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2024-2026 Beekeeping Apprenticeship Program

 

THE DEADLINE TO APPLY FOR THIS PROGRAM IS FEBRUARY 28, 2024

Have you ever thought about becoming a beekeeper but were afraid to go it alone, especially since it can cost up to $800 to get started (hive components, bee suit, beekeeping tools & bees)?  The San Francisco Bee-Cause 2-year Beekeeping Apprenticeship Program is an exciting and unique chance to learn beekeeping in a group setting. Participating in our Program is of "no charge" but only so long as you fully and actively complete the entire two years. 

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. As the seasons change so do the floral resources and a honey bee colony's activities and biological objectives. Beekeepers need to understand seasonal colony dynamics and how colony management actions at certain times of the year can mean the health and prosperity, or the irreversible decline and death, of a colony in the months ahead. Since the introduction of the varroa mite into the US in the 1980s keeping a honey bee colony alive and healthy is "the" challenge. Monitoring and managing varroa mite levels and associated diseases are key parts of our Program because colony health is the #1 objective of our beekeeping.

Second, we provide guided solitary and group learning. On a monthly basis, we provide you with assigned book/internet reading and video-watching assignments on a specific topic and discussion questions ("homework"). We then hold a meeting focused on the discussion questions. Periodically, the "homework" is a written test (ungraded). At the upcoming meeting, we discuss the right and wrong answers (and reasons why). These tests enable you to confirm areas of knowledge you have mastered and those you have not so you can improve.

Third, in the first year ("Year 1"), you learn essential "hands-on" beekeeping skills from different mentors while inspecting the different colonies in our apiary. Different mentors have different teaching styles from whom you may learn different things or expand your knowledge in different ways. By inspecting different colonies, you learn the range of what is "normal" and observe different conditions within different colonies. During your second year ("Year 2"), you rely on and expand your Year 1 knowledge and experiences. You continue to learn by managing a specific colony within our apiary from one Spring through the next, and by serving as a "mentor" helping teach our new group of Year 1 apprentices.  In our experience, you never learn a subject better than having to teach it.

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 . . . and lots of FUN! You make a difference by ensuring the continuation of a program that trains new beekeepers based on science and ethical stewardship. Without Year 2 participants, our Program could not survive.

Fifth and finally, as far as we can tell, there is no other beekeeping apprenticeship program in the U.S. that is remotely like ours. By completing the Program, you will have developed the knowledge and skills necessary to competently and confidently manage your own honey bee colonies for bee health from year-to-year. You also gain the knowledge to become a well-rounded bee "ambassador” and educator to the public, as well as a competent mentor to other beekeepers in the years ahead.

March 2024 marks the beginning of our 12th beekeeping apprenticeship program!

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PROGRAM OVERVIEW

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 2024-2026 Program are accepted only through the February 28, 2024 deadline.  If you miss this 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. As noted on the page above, you will participate in extensive discussion and hands-on learning. You participate in the full range of beekeeping and related activities as well as special learning activities and events.  See below for more details and initial dates for Year 1 of the 2024-2026 Program. 

As also noted on the page above, during the required Year 2 of the Program, you "give back" to the Program by serving as a "mentor" to the new group of Year 1 apprentices during hive inspections. Importantly, you continue to learn while serving in that role, and by being responsible for managing a specific honey bee colony within our apiary.  See below for more details and dates for Year 2 of the

2024-2026 Program

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 discussion meetings and to regularly review and promptly reply to Program emails.  

Every January, we meet as a group to plan for the upcoming calendar year and the upcoming 2-year Program that begins on March 1. Each year, we make improvements to the Program by implementing Participants' ideas and recommendations. 

 Read what some past participants say about their experience in our Program

Watch a short video, Sweetness & Light, about our Program created by a past participant, Isabella S.

SF Bee-Cause Apprentices & Mentors

Application & Important Dates

 * Before you apply, check your calendar for all the mandatory dates & requirements, below.

  • No later than Wednesday, February 28 @ 12 Noon:  This is the Application deadline.  

  • Through Friday, March 1: Make yourself available for up to two telephone interviews/discussions to complete the application process.  Note: As applications are received, they will be promptly reviewed and interviews will be conducted so don't delay applying!

  • Saturday, March 2:  No later than on this date, you will have been interviewed and informed via email if you are invited to join the Program. 

  • Sunday, March 3  @ 10-11:30 AM.  If you have been invited to join the Program, you will attend the Program Introductory Meeting at our apiary (directions will be provided).  See the next page for details.

