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Vermont Beekeepers Association
Beekeeper Training Program

Beekeeping has a steep learning curve. The knowledge needed is extensive. Beekeepers dating back to ancient times have transferred their beekeeping knowledge to new generations of beekeepers, helping them to be successful at managing honey bees. The Vermont Beekeepers Association (VBA) Mentor Program follows in this long tradition.

Responsible beekeeping is much more than plunking a hive in the backyard and getting some honey. Tending honey bee colonies comes with ethical husbandry responsibilities similar to those required to care for livestock or pets. The beekeeper must take the time and initiative to learn how to care for their colonies and must allow for the time necessary to manage them responsibly.

The VBA Beekeeper Training Program is structured in three parts, as detailed below.

Part A – Beekeeper Training Program

Consists of three phases. It is strongly recommended that beekeepers complete all three phases.

Phase 1: Prospective or new beekeeper – before getting bees Prospective or new beekeeper – before getting bees

  • How to acquire Phase 1 beekeeping knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs)

  • Phase 1 beekeeping KSAs

Phase 2: New beekeeper – after getting bees

  • How to acquire Phase 2 beekeeping KSAs

  • Phase 2 beekeeping KSAs

Phase 3: Intermediate beekeeping

  • How to acquire Phase 3 beekeeping KSAs

  • Phase 3 beekeeping KSAs

Part B – VBA New Beekeeper Mentor Program

How the program works and how to be a good mentor and mentee.

Part C – Vermont Certified Beekeeper Program

How to participate in the Vermont Certified Beekeeper Program (Certification Program).

Part A: Beekeeper Training Program

Phase 1: Prospective beekeeper

Before acquiring bees, prospective beekeepers should acquire technical knowledge through reading, organized educational opportunities (classes and meetings), and hands-on workshops. The purpose of Phase 1 is to help prospective beekeepers decide if beekeeping is right for them.

How to acquire Phase 1 beekeeping KSAs

  • Beginning beekeeping classes like those offered at Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU), beginning beekeeping or natural beekeeping courses, local club educational sessions, etc.

  • Self-education through books, beekeeping periodicals, reputable webpages, and equipment supply catalogs [Links to these items]

  • In-hive workshops: VBA North and South yard workshops, local club workshops

  • VBA new beekeeper Zoom workshops

  • VBA “Ask Me Anything” sessions

  • Beginning classes offered by other organizations (Penn State, etc.) [Add links]

 

Phase 1 beekeeping KSAs

  • Vermont apiary laws

    • Apiary location

    • Apiary registration

    • Health certificate – requirements for selling bees and hive products

    • Disease reporting (American foulbrood, or AFB)

  • Beekeeping ethics

    • Responsible beekeeping is much more than plunking a hive in the backyard and getting some honey. Tending honey bee colonies comes with ethical husbandry responsibilities similar to those required to care for livestock or pets – with some extra challenges.

    • Time commitment

      • Acquire knowledge of necessary colony care. It is critical to understand that if your colonies are unhealthy, they can also infect and afflict neighboring honey bee colonies and native pollinator populations like bumble bees.

      • Be available to care for colonies during critical times like spring, early summer swarm seasons, strong nectar flows, winter prep in the fall, and winter hive checks.

      • Apply regular and systematic Varroa mite monitoring and disease detection and control. It is your responsibility to actively and regularly care for your own colonies and keep them healthy to avoid harming neighboring colonies and surrounding pollinator populations.

      • Take winter prep actions in the fall.

      • Perform winter hive checks.

    • Financial commitment

    • Honesty commitment

      • Recognize that the best way for you to help the bees might be to not be a beekeeper.

  • Importance of honey bees as pollinators for food production

  • Products from hives

  • Brief history of beekeeping (check out The Land of Milk & Honey)

  • Honey bee colony as a superorganism

  • Races/strains of honey bees (brief overview only; more info in Phase 2)

  • Variability and productivity between individuals can be much greater than the variability and productivity between races/strains.

