Tag Archives: Washington State Beekeepers Association

Stafford Creek bee program teaches itself

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager

In early July 2020, Apprentice beekeeping student DeShan and Journeyman beekeeper Charles Roark check the health of a hive in the Stafford Creek Corrections Center program.

When the pandemic made it impossible for expert beekeepers from the outside community to visit, the program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center found a way to teach itself.

For a few years, the beekeeping program has been well-supported by a visiting expert who could deliver Washington State Beekeepers Association’s courses and certifications. From late in 2017 to summer 2019, beekeeper Duane McBride awarded Beginner certificates to 4 staff members and 76 incarcerated individuals and Apprentice certificates to 8 staff and 58 incarcerated beekeepers!

Stafford Creek’s bee club moved the hives to a warmer, drier site that easily can be seen by all visitors to the main prison campus.

During the past winter, building on that impressive foundation, the Stafford Creek program formed its own bee club and made plans to relocate their hives to a warmer, drier site.

At the same time, they gained a resident Journeyman beekeeper, Charles Roark; he had just transferred from Airway Heights Corrections Center (home of another amazing bee program). Apprentice beekeeper Rory had served as an assistant instructor in Duane’s last class. Supported by Bee Program Liaison Kelly Peterson, Charles and Rory joined forces to continue the education and certification program.

Apprentice students David Duhaime and David Lewis study and admire a worker bee perched on Lewis’ glove.

Together, they mentored Apprentice students in small groups, repeating each class three times so that every student could learn the same content and practice hands-on, all while keeping socially distanced. It was wonderful to hear that all partners — instructors, students, and the bees — thrived in the program. At the end of one session, a student said that it was his best day ever at the prison.

That magic was still alive when I visited the program in early July. Rory introduced the program by saying, “May I brag about our beekeeping program?” I was so glad he did! He was hardly the only one; there was a lot to be proud of. Ms. Peterson told us, “I don’t have to stress about this program…you guys are so good at it.”

I found many honeybees in the nearby garden beds — see that worker bee in the center of a big daisy?

They started the flight season with only two hives and had quickly grown the population to fill seven! The beekeepers told me about the character and quality of each queen and her hive and shared all kinds of observations. I was so pleased to see them in their element, showing the teamwork, creativity, and gentle respect that are the best parts of SPP’s bee programs.

On a frame of healthy bees,, you can see many different colors of flower pollen stored in the cells; these food stores are called “bee bread.”

To learn more about bee programs that endure during the pandemic, I recommend these articles:
Like honeybees, we are working together

Welcoming the bees back to WCC

The The Buzz About Honey Bees

Buzz about the bees: A chance to offer transformational education

By Shohei Morita, Beekeeping Program Coordinator for Sustainability in Prisons Project and Kathy Grey, Beekeeping Program Liaison for Monroe Correctional Complex – Special Offender Unit

Previously published in Washington State Beekeepers Association February 2020 Newsletter. Learn more about the people in SOU’s program.

Incarcerated beekeeping students at Monroe Correctional Complex – Special Offender Unit (MCC-SOU) are among the most enthusiastic beekeepers in the state, always eager to don their bee suits and learn everything they can. But, right now, there is something they are missing – an expert beekeeping instructor!
 
Do you love challenges and gaining new and rewarding experiences? MCC-SOU is looking for enthusiastic volunteer expert beekeepers to lead beekeeping certification classes!  
 
The beekeeping program, a collaborative effort by MCC-SOU, SPP staff at Evergreen, and Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA), provides therapeutic educational opportunity designed to break the cycle of incarceration and rebuild honey bee populations. You can be a part of the movement to provide incarcerated adults quality environmental education and job skills experience.
 
In just a few years, 11 prison facilities across the State have attained over 550 certifications. Most of these are “Beginner” level certificates, but some incarcerated individuals have attained “Apprentice” and even “Journeyman” level certificates. The program at MCC-SOU is relatively new and staff and student investment in the program is high. In the past year, 9 incarcerated beekeepers have attained Beginner certification and 5 have reached Apprentice-level certification.
 

