Tag Archives: beekeeping

Like honeybees, we are working together

Honeybees often form chains while they are building honeycomb. Some beekeepers call the chains a “festoon,” suggesting a decorative garland; visually, it is a beautiful metaphor for teamwork.

Text by Carrie Hesch, Beekeeping Liaison for Washington Corrections Center for Women
Photos by Sandy Faranara, President of West Sound Beekeepers Association

Honeybees destined for the program at Washington Corrections Center for Women are settling in well to their temporary foster home. They are under the expert care of foster parent Sandra Fanara, program partner and president of the West Sound Beekeepers Association.

Due to COVID-19, Sandy and the bees have been unable to come into the facility. The incarcerated beekeepers and I are excited for when we can start caring for these new hives. In the meantime, Sandy is adding to our shared story by sending us photos and updates frequently.

The image of the workers forming a chain between the frames makes me think of how we are all working together around a common goal to preserve life. Despite everything, the bees are an iconic view of resilience. Have an inspired week!

The hive’s queen, named the Queen of Diamonds, is labeled with a blue dot (helps beekeepers take special notice of her). You can see some of her eggs in the cells behind her; they look like tiny grains of rice.

An earlier story about his program is available here: 

Welcoming the bees back to WCC

Photos by Jenn Bullard, Washington Corrections Center
Text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP-Evergreen, Laurie Pyne, Centralia College, and Jenn Bullard

WCC’s Intensive Bee Management Unit buzzes with new honeybees.

Joslyn Rose Trivett: Last week, Washington Corrections Center (WCC) welcomed bees back to the program. While it is still tough for volunteers and contract staff to give support in-person, this bee program is blessed with experienced beekeepers and supportive corrections staff. April 18th was the day to receive and install the new honeybees; here are a few photos and thoughts from partners.

This is a 3-pound “package” of bees with a queen….a common way to start a new hive. These bees belong to the Italian subspecies known for its calm temperament.

Jenn Bullard: What a great afternoon! The sun was wonderful, the air was fresh, and the bees were absolutely amazing! They were calm and collected, which was great. ☺

After pouring a package of bees into the hive, a beekeeper carefully places the frames. Notice the queen cage sitting on the edge of the hive box (upper left), waiting to be installed next.
Beekeepers placed added quart jars of sugar syrup to the hives. These will feed the bees while they get established in their new home.

The 4 incarcerated beekeepers did a great job installing the hives–each one got to empty the box into the hive, and they all did a fantastic job!

Laurie Pyne: It’s a very jazzy thing to install a package of 10,000 bees into a hive on your own…and a real confidence builder.

Thank you, Jenn and Andy [Williams], for all you did on the ground there to make today happen. I so appreciate you both and the ongoing support for the beekeeping programming at WCC.

Another beekeeper eases frames into a newly-populated hive.

Delighted by bees: SOU Beekeeping Program

By Kathy Grey, Beekeeping Program Liaison for MCC-SOU

Note: please be aware that some individuals featured in this story have victims who may be re-traumatized by seeing their image; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

Happy and healthy bees thrive in an SOU hive. Photo by Kathy Grey.

In the spring of 2018, the Monroe Correctional Complex Special Offender Unit (SOU) embarked on a new and exciting sustainability program, beekeeping. It was a leap of faith to start such an endeavor with a group of mentally-challenged, incarcerated men and a couple of staff members who knew absolutely nothing about the world of beekeeping. Luckily, we were able to partner with Kurt Sahl, an experienced, community beekeeper and a patient and benevolent teacher. Kurt taught the 2 staff students and the 5 inmate students the basics and soon we were donning our suits and installing our bee packages and queens.  

Graduates from the first class show of their certificates in 2019. Photo by Kathy Grey.

SOU had chosen to use 3 Top Bar hives and it was thrilling to see those bars transformed into comb-covered receptacles for honey and brood. We all delighted in watching our bees return to the hives packing pollen or witnessing the amazing waggle dance as one bee conveyed vital information to other worker bees. The more we learned, the more all of us became enthralled at the magic and mystery of nature. The bees had many lessons for us as well. They taught us about industry, teamwork, and selflessness.