  • Castes of honey bees

  • Where to locate hives

    • Sun vs. shade

    • What direction they face

    • Floodplains

    • Accessibility for vehicles

    • Awareness of local meteorological conditions (elevation, wind exposure, temperature inversions)

    • Natural windbreaks

    • Exposure to theft

    • Being neighborly

      • Water

      • Distance from neighbors

      • Number of colonies at one location

      • State law regarding commercial

  • Equipment

    • It is strongly recommended that the beekeeper acquires a strong foundation in traditional beekeeping techniques (Langstroth) before attempting any novelty hives or specialty hives such as Warre, top bar, or flow hives.

      • Smoker, smoker fuel, lighting the smoker

      • Hive tool

      • Hive parts

        • Langstroth style

        • Hive stand

        • Bottom board – solid or screened

        • Slatted rack

        • Deep, medium, shallow Langstroth boxes

        • Brood box

        • Honey super

        • Frames

        • Foundation options – wax, plastic, wax strips, no foundation

        • Queen excluder

        • Inner cover

        • Telescoping cover

        • Shaker box

    • 8- vs. 10-frame hives

  • Bee space and its importance to manipulating hive parts

Phase 2: New beekeeper

New beekeepers should develop and expand their hands-on knowledge. They acquire bees and may work under the guidance of an assigned mentor. The purpose of Phase 2 is to deepen the new beekeeper’s base of technical knowledge and ensure they acquire practical beekeeping skills.

How to acquire Phase 2 beekeeping KSAs

  • Acquire bees

  • May work under the guidance of a mentor

    • An option available for new beekeepers is the VBA Mentor Program, which can help new VBA beekeepers acquire the skills, extensive knowledge, and confidence needed to responsibly and successfully tend healthy honey bee colonies. The VBA Mentor Program also serves as a systematic path toward becoming a Vermont Certified Beekeeper.

  • Attend VBA Intermediate beekeeping workshops

  • Attend technical seminars and educational opportunities offered by other organizations (Cornell, SABA, NHBA, etc.) [Add links]

  • Expand or update knowledge base through activities such as reading or attending conferences

Phase 2 beekeeping KSAs

  • Getting bees

    • Packages or nucs?

    • Where?

  • Installing packages and nucs

  • Protecting the apiary

    • Predator fence (electric) – how to

    • Hive strapping

  • Honey bee lifecycle

    • Queen, worker, and drone development stages

    • Changing roles of worker bees over time: nurse bees feeding queen, feeding drones, royal jelly production, cell cleaning, fanning to dry nectar and cool hive, nectar and pollen transport and storage within the hive, wax production and comb production or repair, sealing with propolis, undertakers (mortuary actions), guarding and soldiering, water carriers, foraging, and scouting

  • Basic honey bee anatomy and biology

    • Head

      • Compound eyes

      • Antennae

      • Proboscis

      • Mandibles

    • Thorax

      • Wings (2 forewings, 2 hindwings)

      • Corbicula (pollen “baskets”)

    • Abdomen

      • Fat bodies

      • Spiracles

      • Crop (honey stomach)

      • Wax glands

      • Stinger

    • Biology

      • Approximate or typical ratio of eggs to larvae to pupae 1:2:4  

  • Colony health

    • Good hive hygiene

    • Risks to colony survival – parasites, fungal, viral, and bacterial diseases

      • Parasites

        • Varroa destructor

        • Nosema

      • State law requirement for Varroa mite mitigation plan

      • Viral diseases vectored by Varroa mites

        • Deformed wing virus

        • Acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV)

        • Black queen cell virus (BQCV)

        • Chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV)

        • Israel acute paralysis virus of bees (IAPV)

        • Kashmir bee virus (KBV)

      • Open brood diseases

        • European foulbrood

        • Chalkbrood

        • Sac brood

      • Capped brood diseases

      • Pests

        • Wasps and hornets

        • Skunks

        • Bears

        • Small hive beetle

        • Wax moth

      • Pesticides that weaken or kill a colony

        • Neonicotinoids

        • Home – garden and lawn, other chemicals

        • Agricultural – orchard and crop chemicals

        • General environment – aerial spraying

          • Mosquitoes

          • Gypsy moth, Eastern tent caterpillar, etc.

