To bee or not to bee?

To bee or not to bee?

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RIBA Bee School teaches beginners the basics of beekeeping

Wannabe beekeepers or those simply interested in learning all the buzz about pollinators are encouraged to sign up for a course this winter with the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association.

“We teach all about the honeybee,” Betty Mencucci, instructor and director of RIBA’s Bee School, told The Valley Breeze. “There’s a lot of interest,” she added about the five-week courses starting at the end of the month at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. Students will learn about the life cycle of honeybees, as well as how to get started, choosing an apiary site, buying bees and equipment, the assembly of the hive, installing package bees, catching swarms, nectar sources, bee diseases and pests, hive inspections and wintering. There will also be demonstrations of beekeeping equipment. The course is designed for beginners who have very limited or no knowledge about honeybees, Mencucci said. Once someone completes the course they can start keeping bees on their own. If anyone has any interest, she said, taking the course is important because beekeeping can be difficult and confusing.

Mencucci, who began teaching in the early 1990s, said she’s seen interest in the courses gradually increase and shift from being more of an “old man’s hobby” to an activity shared by a diverse demographic of people.

The recent discourse about the plight of honeybees has especially helped to raise awareness about bees and their value to agriculture and society in general, she said.

As the number of deaths of bee colonies continues to grow, increased use of pesticides and viruses carried by mites are two major reasons for the crisis over the past decade.

In the course, “we do quite a bit on diseases,” Mencucci said. “It’s harder to keep bees now than it ever has been” thanks to the introduction of mites and associated viruses. “There’s a lot to learn there. That’s where people have the most failures.”

“A lot of people are more interested in nature and heard about the plight of the bee and want to help,” she added as one of the reasons people take the course.

Other people sign up because they’re interested in learning something new, making their own honey, or hope to get better pollination for their orchards and gardens if they have their own bees, she said.

Starting at the end of January and beginning of February, the four courses will be offered at RIC and URI. Each course is five weeks long. Course dates and times are as follows:

• Thursdays, Jan. 30, Feb. 6, 13, 20, and 27, with a snow day on March 5, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at URI in Kingston.

• Fridays, Jan. 31, Feb. 7, 14, 21, and 28, with a snow day of March 6, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at RIC in Providence.

• Saturdays, Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29, with a snow day of March 7, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at RIC.

• Saturdays, Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29, with a snow day of March 7, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at URI.

Those enrolled in the course also receive membership to RIBA, which is an additional source of help and advice. RIBA hosts special meetings an hour before its regular monthly meetings that offer an informal opportunity for beginners to ask questions.

Becoming a beekeeper is not without a cost, Mencucci said, noting that someone can easily spend $500 between purchasing the bees and equipment. When first obtaining bees, people can purchase one or two 3-pound packages that can build up to 50,000 bees in the course of a summer, she said.

As for the responsibilities, people need to go out once a week and inspect the hive. Checking every day will upset the bees but “you can’t just get a hive and think you won’t look at it,” she said.

The busiest seasons, with more tasks to complete, are the spring and fall. In the winter the bees stay inside as long as the temperature is under 50 degrees and come back out when it’s warm in the spring, according to Mencucci.

Her favorite part about beekeeping is observing the activity in the hive, she said. “There’s always something a little bit new (that you) didn’t see before.”

Advance registration is required. The cost of the course is $75 per person, which includes all course materials, a textbook and membership dues in the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association through Dec. 31. Register by Friday, Jan. 24, to avoid a $10 late fee. The URI courses are smaller and fill up more quickly.

Mencucci said she encourages families to take the class as a fun activity to do together. As space becomes available, additional family members at the same address may attend and share course materials for $10 each.

To register, visit http://ribeekeeper.org/bee-school . Print the registration form, fill it out and send with check or money order to: Bee School, RI Beekeepers Association, PO Box 685, Glendale, RI 02826.

Contact Mencucci at bmencucci@verizon.net or 401-568-8449.

Betty Mencucci, director of the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association’s Bee School, pictured here inspecting a hive, will be teaching courses for beginner beekeepers, starting later this month.