Beekeepers in Monroe Correctional Complex’s sister program, at the Twin Rivers Unit, work with hives; this program is wonderfully supported by the Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

As a program partner, expert beekeeping instructor(s) are in charge of teaching beekeeping classes using the WASBA curriculum and guiding field work to provide formal beekeeping education and certification. MCC-SOU is happy to work around the instructor(s) schedules, including nights or weekends. All course and teaching materials including curriculum slides and textbooks will be provided. You are more than welcome to bring and share your own personal beekeeping tools and supplies, but that is not required.  

During an amphibian workshop, SOU students ask questions of guest expert Sadie Gilliom; Sadie shared that they were some of the most interested and engaged students ever! Photo by Liliana Caughman.

MCC-SOU is a unit dedicated to housing and treating individuals with mental health challenges. Therapeutic and educational programs are an important part of their care. Many men in the unit find focus and challenge to be both relieving and empowering. This is an opportunity for you to help a group of people who have traditionally been dismissed, ignored, and stomped on by society by making them feel beautiful and powerful, all through your area of expertise – beekeeping! 
  
If you are interested in volunteering or would like more information, check out this article and please contact SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, Shohei Morita at Shohei.morita1@evergreen.edu or (360)-867-5758.
 
“I was previously afraid of bees, so it was with much trepidation that I forged ahead and gained an appreciation, no a love, for these wonderful and oh so necessary creatures. The bees not only change us, they transform us into the men and beekeepers we are meant to be.” – Incarcerated student beekeeper

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!

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.”

More Beekeeping than Ever!

Text by Bethany Shepler,  SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager.
Photos by Bethany Shepler, except where otherwise noted.

About a year and a half ago, SPP partners hosted a beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Nearly every facility was represented and we were joined by Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA) leadership, local beekeeping clubs, and state agency pollinator enthusiasts and experts.

Group photo from the Beekeeping Summit in Spring 2017. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The summit was well timed to meet growing interest in bringing beekeeping to prisons around the state. A few WA prisons have hosted beekeeping for years and SPP partners were hearing inquiries from many others interested in starting new programs. SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair suggested a summit, and that was the catalyst we needed; it brought everyone together to learn from each other, expand practical knowledge, and build enthusiasm.

The effects of the summit are still being felt around the state. A year and a half later, WA Corrections is part of 13 active beekeeping programs, and all 10 of the new programs are doing well. Some facilities are conducting scientific trials and learning about honeybee forensics. This fall, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) and Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) participated in a USDA national survey on bee health.

Each program is worthy of its own article. Here, we will share just one or two highlights from each. Check out all of the incredible accomplishments of beekeepers in prisons:

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)

AHCC has one of the fastest growing beekeeping programs in Washington prisons, and the first to create their own bee club. Working with West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers created the first draft of a new, state-wide Journeyman course manual, pictured above—a stunning accomplishment. Currently, Washington State Beekeepers Association is refining AHCC’s draft for publication, for both prison and non-prison programs! We are ecstatic to see the support and excitement AHCC has shown for their beekeeping program and look forward to their continued success! 

Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC)

Clallam Bay hosted its second beekeeping intensive this spring. Students had already completed the Beginner Beekeeping modules, and prepared further by reading books and scientific articles. Mark Urnes of North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers spent a full day with students; he answered questions and work-shopped on beekeeping best practices. 

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)

Cedar Creek is one of the oldest beekeeping programs in the state and has certified more than 60 beekeepers so far. The wood shop at the facility built the hives for the McNeil Island beekeeping program. The picture here is of wood shop crew and Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley tasting honey at a beekeeping workshop; expert beekeeper Laurie Pyne covered beekeeping basics and the differences in honey types from different pollen sources. CCCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC)

Coyote Ridge supports a beekeeping program that has been going strong since its inception 2 years ago. To support the bees, staff members and inmates planted more pollinator friendly plants around the facility. To protect the hives from central Washington’s cold winter weather, they “winter-ize” the boxes, shown above: they wrapped the hive in insulation and put cedar chips or burlap inside the hive to draw up moisture. CRCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association.

Larch Corrections Center (LCC)

Larch has four hives and a nuc (that’s the small box on the left) at their facility. This picture was taken last week, just after the bees had been fed and they were all buzzing around busily! Their hives are really strong right now so we’re hopeful that they’ll do well over the Winter. LCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Clark County Beekeepers Association.

