Beekeeping in Vermont

Beekeeping in Vermont

Protecting Bee Hives from Bears and Skunks

bearhivesVBA Recording Secretary and Vermont Certified Beekeeper, Fred Putnam, has written an updated guide to Protecting Bee Hives from Bears and Skunks.

The PDF is available for download here.

Make a Donation to the Vermont Beekeepers Assocation

Help Vermont's Beekeeping Community by making a tax-deductible donation to the Vermont Beekeepers Association.

Your contribution will help fund research and education efforts from the VBA. As a 501(c)3 organization, your donation may be tax-deductible. (Consult your tax advisor for details.) VBA will acknowledge receipt of all donations. (The VBA does not allow any indirect or gift fees to be withdrawn from our donations.)


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VBA Mentor Program

There exists no written word that can replace the sound, feel, and the smell of a healthy hive. 


VBA Training Program 2020


 Depictions of humans collecting honey from wild bees date to 10,000 years ago. (1) These ancient beekeepers transferred their beekeeping knowledge to new beekeepers helping them to be successful in managing bees. Informally, some Vermont beekeepers have kept this practice going with the training of new and eager beekeepers. These “mentors” over the years have been willing to pass down their knowledge and experiences to a succeeding generation. The Vermont Beekeepers Association has also played an integral part in the training of many new beekeepers. The form has been in academic settings and with hands-on volunteer-run in hive workshops. These mentors are invaluable in maintaining productive new beekeepers and in helping them to keep healthy honeybees. The 2018 mentoring program was informal and not necessarily managed or promoted. During the 2018 season, the VBA will introduce a new formal mentoring program with the expectation of setting a foundation for training and learning that will lead towards VBA certification and one that will endure for the decades ahead. 2018 performed generally well with much learned. The 2020 program expects to pare down the number of mentees based on the results of the 2019 mentee survey. Of the 50 registered mentees, 8 mentees responded to the survey.


Results from the current 2018 and 2019 VBA mentor surveys indicated one particular aspect which needs to be addressed. That is, that some mentees seemed to want the mentor to actually manage their bees instead of the mentee taking a proactive immersive approach.  The expectation is for the mentee to have engaged in a modicum of work prior to the initiation of the mentor/mentee relationship.

One key aspect of this plan is requiring the mentee candidate to have completed some basic preliminary requirements prior to establishing contact with a mentor. These requirements are listed in the body of this outline.

Another key aspect of this plan is the utilization of the VBA webpage to explain the program, run mentor and mentee feedback surveys, provide a website forum for VBA mentors to post their thoughts, ideas, and concerns to only other mentors, to manage registrations for mentors and mentees.

The program shall be managed by the mentoring coordinator, who is designated by the VBA Board of Directors.


                The purpose of the 2020 mentoring program is to provide relatively new VBA member beekeepers direct training to minimize the learning curve, effectively manage costs, instill confidence, and raise healthy honey bees. The goal is that successful mentoring will result in improved Vermont beekeepers leading to new mentors and new VBA certified beekeepers. The mentoring program benefits are listed below:

