Apprentice beekeeper Bethe Bowman never thought she would care so deeply about the humble honey bee. Taking beekeeping classes through Washington State University Extension, she installed two buzzing backyard hives, each containing roughly 30,000 bees, this spring.
“I got them because they’re important for pollination,” she said. “But my biggest discovery was that I fell in love with bees. I didn’t know an insect could make you feel that way.”
100 new beekeepers each year
WSU Extension supports beekeeping courses in partnership with local beekeepers’ associations, helping people take their first steps as apiarists.
“We’re graduating more than 100 beginners each year,” said Joan Nolan, an extension master gardener and a beekeeper for more than 40 years who organizes the classes with Spokane’s Inland Empire Beekeepers Association (IEBA).
Interest in beekeeping has been growing, said IEBA member Matthew Liere. He takes part in the association’s mentor program for new keepers, including Bowman.
“Once you get into beekeeping, your view gets a lot bigger,” Liere said. “You see all of the relationships that bees are part of. Without bees, our whole landscape could change.”
“Honey bees are in peril,” said Nolan.
Colony collapse disorder has affected large numbers of beehives throughout the United States and around the world, with 25 to 60 percent of hives lost each winter since 2006. There’s no obvious single cause, but entomologists suspect pathogens, parasites and latent pesticides may all play a role.
“Colony collapse disorder has made people aware of the plight of the honey bee and its importance for our food, gardens and flowers,” said Nolan.
WSU researchers are working to help honey bees survive. They bring new discoveries to the attention of beekeepers’ associations and are campaigning for a state-of-the-art research center to advance bee science.
A healthy hive
Before inspecting her hives on a warm June morning, Bowman carefully laid out her equipment, including a burlap-burning smoker that calms the bees, before gently opening the lid and easing out frames filled with comb.
“I’m looking for my queen,” she explained. “I’m looking for brood and eggs, and I’m making sure that nothing’s there that I don’t want.”
Parasites and predators, including tracheal mites and the invasive varroa mite, can wreak havoc on beehives. So far this spring, though, her new hives are healthy.
Bowman, who co-owns a sustainably focused Italian restaurant in the Browne’s Addition neighborhood of Spokane, sees herself as a steward of the earth.
“Bees work so hard for us,” she said. “We have a responsibility to the bee.”
Resources for getting involved
For prospective bee stewards, Bowman’s advice is to get connected.
“Beekeepers’ associations can be found all over the world,” she said. “They are your mentors.”
Extension courses are another great way to begin the beekeepers’ journey: “I’ve been so lucky that WSU finds bees important enough to do this,” Bowman said.
More information about bee research at WSU can be found at http://bees.wsu.edu.
Find out about beekeeping classes through WSU Spokane County Extension at http://ext100.wsu.edu/spokane/2015/07/22/basic-beekeeping/.
Resources and information about bees through WSU Extension can be found at http://extension.wsu.edu/snohomish/garden/gardening-resources/bees-and-beekeeping/.
Learn about the Inland Empire Beekeepers Association at http://inlandempirebeekeepersassociation.com/.
Learn about the Washington State Beekeepers Association at https://wasba.org/.