OSU teaches Oregonians to raise honey bees as hives struggle

Master beekeeper
OSU master beekeeper Tim Wydronek helps Debbie Johnson inspect her backyard hive.

Nearly 1,000 people have enrolled in the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program

As honey bees struggle for survival, people are recognizing their role in pollinating key crops. They're increasingly interested in raising them in their backyards, but many don't know where to begin.

To give them a hand, the OSU Extension Service created the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program. Participants from across Oregon--and some from Washington and Idaho--are paired with mentors who help them learn how to harvest honey, treat for pests and diseases, and help their bee colonies survive the winter.

The program has three levels: Apprentice, Journey, and Master Beekeeper. Graduates of the program are required to share their knowledge with other aspiring beekeepers, as well as reaching out to groups such as beekeeping clubs and schools.

As a result of the program, some participants have contracted their hives to farmers for pollinating crops. A couple of others launched Nectar Bee Supply, a much-needed business in Corvallis that offers equipment and consulting. Testimonies from participants include ones like this from Linda Zahl: "I had success this morning. For the first time, I moved one of my hives to a small orchard for pollination. Also, I was able to explain about bee behavior and handling, since they had never had a hive at their farm." 

On an economic level, the value of pollination and honey services provided by honey bee colonies that are maintained by trained Master Beekeeper program participants is estimated to be approximately $7 million in the next five years.

Source: Jen Holt, coordinator of the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program; Ramesh Sagili, OSU honey bee researcher