2021-2023 Beekeeping Apprenticeship Program
Have you thought about becoming a beekeeper but were afraid to go it alone? The San Francisco Bee-Cause Beekeeping Apprenticeship Program is an exciting and unique opportunity to learn beekeeping in a group setting.
Our Program is of "no charge" to you so long as you fully complete participation in the entire two years of our Program.
Why participate in our 2-year program?
First, we offer an unequaled learning experience in which you fully participate in the management of honey bee colonies throughout all four seasons, over a two-year period including two winter seasons. You probably are aware of the immense challenges facing honey and native bees - habitat loss, pesticides, good nutrition and the varroa mite. As as urban beekeepers in San Francisco, the first three challenges are minimal if at all. We are fortunate to have an abundance of plants, shrubs and trees that bloom 10 months of the year. Our biggest challenge -- the challenge of beekeepers through the U.S. and most of the world -- are understanding and managing varroa mite levels and diseases, and ensuring colony health is maintained during winter months through the Spring increase period. Colony health is the primary goal of our beekeeping.
Second, we use different teaching methods to maximize your learning: monthly book and internet reading assignments; discussion questions to guide your reading; monthly group discussion of the assigned reading and questions; open-book written tests followed by discussion of right and wrong answers (and why they are right or wrong); hands-on learning through regular hive inspections guided by "mentors"; field inspection tests; special trainings and hands-on learning events.
Third, the first year of our Program allows you to learn beekeeping essentials from different mentors, and by inspecting all the different colonies in our apiary. Different mentors have different teaching styles and demeanors from whom you may learn different things or expand your knowledge in different ways. By inspecting different colonies, you will learn the range of what is "normal" so you can recognize what is abnormal, and you gain knowledge and experience with different conditions that develop in one or more of our colonies but not others. During your second year, you rely and expand upon your first-year knowledge and experiences. In your new role as an "apprentice-mentor" you help teach what you know, learn or re-learn what you don't know, and apply your knowledge to colony management. By becoming responsible for managing an assigned colony, from one Spring through the next, you gain the invaluable perspective of the honey bee colony as a "super organism".
Fourth, our organization is not-for-profit and run by all volunteers. You become part of a beekeeping community having the same beekeeping values and goals Beekeeping with others in an interactive learning environment is very rewarding. It also rewarding to know you make a difference by ensuring continuation of a Program that trains new beekeepers based on science and ethical stewardship. Without the contributions of second year participants, we could not continue our Program from year-to-year.
As far as we can tell, there is no other beekeeping apprenticeship program in the U.S. that is remotely like ours. Through our Program, you can develop the knowledge and skills necessary to competently and confidently manage honey bee colonies for bee health from year-to-year. You also gain the knowledge to become a well-rounded “bee ambassador”, and to become a competent mentor for other beekeepers you may come to know in future years.
2021 marks the beginning of our 9th beekeeping apprenticeship program!
What to expect
Our Program requires a two-year commitment. Each two-year program runs from March 1 of one calendar year through March 31 two calendar years later. Applications for the 2021-2023 Program are accepted only during the February 13, 2021 deadline. If you miss the Application deadline, you will need to wait and apply for a future Program.
During Year 1 of the Program, we make a substantial investment in you. We guide you through book/Internet, discussion and hands-on learning. You participate in the full range of beekeeping and related activities as well as special learning events. See below for more detail about Year 1 participation.
During the required Year 2 of the Program, you continue to learn while "giving back" to the Program by serving as an "apprentice-mentor" to our new Year 1 apprentices. You continue to learn by servings in this roles, through monthly reading assignments and discussion meetings, and by being responsible for managing a specific honey bee colony within in our apiary. See below for more detail about Year 2 participation.
Program communications are by email via our groups.io account. Monthly discussion meetings are via Zoom. Therefore, it is required you have Internet access to participate in monthly discussion meetings and to regularly review and promptly reply to Program email.
2021 will mark the beginning of our 9th 2-year beekeeping apprenticeship program. We meet as a group every January to plan for the next calendar year and next Program that will begin March 1. Each year, we improve the Program based on feedback and ideas of Program participants.