  • To the beekeeper/mentee
    • It is the hope that successful mentoring will lead to increased beekeeper satisfaction, help to reduce costs, shorten the learning curve, and result in healthier honey bee populations.
  • To the mentor
    • To benefit from a successful mentoring relationship by deriving satisfaction from helping to develop the next generation of beekeepers, to identify and recommend new beekeepers with mentor potential, learning how to use or develop their personal coaching skills, and to become exposed to methods or perspectives that are that they may not have otherwise known.
  • To the VBA
    • To have developed a group of beekeepers that can successfully manage healthy honey bee colonies. To have a group of quality individuals that can represent  the VBA as a premier organization recognized for  well-trained beekeepers
  • To beekeeping in general
    • To develop and produce well trained that can: replicate their successes outside the borders of Vermont, communicate coherently on online forums and maintain the health of their own hives to avoid disseminating pests and pathogens to neighboring beekeepers.
  • The criteria to be a VBA mentor and a mentee?
    • Mentor
      • Should be an experienced beekeeper defined as:           
  • VBA Certified beekeeper or
  • has successfully overwintered a minimum of two hives for two consecutive seasons
    • NOTE: Our hope is that the mentors become VBA certified beekeepers but at the initial outset of the project we realize that not all potential mentors will be VBA certified yet will have sufficient practical beekeeping experience.
  • And/or
    • Any history of coaching, training, or teaching in a professional setting
    • Published in beekeeping related media
    • Willingness to serve.
    • Served on a board or volunteered for other VBA/ Club activities
    • Active in keeping up with new honey bee research
  • Mentee
    • Prerequisite activities
      • A VBA member in good standing.
      • Has honeybees, has honey bees on order or commits to having honeybees by June of the calendar year.
      • Has requested a mentor using the VBA mentor request process.
      • May have taken a basic course in beekeeping (in person or online)
      • Can demonstrate remedial understanding some bee-related topics for example:
        • What are the basic tools
        • How are they used
        • Basic methods for obtaining bees
        • Can install them or explain how to install them
      • Has read 2-3 of suggested books
        • The Backyard Beekeeper
        • The Beekeeper’s Handbook
        • Hive Management by Roger Morse
        • Anything by Richard Bonney
        • Anything by Richard Taylor
        • A book of Bees by Sue Hubbell
        • Honey Bee Democracy
      • Commits to travel to mentor’s yards
        • The VBA expects that at some point the mentor will work the mentees hive(s) but this is the exception. This is to reduce the amount of travel time (assuming the mentor is working with more than one mentee). It also measures the overall commitment of the mentee and allowing the mentee to experience the differences between multiple hives in the same location.
      • Mentees under 18 yrs. of age need the permission of a parent or guardian who should be present during visits to the mentor’s yard.
      • How to be a good mentee?
        • Considerate of mentors time
        • Listens carefully
        • Understands there exist multiple techniques
      • Follows through on recommendations

Mentoring Relationship Process:

The process for establishing the mentoring relationship is as follows:

  • Mentors will be listed on the VBA mentor and new beekeepers' web page tab.
  • Mentees will complete a form requesting a mentor and forward it to the mentoring coordinator.
  • The mentoring coordinator will review the request to ensure the minimum requirements have been met and then based on mentor availability and geography the mentor coordinator will contact the appropriate mentor with the mentees' registration information. The mentor can decline the match.
  • Upon mentor approval of the mentee candidate, the mentoring coordinator will contact both the mentor and mentee acknowledging the match.
  • The mentor and mentee can then initiate the mentoring relationship.


The mentor and mentee will work together to discuss a plan and goals for the season:

  • Tools to help plan the approach to the season:
    • Use the year in the life of a Vermont beekeeper as a guideline for achieving specific and measurable goals.
    • Utilize the Best Practices from the VBA website
  • Based on the discussion they create a list of basic goals for the season to follow and to use for planning.
  • Use the suggested reading materials as reference materials.
  • At the end of two seasons, the successful mentee can describe and answer certain beekeeping related questions and may be ready to complete the VBA certified beekeepers program.
  • A review date(s) for progress measurement with the VBA checking in on a periodic basis.

Becoming a Mentor:

Complete the online mentoring registration form. (Available to VBA Members - Login required.)


The mentor program is in the third year of a developing formal mentoring program. This is a functional trial period designed to work out the quirks, understand nuances, and identify areas of improvement. The hope is to develop within 3-5 years a larger group of trained beekeepers having the skill sets and desire to continue the program. This goal will be achieved by developing and implementing a formal mentor training program, developing improved methods of progress reporting to the VBA, and creating a budget for mentoring related expenses.

Beginning Beekeeping

So you are interested in keeping bees!

Education before purchasing bees is as important as good instruction and mentoring after you have your first bees.

The VBA recommends this process as it encompasses decades worth of beekeeping experience and knowledge. 

