2023-2025 Beekeeping Apprenticeship Program
THE DEADLINE TO APPLY FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MARCH 1, 2023
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 (a hive, bee suit, beekeeping tools, and 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 goal 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 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.
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. Through the Program, you can develop 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 2023 marks the beginning of our 11th 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 2023-2025 Program are accepted only through the March 1, 2023 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 detail and initial dates for Year 1 participation.
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. 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 detail and dates for 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 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 start of the next 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.
Application & Important Dates
* Before you apply, check your calendar for all the mandatory dates & requirements, below.
No later than Wednesday, March 1: Submit your Application on or before this deadline.
Through Tuesday, March 7: Make yourself available for up to two telephone interviews/discussions in order 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!
Tuesday, March 7: No later than on this date, you will have been interviewed and informed via email if you are invited to join the Program.
Exceptions re: admission invitation: We can only admit a certain number of people to a new Program. Sometimes, those invited to join decide last minute that they will not join. In that case, we will promptly reach out to other applicants and invite them to join the Program. We could end up reaching out to you as late as Tuesday, March 7 in which case you'd need to attend the Introductory Meeting the next evening, Wednesday, March 8 via Zoom.
Wednesday, March 8 @ 7-8:30 PM (Introductory Meeting via Zoom). See the next page for details.
Saturday, March 11 (or March 18 or 25 "rain date") @ 10 AM - 3:30 PM (Basic Beekeeping Skills Training at the apiary). To participate in this training, you will have had to "join" the Program by submitting your signature and initials on relevant Admission Documents no later than your arrival at the apiary.
Wednesday, March 22 @ 7 - 8:30 PM (Discussion Meeting via Zoom). See the next page for details.
Thursday, March 30 @ 7 - 8:30 PM (Discussion Meeting via Zoom). See the next page for details.
Sundays April 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30 @11:30 AM - 3:30 PM (Initial Hive Inspections @ the apiary): You will need to bring your beekeeping clothing and tools to the apiary for your initial hive inspection (weather permitting) under the guidance of a Year 2 or Returning mentor. You will participate in weekly hive inspections (weather permitting) through April or into early May until all Year 1s have participated in 4 inspections as a group.
Sunday, May 7 et al. @ 11:30 AM - 3:30 PM (Every-other-Sunday Hive inspections) You begin this schedule begins provided your Year 1 group has had 4 inspections together as a group. If the weather prevented that, the weekly inspection schedule will continue into May until that objective is met.
Year 1 - activities & requirements
(March 1, 2023 - March 31, 2024)
INITIAL MEETINGS (March 2023): 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). Over the past 10 years, we have learned that the best start is to become immersed in the Program during March and April. This intense, two-month "jump-start" experience benefits the new Year 1s but also benefits our mentors and our honey bee colonies.
1. Introductory Meeting. This meeting will be on Wednesday, March 8 @ 7 - 8:30 PM via Zoom, and is for applicants who have received our invitation to join the Program. At this meeting, we will discuss Program participation requirements, expectations, and schedules; we will review each of the Admission Documents. We will respond to any and all questions and concerns you may have. You will see the book we will be using for baseline reading, and the type of personal protective clothing and beekeeping tools you will be required to buy for yourself.
2. Basic Beekeeping Skills Training. This training is the deadline for you to accept our invitation to join the Program and will be on Saturday, March 11 @ 10:00 AM-3:30 PM at our apiary. The "rain date(s)" will be the same time on Saturday, March 18 (or Saturday, March 25, if needed). You have the opportunity to try on various sizes of bee suits, handle various types of smokers and hive tools so you know what you need to buy. We will review site security, and entry and exit procedures. You will meet a number of Year 2 and Returning Mentors, and rotate through four "practice stations" managed by one or two mentors. At each practice station, you will learn and practice key beekeeping skills you will be using during hive inspections.
3. Discussion Meetings. If you join the Program, you also will participate in two (2) group discussion meetings during March, via Zoom @ 7 - 8:30 PM. For the Wednesday, March 22 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 30 meeting, 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 (April 2023 & into May 2023 if needed). Under the guidance of a Year 2 or a Returning mentor, you will begin your every Sunday hive inspections @ 11:30 AM-3:30 PM at our apiary. Weather permitting, your first hive inspection will be Sunday, April 2. Weekly hive inspections should get you comfortable working with bees, become skilled at required apiary and hive inspection conduct, and practice basic beekeeping skills. As weather permits, weekly 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 2023-March 2024). Excluding late November - early January, as a Year 1, you will inspect hives every other Sunday with Year 2 mentors whose every-other-Sunday inspection schedule is the same as yours. BUT in August, your schedule will switch to the opposite Sundays. This will enable you to work with the other group of Year 2 mentors whose schedule was the opposite Sundays.
APRIL - NOVEMBER 2023 & 2024 DISCUSSION MEETINGS. Beginning Wednesday, April 12, 2022, 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 per the April 2023-Q1 2024 Discussion Meeting Schedule you received among the Admission Documents. In advance of each discussion meeting, you will have been given and completed "homework" on some aspect of honey bee and/or pest/disease biology relevant to beekeeping. For baseline reading, we are using: Keeping Honey Bees, Sanford & Bonney (Storey Publishing, 2nd Ed 2018). All Year 1s and Year 2s Program participants are required to prepare for, attend and actively participate in each discussion meeting.
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 2024. Following our 2024 Annual Planning Meeting (in January), 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.
PERIODIC & SEASONAL. See below after the "Year 2 - activities & requirements".
Year 2 - activities & requirements
(April 1, 2024 - March 31, 2025)
DISCUSSION MEETINGS. You will prepare and actively participate in the monthly discussion meetings as you did in your Year 1, above. This will help to cement 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 2023 - March 31, 2025)
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
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 June 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 2024.
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 may include cleaning frames, wiring frames, making wax foundation from our own cleaned wax, and installing our own or purchased wax foundation.
Participate in special optional learning activities per your interest. Depending on group interest, these may be learning to clean beeswax, using our wax to make personal care items (lip balms, lotions, salves), other items (tea lights, votives, candles, wax food wraps, furniture/car polish), and mead.
Specific to Year 2 only:
Conduct research and/or refresher reading on specific colony issues as they arise so you can make informed, science-based decisions to manage various conditions you observe within your assigned colony.
Present the results of your independent research (15 min) on a subject of interest to you relevant to bees and/or beekeeping.
As of interest to you:
Co-lead a monthly discussion meeting.
Co-organize and/or co-lead a special learning activity 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.
2023 marks the beginning of our 11th 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.