The men treated the bees with such care and gentleness, always strategizing the best way to help them, and the whole program, succeed in our joint quest to make honey, increase brood, and stave off predators.   

More proud graduates pose in December, 2019. Photo by Kathy Grey.

When we weren’t working in the hives, we were studying; first, for the Beginner Certification, and then on to the Apprentice Certification. The men devoured the manuals cover to cover and read all the beekeeping books the lending library had to offer. The studying paid off. Over the past 2 years, 9 out of the 10 SOU men attained their Apprentice Certification. 

Additionally, those same men have since gone on to fulfill a vital part of our mission: to talk to others, as long and as often as possible, about the present plight of our pollinators. They found a receptive audience and now SOU is a buzz with bee talk.

As one of the beekeepers said to me

I thought coming to prison was going to be the end of me. Instead I was given this gift and it has changed me in ways I never thought possible. 

I guess that kind of says it all.

Bringing honeybees back to WCCW

Text and photos by Shohei Morita, SPP Bee Programs Coordinator

Kathleen Humphrey proudly holds her personalized bee-themed bookmark, presented to all student beekeepers to use during their future studies. (Her official certificate will arrive in the mail soon.)

Last week, we celebrated 16 incarcerated and 5 staff students who just completed Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA)’s beginning beekeeper course. Program partners gathered to celebrate at Washington State Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Taught by expert beekeeper Sandra Fanara of West Sound Beekeepers Association, the students learned the basics of beekeeping. This prepares them for more advanced study and the hands-on field work involved in the apprentice level course. After completing the course, there was a celebration to recognize their accomplishment with bee themed cupcakes. Students will also receive an official certificate from WASBA.

To celebrate, I brought bee-themed cupcakes complete with tiny edible bees and flowers! They were unusually delicious.  🙂

This was the first time since 2017 that WCCW has hosted the WASBA course. We are excited that many of these students plan to immediately advance apprentice course, which will start as soon as the bees arrive in April. In prepare, students, staff, and expert beekeeper will clean all the equipment and prepare the new apiary. Then they will be ready to dive in and experience working with honeybees. We are so excited to see this program flourish and provide therapeutic and empowering experience to the students.

Thank you to our expert beekeeper Sandy Fanara, and to our DOC liaisons Carrie Hesch and Muriah Albin for their commitment and dedication to reviving this program. Most importantly, thank you and congratulations to the newly certified student beekeepers!

Persistence pays off: beekeeping in Massachusetts jails

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager, and Susan Goldwitz, Beekeeper and Program Coordinator

Susan Goldwitz stands with one of her hives. Photo by David H. Deininger.

Two-and-a-half years ago, beekeeper Susan Goldwitz traveled from Massachusetts to Washington State and attended the first-ever beekeeping summit in a prison. More than a few beekeeping programs were born that day. Delightfully, Susan Goldwitz took some of that inspiration beyond Washington!

Beekeeping association partners, staff from every prison, incarcerated beekeepers, and the SPP team from Evergreen came together for an inspirational and productive day-long beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

For three years previous, Susan had been trying to create bee program in Massachusetts prisons and jails. She had been teaching literature and other classes in prison for nearly six years, but hadn’t yet found traction on adding beekeeping. After the summit, she returned home reenergized and with an improved, inspired pitch. She made her proposal more than a dozen times, to any facility willing to hear it.

As the “no”s and “maybe”s stacked up, she kept in touch with SPP. Susan is unusually good at asking for and receiving help — a strategy I admire — and I was happy to provide the advice and encouragement she requested. She also had the support of another ardent beekeeper, former Governor Deval Patrick; he encouraged her to “Keep pushing!” So she kept pushing. She knew how to take our optimism and translate it into programming success.

On her 12th or 13th try, at last, she found a willing host: Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office in Dedham, MA. They were willing to take a risk on this unusual program, to think outside of the normal menu of activities and educational programs for the incarcerated.  The jail had an abundance of outdoor, open space and — bonus! — a member of the staff was already an enthusiastic beekeeper.