1. Start by reading about bees and beekeeping.  Some suggested books are:

  • The Backyard Beekeeper
  • The Beekeeper's Handbook
  • Hive Management by Roger Morse
  • Hive Management by Richard Bonney
  • Anything by Richard Taylor
  • A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell
  • First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith Delaplane
  • Honeybee Democracy by Tom Seeley
  • Natural Beekeeping: Modern Approached to Organic Apiculture by Ross Conrad
  • Land of Milk and Honey by Bill Mares and Ross Conrad

2. Subscribe to Bee Culture Magazine or the American Bee Journal.

3. Send for some bee supply catalogs and familiarize yourself with the equipment and supplies that they sell.  Be aware that many of the gadgets sold are not needed for your first year of beekeeping. Some equipment suppliers:

4. Take a beekeeping class and join your local club.

  • Attend workshops at the Intervale and South Yard, and those hosted by local clubs. See the VBA website for a full list of workshop dates and locations.
  • Local beekeeping clubs
  • Participate in VBA Zoom educational sessions

5. Join the VBA and become a "mentee" by signing up with a mentor. Please be sure to read and understand the mentee requirements. If you are interested in becoming a mentor please register here. (Please note: Our Mentor program is available to VBA members. Login required.)

  • Spend a season working with your mentor
  • Attend the summer workshops
  • Attend the VBA summer and Winter meetings and the local club meetings.
  • Those who currently have bees or have bees on order will be given priority for a mentor ahead of those who do not have bees or have bees ordered.
  • The 2019 mentoring program is working to expand the pool of mentors. In some cases, a VBA mentor may not be available due to a shortage of mentors or geographic incompatibility.

6. In fall or early winter, order your first bees.

7. Spend your winter building and prepping your equipment so it is ready for your bees in the spring when your bees are picked up.

8. In the spring (roughly around dandelion bloom) pick up your first bees and install in your prepared equipment.

9. Continue your mentor relationship as you go through your first season with your own bees.

  • Ask the questions you can't figure out and use your mentor as a resource to improve your beekeeping skills.

While there are many paths to becoming a beekeeper, we at the VBA believe this is the "Gold Standard" and will increase the chances of success over taking shortcuts.

Interested beekeepers can continue to improve their skills and progress towards meeting the requirements to take the Certified Beekeeper exam.



Best Management Practices

VBA Best Beekeeping Practices


All hives and locations must be registered with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets.

Maintain membership in a local and/or state beekeeping organization.

Actively participate in honey bee related meetings and beekeeping organizations.

Subscribe to one or more beekeeping journals to keep up to date on what is happening in the beekeeping industry.

Take a beekeeping class, and/or attend club sponsored workshops.

Work towards completing the VBA Certification Program.

Visit and explore the many great beekeeping websites online.

Be wary of social media solutions 

Considerations For Hive Placement And Maintenance

Keep records of all bee related activities.

Maintain hive numbers appropriate for the size of the property taking into consideration the surrounding land uses and potential for negative human or animal interactions.

Keep no more than 2 hives (and one nuc) on a property of ¼ acre or less.

Keep no more than 4 hives (and 2 nucs) on a property of ¼ to ½ acre.

Keep no more than 6 hives (and 3 nucs) on a property of ½ to 1 acre.

Regardless of lot size: if all hives are situated at least 200 feet in any direction from all property lines of the lot on which the apiary is situated, no limit on the number of hives.

Regardless of lot size: as long as all adjoining property that falls within a 200 foot radius of any hive is undeveloped property, no limit on the number of hives.

No hives will be maintained in a residential area in such a manner as will constitute a substantial nuisance to any neighbors, pets or livestock.

No hives should be located within 10 feet of any property line.

All hives within 20 feet of a property line should have a solid fence or vegetative barrier 5 feet or more in height between the hives and the property line.

All hives within 30 feet of a public sidewalk or roadway should have a solid fence or dense vegetative barrier or be elevated so as to direct the fight path of the bees well above traffic and pedestrians.

Do not locate any hives within 50 feet of any tethered, fenced, or kenneled animal.

