of our flowers and plants aren’t blooming as well as they could,” said Bartle. “It’s just to learn how to keep the bees and better use them, I guess.”
First-year beekeepers can expect to spend around $800 between buying the bees and supplies. For more support once the class is over, beekeepers are invited to meetings on the third Tuesday of every month at Stedman’s Bee Supplies.
For those who are interested in volunteering as apiary assistants, contact the West Sound Beekeepers Association for more information. Teenagers, ages 13 through 18, are invited to apply for a study grant to become a certified beekeeper. Applications are currently being accepted for the $200 grant that would help with the cost of becoming certified. More information can be found at www.westsoundbees.org.