McNeil Island Beekeeping Program (McNeil Island and CCCC)

This project is so exciting and unusual! The McNeil Island beekeeping project has been a dream for more than 4 years and the Summit helped launch it into realty. Ownership and management of McNeil Island is complex, so the program needed input and support from many partners: staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeWashington Department of Natural Resources, and CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!). Enthusiastic endorsements from Secretary Steve Sinclair and then Deputy Secretary Jody Becker Green helped, too!  🙂 

This past May, the first hives of bees arrived at the island. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, a team of local beekeeping experts visited the hives frequently. On many visits, they support incarcerated beekeepers’ gaining hands-on experience (pictured above). The program’s beekeepers seek to understand the impact that pesticides have on bees–McNeil Island is a rare, pesticide-free environment. The expert beekeeping team includes Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Andy Matelich, and Dixon Fellows. Photo by Laurie Pyne.

Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offenders Unit (MCC-SOU)

MCC-SOU has shown incredible amounts of enthusiasm for beekeeping! They launched their program just this spring, and it’s been so exciting to see the students, staff, and local beekeeping expert dive into the program. This is the only facility in the state using Top Bar Hives. The picture above shows the bulletin board in the facility advertising the beekeeping program, courtesy of Kathy Grey.

MCC-SOU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit (MCC-TRU)

Inmates and staff at MCC-TRU have shown tons of energy for beekeeping! Even though bees were only delivered in April, they’ve already completed one Apprentice level certification course. Their hives have been so successful that they were able to split hives and collected honey! They also had a hive on display at the Evergreen State Fair, and they exhibited many photos of their beekeepers in action. The photo shows a staff beekeeper showing a frame covered in bees to onlookers at the fair. Photo by SPP staff. 

MCC-TRU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

MCCCW may be small, but they are a mighty program. Over the last year, they faced some challenges with finding pollinating plants and relocating their hives. But that didn’t stop them or even slow the program–they graduated 3 times as many incarcerated students in their most recent class as their previous class. They also have strong, healthy hives going into winter! MCCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with West Sound Beekeepers Association

Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

SCCC has had hives for many years. Next to the hives is a beekeeping interpretive sign–picture above–and in the summer of 2018 a few queen bees found that sign to be an ideal place to emerge into the world! Photo by Kelly Peterson. 

SCCC’s bee program added a beekeeping class this year with it’s first class graduating in January. Since then, they have completed 4 classes, and the wait list of students keeps growing. Their classes regularly include both incarcerated and corrections staff students. SCCC beekeeping program is in partnership with local expert beekeeper Duane McBride.

Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

WCC hosts an ever-growing beekeeping program! They started out on the right foot, building a high quality shelter for their hives. The bees are housed next to the Prairie Conservation Nursery Program, and this means there can be a lot of cross pollination between the two SPP-supported programs. WCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association. Photo by Ricky Osborne. 

Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

A crew from WCCW has been keeping bees at Mother Earth Farm for many years. Tacoma Community College students at the prison have long learned about beekeeping and pollinators as part of the horticulture program. In 2016, the two programs joined forces and brought hives inside the prison fence. Now you can see honeybees throughout WCCW’s gardens, happily tending to the many flowers. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

WCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with Mother Earth Farms.

Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)

WSP hosts an enduring and impressive beekeeping program! Two WSP staff members are experienced beekeepers, and they serve both as instructors and program sponsors. This year they had 15 hives and participated in the USDA National Honey Bee Pest Survey! In this photo, beekeeping students learn from expert beekeeper Mona Chambers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

WSP’s beekeeping program is in partnership with West Plains Beekeepers Association.

These programs are born out of collaboration and enthusiasm of many partners. We are so excited to see these efforts will continue to grow!

Beekeeping at Clallam Bay

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Students observe a frame from the hive Mark brought in. This frame has wax on it and some cells were full of pollen.

Beekeeping has been growing in popularity throughout prisons in Washington State, with 12 facilities now housing hives! Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) is among them; the prison has 3 healthy hives tended by inmate and staff apprentice beekeepers certified by WA State Beekeepers Association. CBCC is located in Clallam Bay on the Olympic Peninsula adjacent to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Beekeeping instructor Mark Urnes shows students a bottom board from the hive he brought in as a demonstration tool.

The liaison holds a drawing of bee drone biology made by incarcerated students.

