Finding Sweet Success in Beekeeping Education Projects

By Cramer, Sarah | The Agricultural Education Magazine, January/February 2019 | Go to article overview

Finding Sweet Success in Beekeeping Education Projects


Cramer, Sarah, The Agricultural Education Magazine


Introduction

When I was in graduate school, a colleague of mine showed me an old photograph found deep within the University of Missouri archives, taken shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. The scene showed a group of college students (all men, of course) standing in a laboratory on campus, wearing full wool suits, and examining frames from a beehive; dripping with honey and crawling with honeybees. I was stunned by the image, in part because the students were calmly holding the frames indoors and without gloves or veils, but mostly because, to the best of my knowledge, apiculture, or the practice and study of keeping bees, had not been a formal course offering at Mizzou in decades.

I do not know precisely when the university stopped offering a course on beekeeping, but I do know in the intervening years honeybees have gained unprecedented attention and been the beneficiaries of great public concern. In this article, I share information about a student-led, nonformal educational initiative on Mizzou's campus that has helped fill the formal apicultural education void. I also draw upon my experiences initiating beekeeping education programs with younger students to provide suggestions for formal and non-formal educators of all age groups interested in bringing beekeeping education to their school or program.

Sustain Mizzou Beekeeping

Sustain Mizzou Beekeeping is the brainchild of University of Missouri graduate, Megan Tyminski, who, as a sophomore pitched the idea of bringing beehives to Mizzou to Pete Millier, Director of the Mizzou Botanic Garden and overseer of campus Landscape Services. As an experienced beekeeper, I was recruited shortly after to supervise the project and mentor the new beekeepers. It was serendipitous that the founding of this project coincided with my first year as an agricultural education PhD student.

Before any hives were established, there was a fair amount of university red tape to navigate. Risk management plans had to be drafted, additional university permission granted, funds secured, and a location selected. It was determined that the hives would be placed on the east side of campus, in a courtyard known as the Butterfly Garden, so named because it is landscaped in native, nectar producing plants favored by butterflies and other pollinators. Plans were made for fencing around the hives, and landscapers were briefed on how to tend to the plants in the immediate vicinity without disturbing the bees. The winter before the bees were set to arrive, I taught an introductory beekeeping class for students interested in getting involved with the project, during which we also assembled and painted the hives themselves.

On the day the bees arrived, a group of students and I suited up and prepared to install them into the awaiting hives. It was a remarkably uneventful occasion, given that by the time we were done with both hives we had effectively added 20,000 new head of livestock (individual bees) to our campus! Since the bees were installed in the spring of 2016, we followed a generally consistent rhythm as a group. Roughly every two weeks, depending upon the season and weather, we met for a hive inspection. Initially I led inspections, going through the process of checking each frame, looking for healthy brood, stored honey, signs of disease, and the queen. I would pass frames around for students to get a closer look, and point out notable features in the hive. As new, younger beekeepers increased their knowledge and confidence, and as Megan and I prepared to graduate in the spring of 2018, I delegated more tasks and cultivated new leadership to take over.

The Buzz Spreads through Columbia, MO

After our initial success the first year of the project, Mizzou Botanic Garden asked me to speak about honeybees to the science teachers from Columbia Public Schools, our local district. This was a watershed moment, as the science coordinator for the entire district was in attendance, and he left very excited about bees. …

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