This summer, I received a welcome update, which you may read below. It is so pleasing to share Susan’s story of success!

“It’s been far too long since we connected and I’m taking this opportunity to send you a little note to let you know that persistence can pay off!

I was able to start a pilot beekeeping program at a jail in Dedham two years ago. It took the usual meetings and waiting, but finally (after three years of trying!) I found a jail willing to take a chance on this “out of the box” program.

I set up two little hives at the jail, paid for everything myself, and worked with a wonderful company here called Best Bees because they have an overarching insurance policy — helpful for assuaging the security concerns of the administration.

We had a great year; the bees might have known there was a great deal on their little shoulders. We had two thriving hives, a honey harvest, and only two little stings: one on an officer and one on a prisoner. That turned out to be a little blessing in a painful disguise: the men recovered, no one was in danger, and some institutional fears were allayed.

Both hives overwintered successfully (!) and the jail decided to take on the program themselves — to pay for and support it. Now I’m focused on getting a beekeeping school together to start (I hope) this winter. Small steps, as ever.

I’ve just set up a meeting with the Suffolk County House of Correction (Boston) to discuss starting a similar program there.  Fingers crossed! I think I needed a sufficient track record at one facility before attempting to convince another.

I did talk to the head of a wonderful program here called the Urban Farming Institute about having a place for newly released prisoners to practice their beekeeping. We have just opened our discussion, but the President/CEO Patricia Spence was enthusiastic about the eventual opportunity and hopes they will be setting up hives at one of their gardens soon.

I wrote once more to our mutual friend, Governor Patrick, to let him know of the jail successes, and yet again he was encouraging and supportive.  

That’s the brief news from here.  Hope you are well and that you and your programs are thriving.

Let me thank you and SPP once again for your unflagging support, expertise, and gentle cheerleading.  It definitely made all the difference!” 

Re-reading Susan’s news now, it’s no surprise me that she’s found success. Building programs in prison is really challenging. The best way to meet those challenges is large quantities of persistence, creativity, and positivity. Susan clearly has all three!

End Note

Susan’s other great love is poetry, especially Emily Dickinson’s.  The poet wrote about 100 poems concerning bees in her collection of about 1789 poems. Here are a few delicious examples:

Identifying numbers are from Thomas H. Johnson, ed. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

A bee on flowers at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

#1627
Version II

The Pedigree of Honey
Does not concern the Bee –
A Clover, any time, to him,
Is Aristocracy –

#1755

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

#676
Least bee that brew –
A Honey’s Weight
The Summer multiply –
Content her smallest fraction help
The Amber Quantity –

#1220

Of Nature I shall have enough
When I have enter these
Entitled to a Bumble bee’s
Familiarities.

First Place Honey!

Text by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Twin Rivers Unit’s honey took first place! Photo by Susan Collins, Beekeeping Liaison and Correctional Unit Supervisor at MCC-TRU

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit‘s (MCC-TRU) beekeeping program participated in the Evergreen State Fair for the second time this year. They host a booth along with Northwest District Beekeepers Association. This year, for the first time, they entered their honey into the Fair’s honey competition and…they won first place!

Their bee program is only in its second year, but it has blossomed thanks to the unending support from staff at MCC-TRU and the enthusiastic participation from incarcerated students. We can’t wait to see all the great things this program in the future.

Congratulations, MCC-TRU!

Another Stellar Year for the Legendary Penitentiary Bee Program

Text by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator
Photos by Jonathan Fischer, Beekeeping Liaison and Classification Counselor at Washington State Penitentiary

Ryder Chronic, a Journeyman beekeeper, inspects a frame.

The Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) hosts one of the oldest and best-established beekeeping programs in Washington State Department of Corrections. They have built a professional-size apiary, certified 44 incarcerated men as beekeepers, participated in a National Honey Bee Pest Survey by the USDA, hosted a professional beekeeper (Mona Chambers, founder of See the Bees), and—in general— have established themselves as a leader in prison beekeeping.