Earlier in the spring, CBCC hosted a day-long intensive seminar for a new group of incarcerated beekeepers. Beekeeping instructor Mark Urnes, the education lead for the North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers’ Association, led the seminar and fielded many questions from the inmate beekeepers.They covered topics such as bee biology, pathogens, and colony collapse disorder. Students came prepared, so that they could get as much out of the intensive as possible; all had read scientific articles, bee journals, and reviewed their class notes from WA State Beekeepers Association apprenticeship curriculum. They brought with them drawings of bee biology and model hives that aided Mark’s descriptions and demonstrations.

The CBCC officer who sponsors the beekeeping program told me many stories about how beekeeping has had positive impacts on the lives of inmates and staff. The staff sponsor was proud to share that inmates who go through the program have a lasting positive effects from it. I was so happy to hear that the program is being so well received and having such a positive effect on the lives of those involved in it.

More images from the intensive follow.

Another sketch by incarcerated students shows a cross section of a hive showing the different stages of bee larvae within the hive cells.

This frame shows wax that is fresher, towards the side of the frame, compared to older wax in the middle of the frame.

Students listen as Mark answers questions.

Students had constructed a model hive out of paper (seen on the table) and Mark used it to aid the part of his presentation about the different parts of a hive and the purpose they serve.

Mark holds a picture of queen next to some worker bees. Here he was talking about the importance of queen health to the hive as a whole.

Mark listens as a student asks a question.

Keep up the good work, CBCC!

 

McNeil Island’s Newest Residents

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

After four years of organizing, planning, and building a team, honeybees have arrived at McNeil Island.
This spring marks a special occasion for Washington State beekeeping and beekeepers: we have installed honeybees on McNeil Island! McNeil Island offers wonderful beekeeping prospects because the island is pesticide-free—a rare resource in the region. Pesticides can interfere with bees’ senses, or even be toxic, so having access to a place that is free of pesticides is an exciting opportunity for beekeepers.

A bit of background on McNeil Island

McNeil Island housed a federal penitentiary from 1875 to 1981, when WA Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) took over the facility. In 2011, WA Corrections closed down the prison on McNeil Island, but they continue to be stewards of this epic landscape—Correctional Industry (CI) staff oversee stewardship operations. McNeil Island now houses a Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS) special commitment facility, and the old prison is used by the military, National Guard, WA Corrections, and others for training purposes. (If you want to know more about the island and its history, here’s the link to the Wikipedia page.)

On our trip around the island we would see signs like this one.

We visited the island a week before the bees were dropped off to take a tour and complete preparations. It’s not very big, but it’s a beautiful island nestled in the Puget Sound and mostly covered in vegetation. Sprinkled around the island are boarded-up houses where prison staff lived when the facility was in operation, and there’s even an old school house for their families. Even though we haven’t seen them yet, there are a few bears that live on the island, too!

The expert beekeeping team—we’re so lucky to be working with them! From left to right: Dixon Fellows, Gail Booth, Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, and Andy Matelich.

Honeybee Home

The bee hives are in a small structure in the center of this photo; it’s a perfect location, surrounded by an orchard and shielded from the elements by an old bus stop.

The bee installation crew made some final preparations just before the bees moved to their new home.

Collaboration is Key

This project could not have been possible without the collaboration of many different partners including SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair, staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural Resources, CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!) and leadership, local expert beekeepers from the community, incarcerated beekeepers, and of course, the honeybees. It’s a great team; thank you everyone!

The installation crew included expert beekeepers from the Olympia area, incarcerated beekeepers from CCCC, and staff from CI and CCCC. Five expert beekeepers worked with us to bring this project to life: Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Dixon Fellows, Andy Matelich, and team lead Laurie Pyne. They scoped-out the island and picked the best location for the bee hives inside the orchard. CCCC inmate beekeepers and and carpenters also made critical contributions to the program, too: they built the hive boxes and supporting benches, helped locate the bus stop, assisted in placement, helped move the bees, and and shone as invested partners! More recently, a major supplier of beekeeping equipment in the region, Mann Lake, donated some of the supplies the program will need as the hives grow and multiply—it is wonderful to have their support.

Honeybees are Nothing to Bee Scared of!

Two worker bees landed on Officer Epling’s fingers; in the background, incarcerated beekeepers attached handles to the hives constructed in the CCCC woodshop.