    • The raindate for this meeting is Tuesday, March 5 @ 7-8:30 PM via Zoom (info will be provided)  

  • No later than Wednesday, March 20 @ 12 Noon:  This is the Acceptance deadline via DocuSign.

  • Thursday, March 21 @ 7 - 8:30 PM. You will participate in a Discussion Meeting via Zoom. See the next page for details.  

  • Saturday, March 23 (or March 30 "rain date") @ 10 AM - 3:30 PM you will participate in the hands-on Basic Beekeeping Skills Training at the apiary.

  • Thursday, March 27 @ 7 - 8:30 PM. You will participate in a Discussion Meeting via Zoom.  See the next page for details.

  • Sundays March 31, April 7, 14, 21, 28 & May 5 (weather permitting) @11:30 AM - 3:30 PM.  You will participate in four "every-Sunday" hive inspections as a group. Save all these dates because the weather may cancel inspections on some. You will need to bring your beekeeping clothing and tools to the apiary for these initial hive inspections under the guidance of a Year 2 or Returning mentor. 

  • Wednesday, April 10 @ 7 - 8:30 PM. You will participate in a Discussion Meeting via Zoom. See the next page for details.  

  • Sunday, May 12 (or an earlier Sunday) @ 11:30 AM - 3:30 PM at the apiary.  Every-other-Sunday hive inspections will begin once your Year 1 group has had 4 Sunday inspections together as a group.  

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Year 1 - activities & requirements

(March 1, 2024 - March 31, 2026)

INITIAL MEETINGS (March-April 2024):  A condition of being admitted to the Program is that you must be able to participate in each of the group March meetings and the first group 4 weekly hive inspections during April (or May if necessary). We have learned that the best start is to become immersed in the Program at the very beginning.  You will need to have accepted the invitation to join the Program as of the March 20 deadline to participate in meetings and activities after March 20.

     1.    Introductory Meeting.  This meeting will be on Sunday, March 3 @ 10 - 11:30 AM at the apiary and is for applicants who have received our invitation to join the Program.  The rain date is Tuesday, March 5 @ 7 - 8: 30 PM via Zoom.  At this meeting, we will discuss Program participation requirements, expectations, and schedules; we will review each of the Admission Documents. We will respond to all questions and concerns you may have. You will see the book we will be using for baseline reading, Keeping Honey Bees, Sanford & Bonney (Storey Publishing, 2nd Ed 2018and the type and sizes of personal protective clothing and beekeeping tools you will be required to buy for yourself.  You also will get to meet and ask questions of at least one new Year 2 mentor and a Returning mentor.

       2.    Basic Beekeeping Skills Training. If you join the program, you will participate in this training on Saturday, March 23 @ 10:00 AM-3:30 PM at the apiary. The "rain date" will be the same times & place on Saturday, March 30We will review site security, and entry and exit procedures. You will rotate through four "practice stations" managed by mentor(s). At each station, you will learn and practice fundamental beekeeping skills you will master during your Year 1. 

     3.    Discussion Meetings. If you join the Program, you also will participate in three (3)  group discussion meetings with your peers during March & April via Zoom @ 7 - 8:30 PM.  For the WednesdayMarch 27 meeting, we will guide you through resources available on our io group page including Program policies and how to access them.  For the Thursday, March 21 (Honey Beekeeping Basics) and Wednesday, April 10 (Basic Honey Bee & Colony Biology) meetings, you will have completed the assigned "homework", recorded your answers to the discussion questions for yourself, and actively participate in the discussion.  

INITIAL HIVE INSPECTIONS (March 30 - April & if needed into May 2023 ). Under the guidance of a Year 2 or a Returning mentor, you will begin every Sunday hive inspections @ 11:30 AM-3:30 PM at the apiary.  Weather permitting, your first hive inspection will be Sunday, March 30.  Weekly hive inspections should get you comfortable working with bees, with required apiary and hive inspection procedures, and basic beekeeping skills. As weather permitsweekly inspections will continue through April (or into May if needed) until all Year 1s have participated in 4 inspections as a  group. Once that objective is met, all Year 1s will be assigned to one of two "every-other-Sunday" inspection schedules. 

 

ONGOING HIVE INSPECTIONS (May 2024-March 2025).  Excluding late November - early January, you will inspect hives every other Sunday with a Year 2 or Returning mentor whose every-other-Sunday inspection schedule is the same as yours.  BUT a date in August 2024 TBD, your schedule will switch to the opposite Sundays. This will enable you to work with the other group of Year 2 or Returning mentors whose schedule was the opposite Sundays.  


