LITTLE ROCK – As backyard vegetable gardens and chicken coops become more popular, so is another element of the modern household: beekeeping. For people interested in learning about the practice or improving their skills, the Cooperative Extension Service’s new online beekeeping course provides information on tools, costs and safety precautions.
A free Complete Beekeeping Short Course is available at uaex.uada.edu/bee-class and on the Cooperative Extension Service’s YouTube page. Jon Zawislak, an extension beekeeping specialist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agricultural Systems and a Master Beekeeper certified by the Eastern Beekeeping Society, teaches the course, which is divided into multiple topics. The series covers the structure and function of each component of the modern beehive, basic tools and equipment needed, safe practices, and information on protective clothing. Zawislak also covers basic honey bee biology and behavior, honey production and harvesting, and honey bee health, including how to recognize and treat honey bee diseases, parasites, and hive pests.
Zawislak said honey bee biology and behavior “are often neglected in the training of beekeepers.”
“Some books and lessons focus mostly on what the beekeeper should do at different times of the year, without much explanation of what the bees are trying to do,” he said. “Honeybees are fascinating and intelligent creatures, constantly exploring and gathering resources from their world, and they make very complex decisions as a group. “If beekeepers can better understand what their bees want, then they can better manage those colonies so that they thrive and be productive.”
The online beekeeping course also includes information about the challenges of the practice. Zawislak said people should expect to spend between $500 and $800 to get started, and the work can be physically demanding.
“Expect to spend hot hours inside the bee suit, heavy lifting, and there will always be the occasional bee sting when you least expect it,” he said.
Zawislak said part of his goal with the beekeeping course is to encourage people who “feel like they’re ready to take it on” and also “to discourage those who aren’t ready for that kind of commitment.”
“It’s a bit like gardening,” he said. “It takes a lot of work to get it right, but it’s a labor of love. A home grown Arkansas tomato will always be superior to a grocery store one shipped across the country by truck. The same goes for honey in your own backyard. It will always beat what you have on the supermarket shelf. After tasting fresh honey, you can’t be satisfied with anything.”
Zawislak began offering in-person beekeeping classes in 2010. He said he has received a “very positive response” to these classes, which has led to numerous requests from local beekeeping clubs and county extension agents to offer similar classes in locations around Arkansas.
Amy Cole, extension digital media program manager, said the beekeeping content drives a lot of traffic to the Cooperative Extension Service’s website and social media pages.
“The honey bee pages on our website are always very popular and we are proud of Dr. Thanks to Zawislak’s relevant and robust content, we are in the top search results on Google for keywords like ‘beekeeping,’” said Cole.
All private lessons have been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic. While he continues to offer programs via Zoom and consult with individual beekeepers via email and phone calls, Zawislak said there is “a serious need for this course to be widely available and in demand online.”
“I wanted this course to be available online at no cost to anyone to give people a solid knowledge base for keeping honey bees,” Zawislak said. “It will be useful for beginners before they start and can be a good refresher course for experienced beekeepers who have never taken a formal lesson.
“It had to be comprehensive without being overwhelming,” he said. “There are some great videos online on specific topics, but not a complete, comprehensive series that is scientifically valid and relevant. This is the place we set before us to fill.”
The beekeeping course videos became available Sept. 20, and the Southwest Arkansas Beekeepers Association already plans to use the course material in an upcoming series of classes and workshops.
“Dr. Zawislak’s Basic Beekeeping Class, taught in person over the years, was without a doubt the best classroom training available in Arkansas, and we are thrilled to see the Cooperative Extension Service offer the course material online. available to anyone and everyone at any time,” said Debra Bolding, member of the Southwest Arkansas Beekeepers Association.
Zawislak said he hopes to add more beekeeping content to the Cooperative Extension Service’s YouTube page in the future.
“Anyone considering beekeeping could benefit from watching this series,” he said. “The industry continues to change, so even experienced beekeepers can look deeper into what they’re already doing. “Once people realize how amazing honeybees really are, they won’t be able to resist beekeeping.”
For more information and access to the Complete Beekeeping Short Course, visit uaex.uada.edu/bee-class or the Cooperative Extension Service’s YouTube page.