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Become A Beekeeper Through ENT 497 Maymester Course

This maymester, Penn State students have the chance to learn about mason bee and honey bee biology and management through ENT 497.

The three-credit course is open to graduate and undergraduate students, but the class size is capped at 14 to ensure that each student has one-on-one space for personalized instruction and colony management. Class instructors Natalie Boyle and Kate Anton will lead the class’s debut at Penn State. There are no prerequisites to register for the course, which will run from May 9 to June 6.

“Apiculture, or bee husbandry, is a fun and rewarding practice that has served human societies for over 9,000 years,” the course description reads. “In this course, you will learn about bee biology, receive introductory training in mason and honey beekeeping, and discover some of the ongoing research projects that feature bees and pollination services here in Pennsylvania.”

Students will be able to assess and respond to mason and honey bee management and colony conditions. There will also be conversations about declining pollinator species and how to address these challenges.

​”This will be the first course that I know of which offers hands-on training for the management and care of solitary mason bees, which are being more frequently used for spring tree fruit pollination here in Pennsylvania and in other states,” Boyle said.

“Mason bees are highly effective pollinators of commercial orchards because of their ability to fly and forage in cool, wet weather, their foraging preference for tree fruit blossoms over competing blooms, and because of the way they interact with and store pollen on their bodies with each visit to a flower,” she continued. “Very few people have been taught how to implement this alternative pollination strategy sustainably in orchards, so this will be a unique opportunity that most universities cannot offer.”

The grade makeup will include technical assignments, quizzes, homework assignments, weekly discussions, and a final exam worth 20% each. Technical assignments may include lighting a smoker, installing a package, performing a mite check, finding the queen, and inspecting for swarm cells, among others.

“In just one month, we will cover basic materials are required for beekeeping, and review practices for the seasonal management of a honey bee colony, starting from installing spring packages with mated queens and ending with honey extraction and how to best prepare colonies to survive our Pennsylvania winters,” Boyle said.

Boyle explained that more than 90% of bees visit major crops, and this allows us to eat diverse and healthy diets. However, 40% of managed colonies are lost every year in Pennsylvania. Her hope is that this class will serve as a small step toward mitigating those high losses.

“Beekeeping can be a little intimidating for beginners, but it’s an extremely rewarding and enjoyable hobby to have once you get the hang of it,” Boyle said. “In fact, I find it relaxing, peaceful, and a great way to practice mindfulness in such a busy and distractable world. There are more benefits to learning beekeeping than just harvesting your own honey!”

For more information, email [email protected] or check out the course syllabus below.

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a washed-up biology grad and former associate editor. Her legacy will live on through stories like “10 Questions With State College Sensation ‘Hot UPS Bae’”. If you’re a STEM girlie, this is your sign to take the leap of faith and learn to write. It’s pretty fun. Colleen misses the hate mail and can be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

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