Year 1 - activities & requirements
(March 1, 2021 - March 31, 2022)
Initial Meetings (March 2021): A condition of being admitted to the Program is that you must be able to participate in each of the first four meetings:
1. Introductory Meeting. Your first meeting will be Saturday, March 6, 2021 @ 10:30 AM-3:00 PM.
If the weather cooperates, we will meet at our apiary site. Otherwise, we will meet via Zoom. At this meeting, we will discuss Program participation requirements, expectations and scheduling; review the Admission Documents including our COVID-19 Prevention Procedures; and respond to any and all questions and concerns. You will see the book we will be using for baseline reading, and the type of personal protective clothing and beekeeping tools you are required to buy for yourself.
If the weather permits meeting at the apiary, you also will have the opportunity to try on bee suits, touch and hold various types of smokers and hive tools so you know what you want to buy. We also will have a "show & tell" of hive equipment, proper use of beekeeping tools, ergonomics, terminology and our hive inspection procedures.
Following this meeting, you will need to:
Get your book ASAP so you can complete the reading assignment and be prepared to actively participate in your first monthly discussion meeting on March 24.
Acquire the required personal protective clothing and beekeeping tools so you can participate in your first hive inspection on March 28.
2. Basic Beekeeping Skills Training. Your second meeting will be Saturday, March 13, 2021 @ 10:30 AM-3:30 PM. The "rain date" will be at the same time but on Saturday March 20.
This meeting will be at our apiary. We will review site entry and exit procedures, and site security. We also will re-review our site COVID-19 Prevention Procedures. You will learn about proper conduct within the apiary, demeanor around active hives, the four objectives of every inspection, the anatomy of a Langstroth hive, and the unambiguous terminology we use in the Program. You will learn and practice our hive inspection procedures, how to properly separate and lift hive boxes and use a hive tool as a lever and as scraper. You also will learn and practice our "gentle methods" of moving, removing, and returning frames to/from a hive box, and how to properly hold and manipulate a frame in order to "read" it. You will learn and practice lighting and properly using a smoker. Finally, we will sit near the entrance of an active hive, observe bee activity at the entrance and discuss what our observations "suggest" about conditions of the colony living inside.
3. Monthly Discussion Meeting. Your third meeting will be on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 @ 7 - 8:30 PM. This meeting will take place via Zoom. You will have completed the assigned reading and recorded your answers to the discussion questions, and actively participate in the discussion.
4. First Hive Inspection. Your fourth meeting will be on Sunday, March 28, 2021 @ 11:30 AM - 3:30 PM at the apiary. This will be your "introductory" hive inspection of an active honey bee colony under the guidance of a
Year 2 apprentice-mentor or a returning mentor.
April/May 2021 Hive Inspections: You will participate in regular honey bee colony inspections under the guidance of Year 2 apprentice-mentors and "returning" mentors: Inspections are on Sundays @ 11:30 AM through completion of the inspection, no later than 3:30 PM.
Beginning April 4, 2021 you will participate in inspections every Sunday, weather permitting. This frequency will get you jump-started working with bees.
Assuming the weather permits 4 consecutive inspections in April, you will be given and begin your every-other-Sunday inspection schedule starting on Sunday, May 3, 2021.
However, if the weather prevented 4 inspections during April, the weekly inspection schedule will continue into May until you have had 4 inspections under your belt.
May-November 2021 Inspections. At the last of your first 4 hive inspections, all Year 1 participants will be divided into one of two "every-other-Sunday" inspection schedules. You will inspect hives with the Year 2 apprentice-mentors and returning mentors whose every-other-Sunday inspection schedule is the same as yours. As of mid-August, Year 1 participants will switch their schedule to the opposite Sundays. This will enable all Year 1 participants to work with the other group of Year 2 apprentice-mentors and returning mentors who are scheduled for those opposite Sundays.
April-November 2021 Monthly Discussion Meetings: Beginning Wednesday April 7, 2021, you will participate in regular Monthly Discussion Meetings. Discussion meetings take place on the first Wednesday of each month @ 7:00 - 8:30 PM via Zoom. In advance of each discussion meeting, you will be given a reading assignment, including discussion questions, on some aspect of honey bee and pest/disease biology, and/or on colony dynamics and management. Periodically, you also will be emailed a test, along with rules for taking the test. The rules are intended to maximize your learning. Tests are open-book and are not graded. The test, including correct and wrong answers, will be discussed at the upcoming monthly discussion meeting. The tests are intended to help participants confirm their knowledge, and understand gaps in their knowledge so they can improve.