      • Adverse weather and climatological conditions (drought, severe cold, high winds, flooding)

  • Colony inspections

    • How to do a colony inspection – have a plan: Why are you inspecting?

      • How to remove frames

      • How to use a hive tool

      • How to remove frames

      • How to check brood and brood patterns – worker vs. drone brood patterns

      • How to check if a colony is queen right

      • How often to inspect

        • At the beginning, new beekeepers should inspect their hives at least weekly and not less than once every two weeks to

          • Learn to manipulate the hive

          • Observe the changes in the hive

          • Do varroa mite monitoring and treatment

          • Follow the colony inspection checklist below

    • How to use colony inspection checklist (example below). Also available as PDF | MS Word.

 

Colony inspection checklist

Apiary name:

 

Inspection date & time:

 

Colony ID:

 

Weather/temp (general):

 

Purpose/reasons for today’s inspection:

Pre-inspection tip test: relative weight compared to last inspection:

Heavier

 

Lighter

 

About the same

 

Pollen gathering?

 

Add pollen sub?

 

Nectar gathering?

 

Add syrup?

 

Queenright?

Yes

 

Queen cells?

Swarm

 

No

 

Supersedure

 

Action taken

 

Emergency

 

Development times for honey bees

Development (days)

Queen

Worker

Drone

Egg hatches after:

3

3

3

Cells capped after:

8

8

10

Adults emerge after:

16

21

24

Evidence of eggs & larvae?

 

Worker brood in all stages?

 

Space for honey:

Okay

 

Space for brood production:

Okay

 

Add a super

 

Add drawn comb

 

Inspection for diseases

Varroa mite count:

(Alcohol wash preferred)

 

Varroa management action taken:

 

Evidence of open brood diseases:

European foulbrood

 

Evidence of capped brood diseases:

American Foulbrood (AFB)

 

Chalkbrood

 

Parasitic Mite Syndrome (PMS)

 

Sac brood

     

Vermont statute requires that all cases of AFB must be reported to VAAFM. Call the State Pollinator Health Specialist/Apiculturist if you suspect you have AFB.

Evidence of virus symptoms:

K-wing

 

Evidence of external pests (skunks, bears, mice):

 

Deformed wings

 

Hairless or “greasy”

 

Voltage on electric fence:

 

Poor locomotion/ paralysis

 

Brood deformities

     

Uncapped brood

 

 

Fall and winter inspections

Late summer and fall inspections (prepping your colony for winter)

Weather conditions:

Has there been an extended drought that would diminish colony size?

 

Feed pollen sub starting Aug. 1.

 

Mouse guards installed 9/1:

     

Mid-September hive weight:

 

Target hive weight for winter:

 

Action taken if underweight:

 
       
       
       

Winter inspections

       
       
       

 

  • How to get a colony to draw comb

  • Races/strains of honey bees and potential variability (more detail under Phase 3)

  • Hygienic traits

  • Types of queen cells and their meaning

    • Swarm cells

    • Queen supersedure – supersedure queen cells

    • Emergency cells

  • Pollen and nectar sources (examples)

    • Spring – maples, willows, aspen/poplar, dandelion, fruit trees (apple, cherry, peach, pear, etc.)

    • Early summer – serviceberry, edible berries, black locust, basswood (Linden tree), white clover

    • Mid-summer – chicory, vetch, Joe-Pye weed, birdsfoot trefoil, alfalfa

    • Late summer/fall – goldenrod, asters, Japanese knotweed, witch hazel

    • More information at HoneyBeeNet

  • Feeding a colony – why, when, and how

    • Syrup 1:1, 2:1

    • Winter patties

    • Pollen patties/pollen sub

  • Queen loss/ laying workers

  • Inadequate prep for winter

  • Varroa mite mitigation

    • Mite monitoring, effectiveness, and circumstances that can limit their use

      • Monitor mite loads monthly (at least) and after and treatments

        • Preferred: Alcohol wash (91% or 70% isopropyl), dish detergent wash, -20F° winter windshield washer fluid wash

Note: Massachusetts and Maine state bee inspectors have shown that beekeepers who use the alcohol wash or washer fluid for mite monitoring have better success rate of overwintering than those who try sugar rolls – likely due to the more accurate results from the “wash” method.

