We have never asked bees to do more work than we are asking them to do now for society, according to Joe Taylor, an undergraduate researcher in the Oregon State University Honey Bee Lab.
This is why bees are a crucial part of our world.
Taylor, a senior in natural resources in the Department of Forestry, has a passion for bees. This passion has inspired Taylor’s research on the nutrition of bees.
After World War II, it was estimated that there were approximately 1 million honeybee hives in the U.S. Currently, Taylor said we only have around 300,000 hives.
“The amount of agriculture that we’re asking bees to do, it’s (two)-fold,” Taylor said. “The more people that know about bees, the better it will be for society as a whole.”
Since the introduction of the OSU master beekeeper program three years ago, approximately 460 students have enrolled. People come from around the state to participate in this program.
The program is a collaborative effort between the Oregon State Beekeepers Association, the honeybee lab and a new innovative corporate sponsorship through Bambu. Bambu is a renewable materials company, based in Portland and Shanghai, which manufactures organic home, kitchen and garden products.
Catering to all levels of bee enthusiasts, most students entering the program do not have prior experience.
In a three-tier beekeeper program, the OSU honey bee lab provides classes and hands-on training.
At the end of the beginning course, students take an exam to test their newly acquired knowledge of bees.
The program contains a traditional classroom component, in which students learn skills from researchers and seasoned professionals.
Program coordinator Carolyn Breece, a faculty research assistant in the department of horticulture, works in the honeybee lab under the supervision of Ramesh Sagili.
The program also offers a field component, which according to Breece, sets it apart from others that are offered nationwide.
“We really believe hands-on training is key in learning beekeeping,” Breece said.
Program graduates, researchers and seasoned beekeepers volunteer to mentor new students. This year, approximately 60 volunteers plan to participate as mentors.
With a mentor, students go out into the field and work with bees.
The first-tier apprentice level lasts for a minimum duration of one year. Upon completion, students receive a certificate accompanied with a special logoed OSU master beekeeper patch to place on their beekeeper’s suit.
Following the apprentice level is the journey level. By either teaching a class, leading a workshop or writing a newspaper article, students must go into the community to teach about bees.
The apprentice level of the beekeeper program costs $150. The journey level costs $100. Once these two tiers are completed, students are masters and can volunteer to work with beginners.
“You don’t have to have a hive to enroll,” Breece said.
Breece said people enroll in the program for a variety of reasons. Some are interested in learning more about the bees in their backyard or want to know more about how pollination works.
Some participants obtain their own hives. It can be a hobby or something program graduates take to the next level. For example, there exists an emerging market for beekeepers to rent their hives to farmers to help support the pollination of crops.
“It’s been really neat to see what students have done following the program,” Breece said. “They’re creating communities of their own. ... I think it’s really exciting to bring people together this way — through bees.”
Bambu co-owners Jeff Delkin and Rachel Speth searched globally for an opportunity to promote good causes — just like that of the honeybee lab and the beekeeper program.
“We’ve been looking for the right give-back,” Speth said. “With our products having a strong connection to food — bees made a whole lot of sense in a lot of ways.”
Delkin and Speth reached out to OSU because of the educational research being conducted on bees.
“Companies and education working together on something as important as honeybees — there’s a really nice rhythm there,” Delkin said.
For Bambu, supporting the beekeeper program allows the company to not only actively engage with the community on a local level, but to draw attention to the global issue of bees.
“First and foremost there is a huge importance in building awareness and educating people as to why bees are so important to our ecosystems,” Speth said. “We’ve seen images of what a supermarket would look like if there were no bees — it definitely hit home for us.”
Bambu will launch its new collection, “Bambu garden,” focused on tools to be used around the garden, adorned with bee motifs.
Dacotah-Victoria Splichalova is a science reporter for the Daily Barometer at Oregon State University.