For baseline reading, we are using: Keeping Honey Bees, Sanford & Bonney (Storey Publishing, 2nd Ed 2018)
All Year 1 apprentices and Year 2 apprentice-mentors are required to prepare for, attend and actively participate in, each monthly discussion meeting.
We are all volunteers and put a lot of time and effort into setting reading assignments, and preparing useful discussion questions and tests. By providing them to you in advance, we expect you will come prepared and will actively participate in each discussion meeting. We cannot emphasize enough how important diligent preparation for, and active participation in, these monthly meetings are for you to develop into a knowledgeable and competent beekeeper. Over the years of conducting this Program, the participants who take these requirements seriously and fulfill them become the most knowledgeable and our best YR2 apprentice-mentors, returning mentors, and beekeepers.
2021 Periodic & Seasonal:
Participate in apiary improvement and maintenance activities and, before inspections, water our pollinator-friendly bushes and plants on the berms bordering our apiary.
Clean hive frames.
Help load and unload hive components at the apiary, and honey frames at our offsite honey extracting location.
Help extract honey produced by our colonies. Honey extractions are done on Saturdays and/or weekday evenings, dates TBD as we have 18 frames of honey to extract. Every Year 1 apprentice is required to extract honey produced by our colonies during their Year 1 at least two and, as required, more times.
in Year 1 and again in Year 2, personally sell on behalf of the Program 24 half-pound jars of honey produced by our colonies.
Participate in special required learning activities that typically take place on Saturdays. Depending on Program needs, these may include cleaning frames, cleaning our beeswax for future use, wiring frames and installing pre-made foundation, and making wax foundation from our own wax.
If and when we have them, help staff:
public honey sales (typically take place on a Saturday or non-inspection Sunday, and
educational events (typically take place on Saturdays)
Participate in special optional learning activities per your interest. Depending on group interest, these may be making personal care items (lip balms, lotions and salves), wax items (tea lights, votives, candles and furniture polish), wax food wraps and mead.
Participate in our January 9, 2022 Program planning meeting.
In October 2021 and February-March 2022 (dates TBD), participate in special training sessions via Zoom designed to help prepare you to become a Year 2 apprentice-mentor. These "mentor" training sessions include proper and required use of our hive inspection record-keeping tools, as well as hive inspection teaching points, and role playing.
Year 2 - activities & requirements
(April 1, 2022 - March 31, 2023)
Monthly Discussion Meetings: You will prepare and actively participate in the monthly discussion meetings as you did in your Year 1, above. This will help cement your knowledge, apply that knowledge to colony management, and be a better Year 2 "apprentice-mentor".
Hive Inspections & Colony Management: In partnership with another Year 2 apprentice-mentor or returning mentors (together, "hive partner"), you will be responsible for managing an assigned honey bee colony in our apiary. Our primary objective is always the health and overall well-being of our honey bee colonies. Although most of our revenue is from sale of our honey, honey production is always secondary. But, not surprisingly, honey production is most often tied to colony health and queenright status.
You will inspect your assigned colony every-other-Sunday as a Year 2 "apprentice-mentor", and you will actively supervise, guide and engage Year 1 apprentices during those inspections. Your "hive partner" also will inspect your colony with Year 1 apprentices but on the opposite every-other-Sunday schedule. Following your inspections, you will timely enter your inspection observations, actions, conclusions and “to do’s” into our two record-keeping tools. This enables you, your "hive partner" and others to be timely informed of your colony’s development and needs, and will enable you to understand the changes to your colony as a "super-organism" through the seasons. Because you will never inspect your assigned hive on the same Sunday with your "hive partner", you are encouraged to actively collaborate as a "hive team" via phone or email. Some colony management decisions will need to be made by both hive partners.
Periodic & Seasonal:
All the same "Periodic & Seasonal" activities & requirements listed under "Year 1", above, including the January 8, 2023 Program planning meeting.
Read the prior 2-3 inspection reports for your assigned colony before you arrive at the apiary to mentor an inspection. Before inspections begin, you will give the Year 1 apprentice assigned to you for that inspection a brief overview summary of the status of your colony and the specific objectives for the inspection about to take place.
