University of Florida opens online version of Master Beekeeper apprenticeship program

click to enlarge University of Florida opens online version of Master Beekeeper apprenticeship program
Photo courtesy University of Florida
We've all heard of the plight and decline of global bee populations, due to factors including pesticides, drought and habitat destruction. Now there's a way to get involved, and it's giving aspiring Florida beekeepers something to buzz about.

The University of Florida recently launched their new Master Beekeeper Program, available online, and they call it "Apprentice Level."

The program, which is part of UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab, seeks to improve honey bee health and the sustainability through beekeeper training and public outreach. The price of the course is a fairly accessible $250.

There are 316 species of bees native to Florida, according to John B. Pascarella, Ph.D., dean of the College of Sciences at Sam Houston State University. Although bees are known for their sweet, golden honey, they also pollinate crops and play a significant role in growing the food we eat.

"The number of people keeping bees in Florida increased about 500 percent since 2006, so there is a demand and need for beekeeper education," Jamie Ellis, the Gahan professor of entomology and director of the lab, said.

The self-paced course takes students through eight modules that cover beekeeping basics like honey bee biology, equipment and hive management.
Trainees enrolled in the program begin at the apprentice level, regardless of previous beekeeping experience, which is not required. There are also no age restrictions for who can enroll in the program.

However, students have to be in it to win it, when it comes to keeping bees – along with the modules, they're required to currently keep bees and to have kept bees for at least a year before achieving any level in the program.

To complete the course, trainees have to pass an assessment to demonstrate how to perform activities like lighting a smoker and inspecting a bee colony. The assessment can be completed via a video recording or in person at annual beekeeping events in Gainesville.

"About 400 people have become Apprentice Beekeepers since the start of the program, but there are far more people we can reach," Ellis said, of the new online course. He also said that after conversations with many beekeepers, UF decided that an online course was the best way to respond to the need for an accessible program that provides research-based information directly to beekeepers.

Another, upper-level online course of the UF/IFAS Master Beekeeper Program will be completed and ready to offer by summer. To learn more about the current program, visit UF/IFAS online.

Stay on top of Orlando news and views. Sign up for our weekly Headlines newsletter.