        • Sugar roll (less accurate)

          • Some new beekeepers try to use the sugar roll in an attempt to avoid losing 300 bees. During periods with active nectar flows, the sugar roll cannot be used. Also, Scientific Beekeeping’s Randy Oliver suspects that bees soaked with sugar do not survive.

        • Sticky boards (an indicator but not accurate for mite counts)

        • Drone uncapping (an indicator but not accurate for mite counts)

    • Mite mitigation summaries

    • Mite mitigation options

      • Conventional (synthetic) acaricides – Amitraz, Apivar

      • Biorational acaricides – formic and oxalic acids, menthol, thymol, hops

      • Mechanical – drone removal, Mite Zapper R, screened bottom boards, powdered sugar, heat/Mighty Mite thermal

      • Cultural – brood breaks, hygienic or resistant genetics, cull comb (reduce amount of drone comb), small cell foundation, reduce homing errors – varied hive coloration, entrance reducers, reduce apiary crowding

      • Methodical development of genetic traits – controlling queen and drone genetics

      • “Treatment-free” mite control – Treatment-free beekeeping requires specialized knowledge, advanced beekeeping skills, a set of specific actions, and a considerable amount of extra work. It should be not be attempted until completing this entire training program and only after acquiring considerable knowledge and experience.

      • “Darwinian” beekeeping – Survival of the fittest/do nothing is not effective at mite control and usually results in colony death. Failing to manage parasitic mites is considered an animal welfare issue. Certified organic does not allow for certification when parasites on livestock (which bees are) are not managed properly.

    • IPM for beekeepers

      • A combination of mite control methods to slow the development of resistance to any single control method and to maintain efficacy.

  • Seasonal management

    • Beekeeping Calendar for the Northeast

    • Winter – check on food resources, supplement if needed

    • Early spring

      • Supplemental food and pollen sub

    • Late spring/early summer

      • Installing nucs and packages

      • Orientation flights vs. swarming

      • Swarming

        • Reasons – crowding, heat, poor queen

        • How to mitigate

      • Adding honey supers

      • Varroa mite control

    • Harvesting the crop

      • Removing bees from honey frames

        • Bee escapes

        • Stinky stuff like Bee Go

        • Bee brush individual frames, etc.

        • Blowers

      • “Safe” honey water content – refractometers

      • Uncapping and extracting

      • Wax

      • Cut comb and comb honey

    • Fall / winter hive preparation

      • Target winter hive weights/fall weighing and feeding for hive weight gain

      • Wrapping and insulating

      • Ventilation/moisture control

      • Protection from wind

      • Mouse guards

      • Entrance reducers

  • Importance of continuing education

    • Expand knowledge and keep knowledge up-to-date by joining the VBA and other state, regional, or local clubs. Attend their meetings, seminars, presentations, workshops, etc.

Phase 3: Intermediate beekeeper training

The purpose of this phase is to learn more advanced beekeeping techniques beyond what might be needed at a beginning level.

How to acquire Phase 3 beekeeping KSAs

  • Receive online instruction

  • Take advanced beekeeping classes

  • Take college courses

  • Complete apprenticeships with skilled beekeepers

  • Prepare and teach beekeeping educational sessions

  • Continue working with the assigned mentor

Phase 3 beekeeping KSAs

  • Basic honey bee genetics – haploidy/diploidy in honey bees

  • Races and strains

    • Basic differences and breeding programs

      • Recognize that we should not be too focused on the race or genetics of bees – we should not "blame" management malpractices on the race of the bees. "Pure" races of bees are not available in North America. The genetics of the individual queen are much more important – specifically the two genes that show hygienic traits.

  • Hive inspections

    • Avoid over-inspection, a.k.a. the bumbling beekeeper

      • However, in the beginning, it is an advantage to do more inspections than fewer inspections, especially for the first couple of years.