Timely communicate and collaborate with your hive partner regarding colony management issues and decisions via our recordkeeping tools and, as needed, via telephone or email.
Do research and/or refresher reading:
on specific colony issues that arise so you and your hiver partner can make informed, science-based colony management decisions; and
to learn or re-learn information you were unable to provide to a Year 1 apprentice during an inspection.
As of interest to you:
Co-lead a monthly discussion meeting.
Co-organize and/or co-lead a special learning activities for Program participants.
Co-organize and/or co-lead a special project or activity, including a public educational event.
Take on a leadership role for some part of the Program.
Application & Important Dates
*Check your calendar before you apply
For convenience, below is a condensed list of important dates we can anticipate at this time through April/May 2023, all of which are required of each person admitted to the Program.
February 13: Submit your Application on or before the deadline. THIS DEADLINE HAS PASSED
February 14-28: Make yourself available for up to two telephone interviews/discussions in order to complete the application process.
March 1: No later than this date, you will be informed whether you are admitted to the Program and, if you are accepted, you will receive via email various Program documents including our COVID-19 Prevention Procedures (all documents, "Admission Documents"). You will need to thoroughly read all Admission Documents before the Introductory Meeting.
Saturday, March 6 @ 10:30 AM - 3 PM (Introductory Meeting): Weather permitting, this meeting will be held at the apiary. If not, it will be held via Zoom.
Saturday, March 13 @ 11 AM - 3 PM (Basic Beekeeping Skills Training).
To participate in this training, you must have signed, initialed and turned-in the required Admission Documents upon your arrival to the apiary.
The "rain date" for this training is Saturday March 20.
Wednesday, March 24 @ 7 - 8:30 PM (First Monthly Discussion Meeting): You will need to have completed the first reading assignment, and be prepared to actively participate in this discussion meeting via Zoom.
Sunday, March 28 @ 11:30 AM - 3:30 PM (First Hive Inspection): You will need to bring your beekeeping items to the apiary for your first hive inspection (weather permitting) under the guidance of a Year 2 apprentice-mentor or a returning mentor
Sundays April 4, 11, 18 & 25 @11:30 AM - 3:30 PM: You continue with weekly hive inspections, weather permitting.
Sunday, May 3 (11:30 AM - 3:30 PM): Your every-other-Sunday hive inspection schedule begins unless this schedule is delayed (due to weather cancelling inspections during April) until your Year 1 group has had 4 inspections together.
2021 will mark the beginning of our 9th beekeeping apprenticeship program! Read what some of our past and current participants are saying about their experience in our program.
Kevin L, Berkeley
2017-2019 Program graduate
Returning Mentor, 2019:
Being in the Program has given me the knowledge, skills and confidence to set up my own hives and become a successful beekeeper. It introduced a whole new community of awesome people into my life, and furthered my connection with the natural world.
The Program is no small time commitment but it is worth it. You get both "classroom" and hands-on practical experience on a regular basis and you can't get this anywhere or, if you can, you’d pay a lot of money. I took the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP) Apprentice level written and field tests in September 2019. I was well-prepared and easily passed the tests.
Some people like to garden. Others like to keep backyard chickens or rabbits. I prefer to keep honey bees. Unlike gardening, you don't get your hands dirty. Since you don't do your hive inspecting until conditions are bright and sunny, it is perfect for a non-morning person like me.
I also find that beekeeping is very meditative. Looking through a colony of honey bees helps me quiet my mind, almost like doing tai-chi. All that matters in the moment are myself and the sights, sounds and smells of the bees.
Being in the Program started a lifelong passion. I hope to continue to serve as a mentor for future aspiring beekeepers.
Sarah M, Alameda
2018-2020 Program graduate
Returning Mentor, 2020-2021:
Being involved in the Program has helped to solidify my interest and general knowledge of bees in coastal California. The Program has curated a community of like-minded individuals who are engaged in newly-emerging science around honey beekeeping as well as the historical perspective. I have enjoyed my experience reading, researching, discussing, and inspecting with a group where no question is silly, and Program participants are excited to share and expand their own knowledge about the subject matter of bees! My participation in the Program enabled me to easily pass the California Master Beekeepers Program, Apprentice Level, with flying colors in September 2019.