They are about to finish a Journeyman Beekeeper course, putting them on the path to classes led by incarcerated beekeepers!

Below are some photos from the last day of a recent Beginner class, when students and staff sponsors left the classroom to inspect some of the many hives that WSP keeps.

A beekeeper is inspecting this hive frame to see what the bees are doing – are they making honey, storing pollen, or caring for baby bees? Can you tell?
A beekeeper holds a frame full of bees. A healthy hive at the peak of the season can have 60,000 – 80,000 bees in it!
Hives are inspected a few times a month to make sure that the queen and hive are healthy. During this inspection, beekeepers added honey supers to catch honey the bees produce.

Jonathan Fischer, the beekeeping liaison, had this to say about the program “we had a stellar year, with 8 honey supers ready for harvest. These 8 boxes will produce about 270-300 pounds of honey.”

Life in a cell/cell/cell

by Shappa, Journeyman Beekeeper at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Shappa wrote this piece in response to a call for writing on “science in prison.”

Living in a prison cell is a combination of living in a honeybee hive and a monastery: a place where active growth where peace and contentment can be attained once you realize your vocation in life. In all three — prison, hive, and monastery — there is growth in a small space for each transitory life (inmate, bee, and monk) living in the cell. All are organized, by either custody level, colony, or community, in a structured, and hopefully disciplined way. One of the strangest and yet unsurprising aspects of each is the frequency of death, disorder, or disruption.

A queen bee (marked by a pink dot) is surrounded by worker bees in this healthy hive. Photo by Rachel Friederich.

The lives of honeybees are spent mostly working and living in a colony, or a hive, that has combs consisting of numerous cells. Their lifespans are short: 3-5 years for the queen, about 6 weeks for the female workers, and only 3 weeks or so for the males, called “drones.” The queen governs her colony, but she can and will be replaced if she’s not healthy enough or some other deficiency exists as determined by the worker bees. After mating with several drones, the queen lays hundreds of eggs daily, and the hive’s operation produces honey, wax, pollen, and royal jelly. In each magnificently-engineered comb (every cell is perfectly constructed at 70° angles), a honeybee’s life begins, honey is stored, wax is produced, and workers function in many other ways to furiously try to keep pace with a healthy queen in her hive.

Recreation of a monk’s cell in the Museum of the Sierra Gorda in Mexico. Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

Monks live in cells within a community where efforts to “die-to-self” begin. An abbot or prior manages the monastery; he instills obedience and becomes, in most cases, a spiritual counselor for the monks housed there. The monastery is a place of spiritual growth through prayer and work, referred to by Benedictine monks in Latin: ora et labora. It is a world far removed from secular society where a monk can fine-tune his prayers from the heart and hone skills of contentment and discernment using solitude, silence, and stillness. The unsatisfying, competitive consumerism of the world is abandoned and replaced when the monk surrenders to his higher authority, even at the cost of needed sleep when he’s called upon by God (or his abbot) to asceticism and self-sacrifice: intercessory prayer day and night can help those suffering; fasting can discipline oneself to exercise self-control over the flesh and build the virtue of temperance to overcome sin; and other forms of penance can excise vices. The consecrated life of a monk includes the three evangelical counsels: vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. A vow of stability is also included for Benedictines. Contemplative prayer, humility, and obedience — even in solitude when the monk is quietly alone with God and only God — are critical components of spiritual growth and heightened discernment, which is granted to the ones who have experiential encounters with Christ in the ineffable mysticism discovered in his cell.

Inmates live in a prison where they’re assigned to a cell: the place where you flourish, fail, or die depends on the choices you make. Prison is controlled and managed as a quasi-military organization with teams of officers who respond to situations ranging from an emotionally disturbed patient’s hurt feelings to hostage negotiations. Sometimes it’s a hostile battlefield where small wars erupt, both within oneself and without engagement of the mind. Other times it’s just an overflow for Eastern State Hospital. For the man who’s willing to honestly assess himself, put in the often difficult work necessary to change, start to properly order his life in a healthy way and answer his calling, there’s plenty of time and available resources to better their lives with spiritual enlightenment and enhance the future for themselves, their family, and their community.