Build or plant screens so hives are out of sight as much as possible.

Use neutral colors for hives so that they may “blend in” better with their surroundings.

An adequate supply of water should be provided from March 1 to October 31.


Routine And On-going Maintenance

Maintain only gentle colonies and employ good swarm control techniques.

Re-queen any colonies that act aggressively over a period of time.

Ideally, all queens should be marked.

All hives must be in moveable frame hives to facilitate inspection for brood diseases.

Colonies should be inspected by the beekeeper, OR their delegate, periodically to insure they are queen-right, have no unmanaged disease or pest issues and have adequate space for expansion of both the brood nest and for honey storage.


When And How To Inspect Colonies

Do not manipulate or disturb colonies if neighbors or the general public are participating in outside activities or using machinery within 75 feet of the apiary.

Do not open colonies when the weather is not favorable.

Only inspect colonies during the brightest and warmest times of the day, usually late morning to mid-afternoon, when field bees are most likely to be out foraging.

Extended hive manipulations, especially removing honey, should be planned to accommodate neighbors’ activities.

Beekeepers should always use a smoker when working bees and when mowing or trimming around colonies.

Maintain good sanitation practices in the bee yard to avoid any robbing or attracting unwanted wildlife.


Treatments For Diseases And Pests

Be able to identify diseases, mites, and other hive abnormalities.

These would include American Foulbrood Disease, European Foulbrood Disease, Chalkbrood Disease, Sac Brood Disease, Varroa Mites, Bee Parasitic Mite Syndrome; Drone Layers, Laying Workers and Queenless Colonies.

Incorporate Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for mite control by using resistant stock and other mite reducing strategies such as screened bottom boards, drone comb removal, etc.When/if using mite control materials read and follow all label directions.

Avoid using used brood chambers,  brood frames, and tools from other beekeepers as the potential incidence for disease transmission is present.


Honey Extraction And Marketing

Only harvest honey when it is sufficiently “ripe”. Using a refractometer helps to assure this condition.

When harvesting, keep all exposed honey covered to prevent robbing and/or possible contamination from dust, dirt or other foreign material

Extract honey as soon as possible after harvesting.

Keep the honey processing area clean and free from any possible contaminants.

Use only clean equipment and containers when processing and packing honey and other hive products.

Label your honey properly if being sold into the retail market.

Portions of this document are borrowed from the following sources:

"Best Management Practices for Beekeeping", Maine State Beekeepers Association, 8/10/12.

"Best Management Practices for Maintaining. European Honey Bee Colonies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania".

Mobile Mentor Program on VPR

Mobile Mentor Program on VPR

VBA's Bill Mares recently mentioned our new Mobile Mentor program as part of a "Training the Trainer" commentary on Vermont Public Radio. Listen to it here.

NEW - In the VBA Library...

The VBA library has a couple of recent additions:518DMVLdmjL. SL500 AA300

1) The Beekeeper's Handbook  4th Ed. by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile.
"A comprehensive, well-illustrated introduction for beginnners and a valuable reference for the experienced beekeeper. The book outlines options for each operation within beekeeping, listing advantages and disadvantages of each alternative."

biophiliabk2)  Biophilia - The human bond with other species by Edward O. Wilson.
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, "Biophilia is Edward O. Wilson's most personal book, an evocation of his own response to nature and an elequent statement of the conservation ethic. Wilson argues that our natural affinity for life -biophilia- is the very essence of our humanity and binds us to all other living species."
About Edward O. Wilson :

To access the VBA Library please visit the Members Only area of the website.

Vermont Beekeeping Survey Interviews

Vermont Beekeeping Survey Interviews

Sterling College senior Schirin Oeding conducted a survey on Vermont Beekeeping through the VBA website. As part of her data-gathering, she interviewed a number of survey participants to complement the survey entries.

She has provided a summary of those interviews in the MP3 file available here. Schirin will also be presenting her findings at EAS 2012 and in the Members Only area of the VBA site. Good listening!

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