The diligent Western honey bee used to be a field and garden staple. Farmers and home garden enthusiasts took for granted the bee's pollen-laden flower-to-flower visits, which resulted in bountiful squash, melon, and tomato harvests.
But lately, the real buzz has been the honey bee's notable absence. Since the early 1970s, honey bee populations have been dropping throughout the United States, reaching alarming lows in 2006/2007. The number of beekeepers has declined as well. In New Jersey, there are now fewer than 3,000, down from a high of 5,000 a few decades ago.
This decline has many in New Jersey agriculture worried, and for good reason. Because feral honey bees are plagued with insect and bacterial parasites, managed beekeeping is essential to maintaining New Jersey's "Garden State" heritage. New Jersey depends heavily on honey bees for crop pollination and for the production of honey and related products.
The value of honey bee pollination to crop production in New Jersey was nearly $84 million in 2002. Honey production in New Jersey--estimated at some 350,000 pounds annually--places the state 44th in the country in total production and 41st in total value of honey production.
In 2006, Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station's (NJAES) Office of Continuing Professional Education (OCPE) joined with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Beekeepers Association to address the decline in the state's bee and beekeeper populations by building on the OCPE's existing beekeeping class. The result was the creation of the "Bee-ginner's Beekeeping Program." The OCPE had offered beekeeping classes for over 40 years, and the partnership with the Department of Agriculture seemed like a natural way to boost interest and attendance in the already popular course.
The "Bee-ginner's Beekeeping Program" offers up to $300 worth of beekeeping equipment and bees to the first 50 participants who meet requirements outlined by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The participants will be offered $300 worth of credit toward beekeeping equipment and bees from registered New Jersey bee supply dealers. The program is currently funded by a grant from the Department of Agriculture's Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources.
"This class is extremely important because of the constant problem we're having with the loss of bees and beekeepers," said Bob Hughes, one of the Bee-ginning Beekeeper course instructors and a past president of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association. "We're hoping to get more people interested in beekeeping, and not just as a hobby, but as a commercial activity as well."
The program has proved successful beyond anyone's expectations. In 2006, 50 people completed the course and received free equipment, and 91 people attended the two Rutgers "Bee-ginner's Beekeeping" courses that were added that year. The majority of those who attended the course reported that they not only started to keep bees, but also said they intended to add more colonies. A significant number expressed interest in becoming commercial beekeepers.
In spring 2008, the classes were so popular, a waiting list was created and an extra class was added to the roster for fall 2008, with more planned for spring 2009 (registration information below).
The two-and-a-half day course covers everything from the kind of bees and equipment keepers need to get started to products that can be produced by a hive. Instructors will also cover bee diseases and colony management and structure. Those who have already completed the Bee-ginners Beekeeping class may be interested in an advanced beekeeping class to be offered late in fall 2008. The class will act as a bridge for current beekeeping hobbyists who wish to begin a commercial beekeeping enterprise.
The course is open to all New Jersey residents over 10 years of age.
For information on supporting this program, please contact the Development Office.
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