APRIL - NOVEMBER 2024 DISCUSSION MEETINGS.  Beginning with the Wednesday, April 10, 2024, discussion meeting, you will participate in regular discussion meetings @ 7:00 - 8:30 PM via Zoom.  These discussions tend to be scheduled for the 2nd Wednesday of each month). However, there will be some exceptions and, for some months, there will two discussion meetings scheduled.  If you are invited to join the Program, you will have received the 2024-Q1 2025 Schedule of Mandatory Meetings & Events among the Admission Documents.  In advance of each discussion meeting, you will have been given and required to complete "homework" on some aspect of honey bee and/or pest/disease biology relevant to beekeeping.  All Year 1 participants are required to prepare for, attend and actively participate in each discussion meeting.  Year 2s also will participate in 2024 discussion meetings beginning on May 8.  

We are all volunteers and Program co-managers put a lot of time and effort into creating useful homework including discussion questions and tests. By providing them 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 discussion meetings are -- for you and for the group. Over the many years of our program, we find that the participants who are diligent in fulfilling these requirements become our very best Year 2 mentors and, later, the more competent beekeepers of their own honey bee colonies. 

JANUARY - MARCH 2025.  Following our 2025 Annual Planning Meeting (on January 12), you will prepare for and participate in a series of every-other-Wednesday discussion meetings (@ 7:00 - 8:30 PM via Zoom) to help prepare you to move into the Year 2 mentor role.  Weather permitting, hive inspections resume on the Sunday after the Planning Meeting.

PERIODIC & SEASONAL.  See below after the "Year 2 - activities & requirements".

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Year 2 - activities & requirements

(April 1, 2025 - March 31, 2026)

DISCUSSION MEETINGS.  You will prepare and actively participate in the scheduled discussion meetings as you did in your Year 1, above.  This will help to cement and expand your knowledge, help you apply that knowledge to colony management, and be a better Year 2 "mentor".

HIVE INSPECTIONS:  In partnership with another Year 2 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; honey production is always secondary. But, not surprisingly, honey production is often tied to colony health and queenright status.   

 

As a Year 2 mentor, you will inspect your assigned colony every-other-Sunday and actively supervise, guide, and engage a Year 1 apprentice through each inspection. 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 inspection record-keeping tool. Use of this tool enables you, your "hive partner" and others to be timely informed of your colony’s development and needs. It also enables 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 are best made by both hive partners.

 

PERIODIC & SEASONAL.   See below.

                    Left: Wiring a hive frame in preparation for installing wax foundation                                     Right: Making foundation with our own cleaned wax and a silicon mold.

Year 1 & Year 2 - periodic & seasonal activities 

 

(March 2024 - March 31, 2026)

 

Except as noted, participation in the below periodic and seasonal activities is required of all Year 1 and all Year 2 Program participants.

  • Attend and participate in our Annual Program Planning meetings each January

  • Participate in scheduled apiary improvement and maintenance activities and sessions, whether scheduled before or after Sunday inspection times or for a separate date.

  • Before hive inspections (on a rotating schedule), water our pollinator-friendly plants not covered by our irrigation system.

  • Help load and unload, inventory and organize hive components at the apiary, and honey frames at our offsite honey extracting location.

  • Help extract honey produced by our colonies. We typically begin scheduling honey extracting sessions for July and continue through mid-November -– as soon as we have (or know we will have) 18 extractable honey frames. While we try to schedule extracting sessions on Sundays (for those not scheduled to inspect on that particular Sunday), it is not always possible; sessions may need to be on Saturdays. Each Year 1 is required to attend a group extracting training session, and make him/herself available to extract on at least 2 more occasions through Q1 2025

  • In your Year 1 and again in your Year 2, personally sell on behalf of the Program half-pound jars of honey produced by our colonies and/or other items made by the group from hive products.

  • Participate in special learning activities. Depending on Program needs, these would include melting and cleaning our wax for later use, cleaning wax & other debris from wood frames, wiring frames, and installing/embedding wax foundation into wired frames.  These also include

Optional:

  • Participate and/or lead special learning activities per your interest. Depending on group interest, these may include:

    • using our cleaned wax to make personal care items (lip balms, lotions, salves), and

    • using our cleaned wax to make other items (wax foundation, tea lights, votives, candles, wax food wraps, furniture & car polishes).

  • Participate in a mead tasting.

  • Participate in a field trip to a pollinator garden.

  • Participate in microscopic dissection and examinations of various organs of worker, drone & queen (virgin vs. mated) honey bees.

Testimonials

2024 marks the beginning of our 12th beekeeping apprenticeship Program!  Read what some of our past and current participants are saying about their experiences.

Kevin L, Berkeley

2017-2019 Program graduate

Returning Mentor, 2019 - present:

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-present:

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.

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