The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

The Virginia State Beekeeper’s Association (VSBA) held its 2017 Fall Meeting on November 4, 2017. This one-day meeting is held each fall at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Virginia. As this is a two hour drive from my house, it makes for a nice day trip. I also received my Apprentice Beekeeper certificate as part of the event.

A day full of beekeeping talks and discussions is always a pleasure. Here is a short summary of the speakers for the event, and of course my esteemed certificate.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes

The first and last speaker, Erin presented No-Graft Queen Rearing and Organizing a Second Year Bee School. Erin is an accountant by day and a beekeeper most other times from Portland, Maine. She runs Overland Honey with her fellow beekeeper Cindy Bee. Erin is an EAS certified Master Beekeeper and active in her state association as well as the Eastern Apiculture Society (EAS).

Her first talk focused on sustainable beekeeping and in particular queen rearing. She talked about the careful timing required to raise queens, and advocates for raising local queens adapted for the local environment. One option she covered was the Miller Method of raising queens. Basically you place a jagged comb or foundation into the brood nest to encourage the queen to lay eggs. Place this comb into a starter hive and the bees will create queen cells from the eggs on the outer edges. I have not heard of this method before, and it looks pretty straightforward and appropriate for someone trying to avoid queen grafting. I may try this in the spring.

Her afternoon talk on organizing a second year bee school was surprisingly interesting, if I may say so. Erin pointed out that most clubs run a first year school and that is it. To really train beekeepers clubs should offer more advanced networking and learning opportunities. A formal second year school is an easy way to begin.

Mike Embrey

Not the best picture; this shows Mike presenting differences between hive beetle larva (top) and wax moth larva (bottom). ©Erik Brown

Mike is retired from the University of Maryland’s department of Entomology, and remains active with his bees and beekeeping. He spoke on the topic of Small Hive Beetle Then and Now. Apparently Mike spoke on this topic some years ago at the Fall meeting, and said that the beetles have not changed very much since then.

The talk was quite informative for me, as I know very little about SHBs. My hives are in full sun, which discourages the beetles from visiting. I have a seen a few beetles in my hives, but so far have not had any problems. They sound pretty terrible. One interesting point is that the beetles do not like ultraviolet light. If you hold an infested frame to the sun, any larva will dry up and die. Of course, you hope the hive never gets to this point.

Dr. James Wilson

The third speaker presented Integrating Pest Management in Virginia Curcurbit Production: An Example for Virginia Beekeepers. Dr. Wilson is the Extension Apiculturist for Virginia Tech. The talk covered his research on insects affecting curcurbit farming, which includes melons, pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers. Apparently there is a natural wasp that uses the eggs of a wide-spread squash pest as a host, and this offers a natural way to manage crops that can reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. He then related this to beekeeping and the use of Integrated Pest Management for managing potential hive pests.

Business Meeting

Me with my Apprentice Beekeeper Certificate ©Erik Brown

The business meeting was minutes, apiarist report, and so forth. The United States is a bit disorganized when it comes to beekeeping. There is no national standard or over-arching professional organization as in some European countries. Each state has slightly different rules and organizations, and some organizations, including some universities, provide some form of Master Beekeeping program. All similar, I presume, just separately run.

The VSBA in Virginia has such a program with three levels: Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. At the 2017 meeting I took the first written test, and did my practical field test in the spring with my neighbor and EAS certified Master Beekeeper Karla Eisen. Congratulations to Karla, in fact, who received the 2017 Virginia L.L. Langstroth Achievement Award at the meeting for her work with beekeepers across the state.

So I am officially a VSBA certified Apprentice Beekeeper. As part of this post, I have assembled my study notes for the Apprentice test and added them to this site. It has the rather uninspiring page name of VSBA Apprentice Study Guide. If I eventually reach the other levels I will have to update this with a more interesting front page. Feel free to use or share the guide as you wish. If you have any additions or corrections please let me know in the comments

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Fantasia Poster

Original film poster

There is a choice of references here, from books to films to games. I had in mind the segment from the 1940 Disney film Fantasia, which includes a segment where Mickey Mouse is an apprentice to a great sorcerer. It is definitely worth watching if you have never seen it. Here is a short clip to get you started.The segment in the original film was so popular that when Disney did a Fantasia sequel in 1999, they retained the segment. There is also a 2010 film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice named after though not really based on the segment. The 2010 film is a little slow, although with a good story. I enjoyed it.

The VSBA 2017 Fall Meeting was certainly not about myself and others receiving a simple certificate. Still, this blog is all about me so I consider it a fine title. It also, of course, nice to be recognized as knowing something about beekeeping, even as a bee-ginner.

May you prosper and find honey.

8 thoughts on “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

  1. Congratulations on formally becoming an apprentice beekeeper! It’s true about second year beekeeping training being needed, there is so much for beginners but not much for people who know a little and want to go further.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Emily. I’ve always been a little envious of the close-nit group you have in Ealing, UK with a shared apiary and regular gatherings. Most clubs, including ours, do not have this type of organization or apiary so other than the initial class and semi-regular lecture-style meetings we are on our own.

      On the plus side we often have more land, so many beekeepers (including me) can have our hives on our own properly just a short walk away. So I guess there are always trade offs.


  2. Congratulations Erik! I know you will go far! I too find the idea of a Second Year course interesting. I often hear from long time members of our local organization that they stopped attending meetings because of the repetition of beginning topics. Wishing you all the best and good bee books under the tree this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I agree on the second year program, it is definitely something I hope my club looks at as well. Erin also started a queen rearing exchange in her area, which sounds intriguing as well. Basically a small group with mentor/mentee pairings that teach queen rearing and propagates local stock all in one.


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