Honeybees are small, mighty, and necessary for our food supply. This much you probably know. But there’s a lot more to learn about these powerful pollinators, and the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association is offering two courses this winter to those interested in diving deeper into the world of beekeeping.
Organizers say the class is designed for those with little or no knowledge of beekeeping, and students will be ready to try out their first beehives this spring after completing the course. Due to COVID-19, this round of classes will be held online using Zoom.
Course topics will include getting started, the honeybee life cycle, choosing an apiary site, buying bees and equipment, assembly of the hive, installing package bees, catching swarms, nectar sources, bee diseases and pests, hive inspections and wintering. The necessary equipment will also be displayed and demonstrated.
Betty Mencucci, instructor and director of RIBA’s Bee School, keeps about 20 hives of bees (Betty’s Bee Farm), and will be teaching the Wednesday/Thursday courses.
Mencucci said she got started as a beekeeper unexpectedly.
“My father, Frank Hopkins, was a beekeeper. He kept some of his hives on my property. I had absolutely no interest in bees, honey or beekeeping,” she said. “I would always go out and talk with him when he came to work with the bees but I was not interested in the bees. It was his hobby, not mine.”
Mencucci said when her father died suddenly on Thanksgiving Day in 1987, the family was left with the decision of what to do with 10 hives of bees. When it became clear that her siblings and her mother did not have the interest or the time to devote to the hives, she decided to try her hand at beekeeping.
“I inherited 10 hives of bees and all the contents of his honey house so there was no expense to try. That winter I read all of his books and went to bee school – the bee school that I now teach.” Mencucci said.
“I fell in love with the bees and it has become a big part of my life. My mother gave me moral support and we went to all the bee meetings together. I also joined an organization called EAS (Eastern Apicultural Society) and attended their week-long yearly conference every year for over 30 years,” she said. “I became knowledgeable about bees very quickly and was given the job of bee instructor for the RI Beekeepers Association probably around 1992. I have been teaching the class every year. I am also a past president of the RI Beekeepers Association.”
Honeybees are often reported on as being in jeopardy for a variety of reasons. The RIBA classes are geared toward equipping new beekeepers with the knowledge they need to be successful and helpful in the honeybee plight.
“It is important for people to take a class before they venture into beekeeping on their own, Mencucci said. “There is a lot to learn; a lot more than most people realize.”
“I want students to be successful. Besides mites, there are also other bee health problems such as viruses,” she said. “Gone are the days when you can put a hive of bees in your backyard and not understand what’s going on in the hive and take off the honey at the end of the season. You have to be an involved beekeeper armed with knowledge.”
Mencucci said the varroa mite is a major problem for the honeybee population.
“Bees have to be monitored for varroa mites on a continuous basis throughout the summer and fall,” she said. “It is difficult to keep bees alive through the winter without taking the class and applying the knowledge you learn as to how to deal with the mites.”
For those curious about what kind of investment they’ll need to make to start out as a beekeeper, Mencucci said to be prepared to spend about $600 to $700.
“To start beekeeping, you need to buy bees. These are purchased only in the spring in April or May in what is called a package. You get a container with 3 pounds of bees and a queen and you shake them into your beehive,” she said. “A package in 2022 costs about $150-$195. The beehive is the wooden hive that the bees will live in. That probably costs about $200. Then you need to buy a few tools as well as protective equipment to wear while you are examining your hives.”
But there are many rewards for the cost and the work that is put in, Mencucci said.
“There are so many enjoyable aspects: watching the hive fill up with honey, seeing what plants your bees are visiting for pollen – you can see the different colors of pollen on their legs as they return to the hive, watching a swarm of bees leave a hive, catching a swarm of bees, watching a newborn bee emerge, taking off the honey crop, raising a queen, watching what the bees are doing at the hive entrance,” she said. “It keeps you in tune with nature as you pay attention to the weather … what’s in bloom?, where are my bees going?”
If you’re now buzzing with excitement (had to do it), the RIBA will be offering two opportunities for beginner courses, with one course held on Wednesday and Thursday evenings; and one course held on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
The Beginner Beekeeping Course with Betty Mencucci will be held Jan. 26 through Feb. 24, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 7 to 8:15 p.m.
The Beginner Beekeeping Course with Steve Burke will be held Jan. 31 through March 1, on Mondays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and Tuesdays, from 7 to 8 p.m.
The cost for the five-week course is $75 per person. This fee includes membership dues in the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association through Dec. 31. Advanced registration is required.
To register, visit www.ribeekeeper.org and click on the link for bee school. You may register online or by sending a check or money order payable to RIBA and mail to: Bee School, RI Beekeepers Association, , PO Box 1055, Bristol, RI 02809.