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Beekeeping 'beeginners' get hives of their own

With sunshine, a warm spring day, and acres of wildflowers all around, April 24 was a perfect day for thousands of honeybees to move into their new homes—all part of “Beekeeping for Beeginners.”

Honey bees in their transit boxes were moved into new hives.

Two students, Xander Baxter (left) and Jacob Zawislak (right) in “Beekeeping for Beeginners,” lift the top off a new bee hive. The students received their bees April 24, and were taught how to introduce the bees to their hives as part of the class. (U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture photos by Mary Hightower.)

A single honeybee stands atop a jar filled with bee food. This was among the bees being transferred to new hives belonging to students in “Beekeeping for Beeginners,” a youth beekeeping course offered by the U of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

A student in the “Beekeeping for Beeginners” youth beekeeping class is about to open a box of bees to transfer them to their new hive. Class instructor Jon Zawislak, Extension bee specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture (right), watches.

“Beekeeping for Beeginners is the first beekeeping course for youth we’ve offered,” said Jon Zawislak, Extension bee specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

This first class attracted about a dozen students, aged 9 to 14, from Benton, Bryant, Cabot, Little Rock, Mabelvale, and Roland, Ark., who came with their parents. All the students were dressed for the task in bee veils, jackets, and gloves, ready to handle their colonies in a new bee yard at Two Rivers Park in Little Rock.

“I encouraged many of the parents to learn with their kids, so that when they take the hive home at the end of the course, they will be prepared to continue working with their children,” he said.

Since each of the families has so much invested in their new bee hives, “I don’t doubt that they will do their very best by their bees,” Zawislak said. “Their final exam will be the continuing challenge of keeping their colonies healthy and strong.”

The class was produced with Pinnacle Mountain State Park, which offered its classroom and other facilities beginning in January.

The bee yard at Two Rivers Park was surrounded by stockade fencing and populated by squat, brightly painted boxes, each hive personalized by its student beekeeper. The yard was in the midst of grassy acres filled with crimson clover, blue-eyed grass and bright yellow buttercups. The community gardens nearby will also provide pollen sources for the bees in late spring and summer.

“You guys ready for this?” Zawislak asked the class. “For months, you’ve studied your bee biology, you learned about swarming,” all leading up to this first moment with their own bees.

He swept his arm along one of the walls, showing a stack of boxes, each filled with thousands of bees. Hoisting a box over his head for all to see, Zawislak said. “This is 3 pounds of bees. There’s a queen bee inside in a special little cage. Most of them are going to be really happy to go into the hive.”

“Who would like to volunteer?”

Zawislak had the students show him what they’d learned in previous classes. Just after handing off a box of bees, he told student Matt Stafford of Mabelvale “So, tell me what to do. I’ve never done this before,” which was greeting by chuckling from the other students and parents.

After a few minutes of watching Stafford at work, Zawislak was obviously pleased: “See? You’re a natural!”

To the sound of autofocus peeps, shutter clicks and quiet talks between students, parents and instructor, the air slowly filled with bees as each hive received its new colony.

Jennifer Johnson, 12, of Benton, said the class was a little harder than expected, especially the sections on “the diseases and the bugs—the hive beetles. I was afraid they were going to be in the hive.”

When the hive goes home, Johnson said she, her mother, and younger sister, who is also a student, would take care of it.

“This first time around has been a learning experience for me as well, trying to coordinate all the details and tailor the information to the children’s level without leaving out anything important,” Zawislak said. “I would like to teach another youth class again next year if there is sufficient interest.”

For more information on beekeeping, visit or contact your county Extension agent.

Date: 5/27/2013


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