      • New beekeepers should go into their hives at least weekly to learn to manipulate the hive and to observe the changes in the hive. A new beekeeper with 2 colonies that only checks bees 3–4 times per season does not have the opportunity to learn as much as someone who checks 20–25 colonies weekly per season. The first scenario includes 6–8 hive inspections, and the latter includes 40–50 inspections.

    • Avoid under-inspection

  • Advanced honey bee anatomy

    • Hamuli (wing “hooks”)

    • Drone anatomy (reproductive organs and processes)

    • Queen reproductive anatomy

    • Tracheal system

  • Spring management

    • Deadout analysis

    • Reversing or not

    • Equalizing

    • Splits

    • Supering

    • Brood area frame management

  • Advanced splits

    • Walkaway

    • Doolittle

    • Reverse splits

    • Making nucs

  • Requeening

  • Queen propagation

  • Drone laying queens

  • Dealing with laying workers – what often works and what often doesn’t

    • Queen cells

    • Shook swarms (shake them out)

    • Combining colonies

  • Honey bee communications

    • Pheromones

      • Nasonov gland – locating

      • Brood – €-beta-ocimene – initiates swarm response, queen supersedure, etc.

      • Queen secretions

      • Stinger – alarm/defense

    • Waggle dance – food location

    • Jostling – gimme your nectar; possible to encourage switch from nectar to pollen collection

    • Beeping – no more nectar please

    • Buzzing runs – predicating a swarm

    • Scout activity – looking for a home for a swarm

  • Mentoring – become a mentor to one or more new beekeepers

Part B: VBA New Beekeeper Mentor Program

VBA mentoring general guidelines

One option available for new beekeepers is the VBA Mentor Program, which can help new VBA beekeepers acquire the skills, extensive knowledge, and confidence needed to responsibly and successfully tend healthy honey bee colonies.

The purpose of the VBA mentoring program is to provide relatively new VBA member beekeepers direct training to facilitate 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. Some of the benefits of the mentoring program are:

  • For the beekeeper/mentee

Successful mentoring can lead to increased beekeeper satisfaction, reduce costs, shorten the learning curve, and result in healthier honey bee populations. 

  • For the mentor

  • Personal satisfaction from helping the next generation of beekeepers

  • Identify and recommend new beekeepers with mentor potential

  • Learn how to use or develop their personal coaching skills,

  • Ingrain skills and knowledge previously learned and,

  • Be exposed to methods or perspectives that are that they may not have otherwise known.

  • For the VBA

  • Develop a group of beekeepers that can successfully manage healthy honey bee colonies.

  • 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 beekeepers who 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 mentoring program will cover the Phase 2 list of KSAs outlined above. The VBA Mentor Program also serves as a systematic path toward becoming a Vermont Certified Beekeeper.

We hope (and expect) that some mentees will eventually continue the tradition of knowledge transfer by serving as mentors to new VBA beekeepers.

The mentor and mentee should follow the guidelines below:

  • VBA Mentor Program Coordinator matches mentors to mentees; they consider the following:

    • Personalities of mentor and mentee

    • Skill sets of each

    • Travel distance

      • Preferably within 30 minutes

      • Mentee travels to mentor’s yards

  • Mentor and mentee agree on

    • The start date and expected end date of the relationship (this does not need a hard end date, but the expectation should be for the mentee to become independent at some point).

      • Helps to manage the training pace.

      • Removes the open-ended nature of the relationship. The formal relationship is definite, but the informal relationship may continue indefinitely.

      • Allows the mentor time to plan for new mentoring opportunities.

      • Two seasons is the optimum amount of time for a mentoring relationship. This allows for enough time for the new beekeeper to move from beginner toward intermediate. It will expose them to a variety of seasonal issues so that in the second year, they may be able to manage more independently from the mentor, but they will still have guidance.

    • The timeframe should be discussed between the mentor and mentee. They should

      • Agree on a list of basic knowledge, skills, and competencies so that at the end of two seasons, the mentee can describe and answer certain questions (can use “The year in the life of a Vermont beekeeper” as a guideline for achieving specific and measurable goals). [Add link]

      • Set date(s) for measuring progress.

      • Meet criteria derived from VBA best practices or Certified Beekeeper expectations.

