Three elements of prison beekeeping programs

1. Restoration & conservation of honeybees & native pollinators

A bumblee pollinates a flower in a prison garden. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We depend on honeybees for our food supply: of 100 crop species that provide 90% of our global food supply, 71 are bee pollinated. Without their help, we don’t have crops such as apples, carrots, onions, melons, lemons, almonds, or cabbage. Meats and dairy depend on these insects too, because farm animals need plants sustained by pollinators to eat. Most native plants depend on native pollinators, so natural habitats are also at stake; pollinators are needed by 85% of the world’s flowering plants!

In recent decades, honeybee and other pollinators have been dying at a frightening rate, putting our food sources in jeopardy. We need healthy hives to conserve and restore bee populations. Pollinator health has become a national priority; as a hobby or career, beekeeping is gaining societal recognition and value.

2. Beekeeping education and certification

Laurie Pyne, Olympia Beekeeper’s Association, and incarcerated technicians discuss beekeeping practices at SCCC. Photo by Tiffany Webb.

Beekeeping is inherently educational. To be successful, beekeepers must read widely, keep careful records, follow protocols, network with fellow beekeepers, and learn from methodical trial and error. To support this process, SPP-Evergreen will support beekeeping programs by providing high quality guides to beekeeping and associated topics, helping to develop and support partnerships with beekeeping organizations, and identifying fitting scientific research for programs to try.

In partnership with Olympia Beekeepers, Cedar Creek Corrections Center successfully piloted beekeeping certification in-prison, and others have followed suit. Qualified volunteers from the local beekeepers associations have provided Washington State Beekeepers Association apprenticeship-level instruction and certification to classes of incarcerated students and corrections staff. The formal education is an asset to the in-prison beekeeping program, and also helps to build participants’ resumes. Volunteer beekeepers benefit as well—they give community service hours to advance their own certification.

3. Contributions to nearby communities

Incarcerated beekeepers check the hives at McNeil Island; the hives were created at the CCCC wood shop by incarcerated students working with Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley. Photo by Laurie Pyne.

Prison beekeeping programs can produce products to give back to visitors and community organizations. Several programs already produce lip balms, lotions, candles, and other products made from wax and honey. Our longer-term goal is to expand existing and create new programs to provide: hive boxes made from reclaimed wood; prison-bred local queen bees; and established healthy hives for schools and other non-profits

Prison programs also may conduct observations and research that informs regional knowledge of best practices; this contribution is sorely needed.

If you are a Master or Journeyman Beekeeper, and would like to support beekeeping in prisons, please get in touch! Contact program coordinator Shohei Morita.

Wait, aren’t bees dangerous??


Jamar Glenn and Fiona Edwards stand among honeybees flying to and from their hives, and one of them feels more comfortable than the other about being among bees without protective gear. Photo by SPP staff.

Honeybees prefer not to sting. They eat only flower parts, and sting only when attacked. Stinging is a honeybees last resort, because stinging ruptures the body, killing them. Yellowjackets and other kinds of hornets, however, are aggressive meat eaters. They can sting many times, and it hurts much worse than a bee sting.

Even so, prisons planning bee programs will have a safety plan in place before bringing honeybees inside. We want to be sure that folks with acute allergies can get immediate treatment if stung.

bee-types from organizedchaosdotcom

If you got stung, it was probably a yellowjacket that did it (bottom left.) Photo from

A professional beekeeper handles bees in a way that shows just how comfortable it can be; we recommend gloves, of course! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Start learning about honeybees & you might not want to stop…

 Honeybees are ridiculously cool and interesting. A few examples:

  • Honeybees are among the most social of creatures: group needs trump individual needs
  • You may have never seen a male honeybee; all honeybee workers are female!
  • Bees collect both pollen and nectar from flowers, and can carry close to her own weight; protein-rich pollen is for the larvae (baby bees), and the nectar is mainly for adults
  • Mix royal jelly into a larva’s food, and she will become a queen; when 2 or more queens are born, they will fight to the death
  • Worker bees transform nectar into honey to store for winter. Worker bees add an enzyme to the nectar, pass it from mouth to mouth (!), and fan nectar-filled cells with their wings to reduce the water content.
  • Honey is safe to eat without processing, and never goes bad; it is antibacterial and tastes like the flowers from which it comes.

In the summer of 2015, King 5 did a story on beekeeping education at Cedar Creek; here they interview SPP’s Joslyn Rose Trivett about the benefits of beekeeping programs. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Things you can do to help honeybees

(adapted with permission from the Olympia Beekeepers)

There are a number of very simple ways you can help.

  • Plant pollinator-friendly flowers and herbs (here is an example).
  • Don’t use pesticides or herbicides or fertilizers that contain pesticides on your lawn or garden. Bees love dandelions and clover.
  • Buy pesticide-free food. Support your local organic farmers.
  • Learn more about bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Share with everyone you know!
  • Become a beekeeper with honey or mason bees. Keeping healthy domestic bees actually helps wild populations: “It’s really up to the beekeepers. When they keep their bees healthy, they also keep the wild pollinators healthy.” (from the Washington Post)
  • Bees need water, especially in the hot, summer months. Place a bird bath or basin with stones (to prevent bee drownings) in your garden or yard to provide a water source for them.
  • Write to your local and federal government leaders, senators and representatives asking them to support legislation that is favorable to pollinators.
  • Get your school, church or business involved in “Beeing a Pollinator”.
  • Share what you’ve learned with your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers. The more this information is shared and ideas pollinated, just like the bees visiting all those flowers, the sooner we can turn a dire situation into a sustainable one.