Expert beekeeper Gail Booth shows an unsure beekeeper a young worker bee that landed on the stick. Gail walked around with the female bee discussing how you could tell her age and what tasks she might perform for her hive; the informal “meet-and-greet” eased some nerves about being so close to the bees.

The Hive Boxes

Incarcerated students from CCCC’s carpentry program, with guidance from Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley, built the custom hives from reclaimed wood. Students also painted and stenciled the bee logo onto each hive box. They look great!

Following the McNeil Island launch, Laurie Pyne visited CCCC’s carpentry class and offered a talk; the students had a chance to learn more about the program and see their great hive boxes in place on the island. They also partook of a honey tasting, comparing the flavors and consistencies of honey made from six sources of nectar; wildflower honey was a favorite.

 

Suit up

The bees were transported in one of the beekeeper’s truck.  

Everyone suited up to protect against getting stung. Even though bees are docile and don’t want to sting you, sometimes they get pinched between clothes or think that the hive is threatened and then they will sting; it’s good to be prepared.

Where’s the Queen?

Expert beekeeper Andy Matelich holds up a frame and looks for the queen. The queens are a key indicator of a hive’s health, and get marked so that they could be easily found again. One of the queens dropped to the ground and could have been squished, but an incarcerated beekeeper with a good eye spotted her and saved the day!

An incarcerated beekeeper placed a frame into the new hive boxes.

Andy and the rest of the bee installation crew inspected each frame before inserting them into the new hive boxes.

At the end of the day, the bees were buzzing around their new homes, no one got stung, and everyone had learned something about bees and beekeeping…there is always more to learn when it comes to bees.

Officer Epling, left, and Officer Kennedy, right, take a minute to look at the bee hives. Officer Epling is teaching Officer Kennedy about bees and beekeeping as Officer Kennedy prepares to take over as liaison for the beekeeping program at CCCC and McNeil Island.

First Journeyman Beekeepers Have Graduated From AHCC!

Text by Kay Heinrich, Associate Superintendent, Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)
Photo by AHCC staff.

Graduating class from AHCC.

Airway Heights Apiculture is Preparing Apprentice Beekeepers to Become Journeyman and to Raise Queen Honeybees!

About fifty inmates at the Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) have successfully completed an apprentice course and are certified Apprentice Beekeepers through the Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA). Of those, approximately fifteen are on their way to becoming Journeyman-level Beekeepers through the WASBA Master Beekeepers program. The inmates who are pursuing Journeyman status have formed a beekeeping club named Airway Heights Apiculture (AHA). This is possible because of the administration’s support and expert tutelage of Master Beekeeper Jim Miller. Also, the class of students itself has helped to develop test and training materials, creating a training curriculum that fits the needs of a corrections environment (more about that from club members, below). The AHA club is a subsidiary of the West Plains Beekeepers Association, a nonprofit organization.

On 2/15/2018, the Bee class graduated its first Journeyman Beekeeping class. We had a celebration for the gentlemen who graduated to celebrate their hard work that was well attended.

Behind The Scenes: Writing from members of AHA

After several months of club meetings, serious discussions began to take place regarding the future of the beekeeping program and possible means to advance educational and organizational objectives. Jim mentioned that he would like to replace the existing Journeyman Beekeeper training manual currently in use in the beekeeping community. Would the AHA club be up for the challenge of expanding on Jim’s outline for a new journeyman manual and developing an entire training curriculum to be implemented at AHCC?

Beekeepers at AHCC check on a hive. Photo by DOC staff.

Of course! The club members had wanted to do something meaningful and have a lasting positive impact; their creation would be greater than themselves and would survive long after their release back into the community.

The project was simple enough: ten chapters based on a pre-existing outline by Jim, 20 questions for each chapter, and PowerPoint presentations for each of the lessons. Ten club members accepted the challenge. Following several weeks of writing, revising, and debate over the details of educational objectives, the booklet was finally complete. Club members worked together well and overcame apprehension and doubt. Now they can see the results of their hard work. A few weeks later they finished development of PowerPoint presentations and the first Journeyman class was ready to begin.

