California Master Beekeeper Program: On a Roll to Help the Bees

Dec 13, 2016

California Master Beekeeper Program: On a Roll to Help the Bees

Dec 13, 2016

They've got your back.

And your bees.

The declining honey bee population now has 52 more friends. Science-based friends. Bee ambassadors. Partners.

They're the new apprentice graduates of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), administered by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her colleagues at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Program, University of California, Davis.

The program, which includes apprentice, journeyman and master levels, uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors to help the troubling honey bee population, assist beekeepers, and engage in public outreach, according to CAMPB program manager Bernardo Niño of the E. L. Niño lab. The written and practical exams for apprentice took place in September at the Laidlaw facility.  Now the 52 grads can opt to stop at the apprentice level or continue on to the more advanced levels of journeyman and master.

“We know that all will represent the program confidently and knowledgeable throughout the state and the country and we look forward to working with all the future CAMPBers,” wrote Elina and Bernardo Niño in the current edition of their  Apiculture Newsletter.

Plans for CAMPB began last summer when coordinator Bernardo Niño announced: "With the increased interest in beekeeping and need for continued public education we really want to engage those who love bees as much as we do be the true bee ambassadors in their communities. And with unique challenges for beekeeping in California--that is, about two million bee colonies end up in California in February each year for almond pollination--it was time to have a California-based program. We are here to support the bees and the beekeepers and we can't wait to start this new partnership."

The 52 beekeepers answered 125 questions on the written test, dealing with basic honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, maladies of the hive, and management techniques. Then they took the practical exam, which consisted of 20 minutes of one-on-one time with an examiner. They demonstrated their mastery of basic colony and hive inspections, identification of equipment and different hive types, and various management techniques.

The most intimidating portion of the exam? Performing a sugar shake to monitor for varroa mite levels, the Niños said. The parasitic varroa mites are considered "Public Enemy No. 1" of honey bees.

The first beekeeper to sign up for the practical test, held in the Laidlaw apiary, was Cheryl Veretto, president of the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association (SCBA) and a member of the Sonoma County Master Gardeners  (SCMG).

 “I signed up to get it over with," Veretto acknowledged. "I hate waiting for a test--it is nerve-racking. But once I opened the hive, I felt at home. The Master Beekeeper session was somewhat intense studying for the test. There is a lot of science/biology and vocabulary that I learned. Overall, it was a great experience. And I passed."

Does beekeeping run in her family? “No, my family runs from bees,” she quipped. “I come from a family of gardeners-- generations of them.”

Veretto joined SCBA seven years ago, and has been keeping bees for six years. Seven years ago, the membership totaled 95; today it's 460.  "SCBA has been a non-profit since 2011," she said. "Prior to that it was a club that changed names a few times but the core beekeepers have been going since 1990s." 

How did she decide to be a beekeeper; what interested her in bees and in beekeeping? “I started out as a greedy gardener-- wanting everything to be pollinated so that I could select my best,” Veretto recalled. “I have always planted for pollinators in my gardens, but wanted to maximize, and so, I started beekeeping--and what a journey its been. I am now an activist for pollinators, and you never stop learning when you get into bees/beekeeping. The honey bee and humans are tied together closer than many think."

Veretto thoroughly enjoys keeping bees and engaging in public service. “I enjoy building community. We have an awesome bee club with a membership that is fully engaged--we have activities going on most every week, and we are active in the community, doing presentations and demonstrations,” she said. “I do public speaking with both SCBA and SCMG groups talking on 'Planting for Pollinators' and 'Safe Gardening' practices. I just finished the Advanced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program with Master Gardeners and hope to include much of that information in my presentations as well. My true passion is gardening and propagating bee forage plants; most days you find me outside in the gardens and apiary.”

"It is important to recognize we have to change our landscapes, build community, reclaim yards and convert them to gardens, grow food--share with your neighbors--plant it and they will come. Our environment is changing rapidly and we have to act fast to make a difference."

Veretto lives on a small rural farm with her human family and 12 bee hives, along with Cashmere goats, chickens, cats, dogs, a food garden and several pollinator forage gardens.

"I started beekeeping with one hive six years ago and gradually built up to 12," she said.  "I think that is a good size of apiary for me; it takes a little more time for management but I am learning so much more, having several colonies to watch, and something different is going on in each. I keep bees in both Langstroth and TopBar hives, and have an observation hive for demonstration.“

Now she's looking forward to serving in the California Master Beekeeper Program as a science-based bee ambassador.

Interested in learning more about the California Master Beekeeper Program? Here are some Niño-lab resources:

The Niño lab plans to expand testing sites to encompass the entire state, and will be working with UC Cooperative Extension offices. The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center helps support the program. To receive the most up-to-date news and information, folks can sign up for the CAMPB-specific mailing list.) For further information, contact Bernardo Niño  at or (530) 380-BUZZ (2899).