Beekeepers at Airway Heights Corrections Center pose with their hives. Photo courtesy of Kay Heinrich.

An incubation period is always good for growth, whether it’s in a honeybee hive, a monastery, or a prison.

Learning about gentleness from honeybees

Text by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Journeyman Beekeepers at AHCC pose in front of their hives. Photo courtesy of AHCC staff.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending a celebration for the Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)  beekeeping club. At the ceremony, Travis—a Journeyman Beekeeper—shared an analogy about bees we all found rather striking. He told us, “Before I took the class, I always looked at them as the enemy.” Like everyone, he saw bees as pests. He reminded us: “Think about barbeques or picnics— you’re there with your family and friends and everyone is having a good time and sharing food and fun. Then, bees show up and start buzzing around your food. Maybe someone gets stung. Pretty soon these tiny creatures have ruined the picnic.”

A bee collects pollen from a flower growing by a housing unit at AHCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Then Travis described learning about honeybees, and how his perspective started to shift. When AHCC’s hives were delivered, he was part of the team that kept those bees alive and even thriving. He came to see this responsibility as a force for “good” in his life. He needed to change to care for those bees, and he noticed how that change lined up with the “theme of change” throughout the facility. He told us: “In my change, the hive is my focus. The center of my change.” Then, he went back to the earlier metaphor and brought it full circle:

He realized that society thinks he is going to ruin the picnic, too; criminals and incarcerated people are regarded as the pests of society. He wanted us to understand that, like the bees they care for, incarcerated individuals aren’t trying to ruin things for everyone else. Just like anyone, they’re there to spend time with their loved ones and enjoy the day. “We’re not here to ruin the picnic or barbeque, and through programs like this one we learn positive change.”

The bee hives at AHCC have their own yard, called the “honeybee yard.” Photo courtesy of SPP staff.

MCC-SOU graduates Beekeepers: their excitement is contagious!

Text by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

This is a poster created by staff at the SOU to advertise the program to inmates at the facility. Photo by SOU staff.

We are so excited to announce that Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offender Unit (SOU) just graduated their first class of Beekeepers! Since the beginning of their program last year, the SOU has been incredibly enthusiastic about beekeeping; it has been a pleasure to see their willingness to learn and try new things.

Honeybee comb formed in a top-bar hive. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The program partners with the Northwest District Beekeepers Association, and Association member Kurt Sahl volunteered as the program instructor. While every other prison bee program in the state has opted to use the Langstroth hives, the SOU uses primarily top-bar hives. Top-bar hives forgo pre-made, rectuangula frames, and leave space for bees to shape their comb as they wish (see photo for example).

Kathy Grey is the staff liaison for the beekeeping program, and one of the new Apprentice Beekeepers! With her permission, I’m sharing her description of the people and programs of the SOU.

All of the hives SOU has are painted by inmates at the facility, this one has flowers, bees, and the Earth. Photo by Bethany Shepler.
An observation window on the side of the top-bar hive allows you to see what’s going on inside the hive without opening, and disturbing, the hive. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

The Special Offender Unit (SOU) houses and treats mentally ill, intellectually disabled, and brain-injured inmates and is part of the larger Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, Washington. In addition to providing psychiatric care for the inmates, SOU also offers mental health counseling, educational opportunities, and innovative, sustainability programs for its incarcerated population. These programs include vegetable gardens and an animal rescue program that is still going strong with close to 900 animals adopted since its inception in January 2006. In addition to those programs, SOU offers Yoga Behind Bars, a University of Washington sponsored Book Club, a Community Visiting Volunteer Program and most recently the Beekeeping Program that was started last year. Beekeeping has been a fascinating outlet for the men at SOU and their excitement is contagious.

SOU is an interesting, dynamic facility with men who are eager to don their bee suits and learn everything they can this spring. Lastly, it’s important to note that volunteers are often pleasantly surprised by the genuine gratitude shown to them by the SOU inmates in recognition for their time, effort and talents.

Keep up the good work, SOU! We’re excited to see your continued successes unfold!