Suggested criteria to be a VBA mentor

A mentor should be an experienced beekeeper that is willing to serve and is defined as:

  • A Vermont Certified Beekeeper.

Or a mentor could be one or more of the following:

  • Has successfully overwintered a minimum of two hives for two consecutive seasons.

  • Has coached, trained, or taught in a professional setting.

  • Has published in beekeeping related media.

  • Has served on a board or volunteered for other VBA/ bee club activities.

  • Is active in keeping up with new honey bee research.

All mentors should be honest but diplomatic and respectful.

Requirements for mentees

Prospective mentees must be VBA members and must apply online to be part of the VBA Mentor Program.

Prior to requesting a mentor, a prospective mentee must

  • Have honey bees, have honey bees on order, or commit to having honey bees by June of the calendar year.

  • Have taken a basic course in beekeeping (in person or online).

  • Demonstrate remedial understanding some bee-related topics. Examples:

    • Can identify the basic beekeeping tools and how they are used

    • Can describe the basic methods for obtaining bees

    • Can install the colonies or explain how to install them

  • Has read 2–3 of suggested books listed in the “Resources” section below.

Once in the program, the mentee

  • Commits to traveling to mentor’s yards.

    • The VBA expects that at some point, the mentor may need work the mentee’s hive(s), but this is the exception.

    • The mentor’s amount of travel time should be reduced as much as possible, especially since they are likely working with more than one mentee.

    • The mentee must demonstrate their overall commitment to the mentoring program by being willing to travel to their mentor’s yards. Visiting the mentor’s yard also allows the mentee to experience the differences between multiple hives in the same location.

  • Is considerate of mentor’s time.

    • Listens carefully.

    • Understands there multiple techniques or answers may exist.

  • Follows through on recommendations.

  • Tends their own bees. It is not the job of the mentor to manage the mentee’s colonies.

  • Mentees under 18 years of age need the permission of a parent or guardian, who should be present during visits to the mentor’s yard.

The mentor may require the mentee to sign an agreement on the above. Grievances regarding mentoring should be reported to the VBA Mentor Program Coordinator.

Resources

New beekeepers are warned to be cautious about obtaining beekeeping advice or information from sources like Facebook and YouTube. This includes special cautions about location-specific recommendations (northern vs. southern or another continent). Seek local expert advice.

  • Webpage links

    • Legal requirements – VT apiary law info

https://agriculture.vermont.gov/public-health-agricultural-resource-management-division/apiary-program

https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/chapter/06/172

  • Books

Part C: Vermont Certified Beekeeper Program

The VBA encourages beekeepers from all parts of Vermont to participate in the Vermont Certified Beekeeper Program (Certification Program).

Certification Program

The Certification Program is operated by designated Program Managers. Program Managers will be designated by the president of the VBA. Current designated Certification Program Managers are Bill Mares, Ross Conrad, and the State Pollinator Health Specialist. To enhance availability across the state, local or regional Program Administrators may also be designated.

Certification Program Managers

  • Develop curriculum.

  • Develop alternative tests (test banks – a set of alternative tests with different questions).

  • Develop a list of in-hive competencies.

  • Maintain records (successful and other).

  • Ensure that individuals who successfully complete the program are recognized with certificates, patches, or other methods.

  • Designate competent club or regional individuals to serve as Certification Program Administrators.

  • Serve as Certification Program Administrators as time permits.

Certification Program Administrators (competent club or regional individuals)

  • Administer written tests.

  • Administer hands-on hive competency tests.

  • Forward test and competency results to Program Managers.

To become a Vermont Certified Beekeeper, one must

  1. Be a VBA member.

  2. Pass a written test with a score of 80% or better. To enhance the learning process, an after-test review will be conducted.

  3. Complete a hands-on hive inspection during which applicants must show competencies identified by the Program Managers, such as using hive tools, reading the frames, identifying diseases, and making other beekeeping management decisions.

  4. Complete an outreach component including a minimum of two public presentations and provide a short descriptive essay documenting such outreach.

  5. Serve as a mentor for a season.

If all requirements are successfully met, the applicant may be awarded the title of Vermont Certified Beekeeper.