As a first-year apprentice, it was a beneficial experience to work with second-year mentor-apprentices and returning mentors. It greatly informed how I have behaved as a second-year mentor-apprentice and how I will engage in my third-year as a returning mentor and beyond.
Thank you to SF Bee-Cause for contributing to my lifelong learning, my continued love of bees and pollinators, as well as continually engaging my brain with new and interesting information.
Selena F, Oakland
2018-2020 Program graduate:
Becoming part of the SFBC Beekeeping Apprenticeship Program is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my path of supporting sustainability and land-based resilience in the Bay Area. With 2 years of hands-on beekeeping apprenticeship and mentoring under my belt, I’m confident in my ability to effectively share my knowledge with members of my community, and to manage honey bee colonies for health, pollination and honey production.
Upon completion of my second year on March 31, 2020, I plan on tapping the modular, focused approach of the SFBC Program to support educational programming for multi-generational families in my immediate neighborhood in Oakland.
Roxane G, Long Island NY (formerly San Francisco)
2013-2015 Program graduate:
I really enjoyed my time in the apprenticeship program as I was able to learn so much about these amazing creatures. Still to this day, I love sharing what I learned in the program with friends and family. One of the things I loved about the program was spending time and learning with new people while building wonderful relationships with my fellow apprentices. Some of my fondest memories were of sharing a snack with my hive partner after inspecting our colony and taking notes about what we learned about our colony that week. We both particularly enjoyed doing our hive inspections at the same time other teams were inspecting their hives in the apiary. We were able to learn what was happening inside other hives – what was the same, similar or different due to colony differences.
The time commitment of the program is significant but worth it. It is very important to see and feel what is going on inside different hives over the course of two years. You learn so much by looking for the queen, finding her or not, looking for eggs and brood in various stages of development, assessing food stores and the health of the colony while looking for pests and diseases. The program teaches you available IPM remedies and best practices. I highly recommend it!
Kasey W, San Francisco
2014-2016 Program graduate
Returning Mentor, 2016-2018:
The San Francisco Bee-Cause beekeeping apprenticeship program was way more valuable of an experience than I ever could have imagined. As a garden educator and science teacher, I am always looking for ways to deepen my connection to and understanding of the natural world. Through the program, I became an experienced and confident beekeeper, but I also gained more insight into San Francisco's ecology and my place within it.
The program provided hands-on experience on hive inspections, honey harvesting and extraction, and preparing beekeeping equipment. It also provided readings and research on practical honey bee biology and the nuances of colony development and management through the seasons over two years. I especially appreciated having different mentors for the first year to guide me, and then growing into the mentor role myself--you do learn the most when you teach others!
The program also is unique in the opportunity work with multiple hives. Most beekeepers initially keep 1 maybe 2 hives, whereas we experienced up to 7 different colonies over a 2-year period, exponentially increasing our exposure to potential issues a honey bee colony might experience.
As a result of participating in the program, I gained enough experience and confidence to start a successful beehive in a middle school that is still buzzing today. The program connected me with new and existing friends with similar passions, a sense of stewardship for the place I live, and an even deeper reverence for the amazing world we call home. I highly recommend the program!
Lauren Chandrika L, San Francisco
2015-2017 Program graduate
Returning Mentor, 2017-2019:
My participation the beekeeping apprentice program prepared me for having my own hives. The program teaches colony beekeeping inspection skills as well as colony management through different seasons. Having the opportunity to develop hands-on skills with individual attention and mentoring was incredibly valuable. The emphasis on honey bee biology and discussion of different situations within the apiary gave me a well-rounded education that complemented my hands-on experiences. Beekeeping in a group also provided ongoing bonds of support and friendship for which I am grateful.
The 2-year commitment was useful as there is so much to learn about honey bees and colony management, and the scheduled commitment provided consistency. After graduating from the program, I continued my participation for another two years as a “returning mentor.” Through that additional opportunity -- to continue to share with others my knowledge and experiences – further reinforced my knowledge, skills and mentoring abilities.
I recommend the program. It provides a unique learning opportunity that will give you all you need to continue beekeeping with skill and confidence.