Hives next to the prisons largest garden. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Roughly 15 eager and enthusiastic students signed up – all graduates from the first three Apprentice classes. The aspiring Journeyman who developed the presentations did an excellent job facilitating the classes and helped set the standard for future classes. Students will have to pass a test spanning 100 questions. They must also pass a practical field exam to show their knowledge of beekeeping by demonstrating setting up hives, using hive tools, and inspecting frames. Students who graduate will be that much closer to their goal of becoming a Journeyman Beekeeper. Each student will still have to serve as an apprentice for three years, earn 30 service points, maintain a hive journal for a year, and mentor a new beekeeper.

Queen-Rearing: A Crowning Achievement!

Another exciting stage of progress is coming to AHCC – queen-rearing is about to be implemented by AHA and the time couldn’t be better! One of the long term goals which stated by administration is to advance sustainable beekeeping to other institutions in Washington. Queen-rearing at AHCC would help to provide queen bees to the various beekeeping programs throughout the state. This will advance beekeeping efforts to be self-sustaining and would provide additional education to inmates aspiring towards the level of Master Beekeeper. In addition to facilitating training for new apprentice and journeyman beekeepers, inmate beekeepers would be responsible for maintaining the activities of the queen-rearing program with the continued assistance of community sponsors and the support of administration.

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For further reading, see a related article from Sue Box, Library Associate at the Airway Heights Corrections Center: https://blogs.sos.wa.gov/library/index.php/2018/02/beekeepers-at-the-airway-heights-corrections-center/

Busy as a Bee at WSP

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Group photo of program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, professional beekeeper Mona Chambers, and a class of inmate beekeepers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Amid the razor wire and blocky buildings of the Washington State Penitentiary, you might be surprised to see beautiful blooming flowers and thousands of bees busily bumbling through their work. From catching feral swarms, to breeding their own queens, the beekeeping program at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) has established themselves as a successful and inspirational model.

The program began about 5 years ago when three feral hives were discovered on the grounds. Some of the staff was interested in raising bees and contacted Rob Coffee, an experienced beekeeper. Unfortunately, those first few hives didn’t last the year, but still it was enough of an introduction to catch the interest of staff and inmates.

Over the years, there have been staffing changes and many generations of bees have come and gone. Rob Jackson, now Associate Superintendent, first pushed for the bee program when he noticed those feral hives on site. These days the program is run by Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, both corrections staff and experienced beekeepers. Last year, a professional beekeeper and founder of See the Bees, Mona Chambers, donated her time to come teach a class of beekeepers at WSP; since then she has kept in contact with them monthly and has supported program innovations such as natural, effective ways of mite control. The program also receives some input from the same Master beekeeper (from Millers Homestead) who supports the beekeeping program at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A class at WSP working with bees. When asked about the beekeeping course, one student said “I love it. It’s so exciting. Honored to be a part of it, really. If they were going to transfer me next to my family, I’d tell them to wait until this was done.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Jonathan and Ron teach WSP’s class to certify inmates as apprentice beekeepers has 15 slots, and clearly this isn’t enough to meet demand – there were 90 inmates who wanted to take the class this year! The course is split between in-class sessions and hands-on working with hives. Their goal of the program is for inmates to gain sufficient experience and journeyman level-certification so they could teach the classes themselves. Even in the early days of the bee program, staff wanted this to be a program that inmates could be fully involved in and eventually run.

Currently, WSP has 12 healthy hives, and that’s even though only 5 made it through the winter. To boost their numbers, they catch feral swarms or buy packages of bees. The one thing that WSP won’t buy are queens—they can rely on Ron Benjamin’s experience as a commercial beekeeper in which he learned how to breed queens. By breeding their own queens, they can choose to favor certain traits and genetics beneficial to their environment.

A class of students, program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, and professional beekeeper Mona Chambers inspect the hives before opening them to check on WSP’s bees. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The WSP beekeeping program’s main goal is to help incarcerated individuals build skills as productive members of society, but they have many other things they want to accomplish, too. They want to educate inmates and staff about the beekeeping crisis on the west coast, and do their part to reverse the bee shortage; they want to give inmates opportunity to experience the serenity that comes with beekeeping; and—above all—teach inmates a marketable skill to have when they’re released.

As the season wraps up, WSP will harvest their honey and package it in jars that are decorated in a seal designed by this years’ graduated beekeepers. Once they finish harvesting, they will begin to wind down for the winter. We at SPP look forward to more continued success and inspiration from the busy beekeepers of WSP.

An inmate beekeeper inspects a frame outside of a hive at WSP. Photo by Ricky Osborne.