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1000th Certified Master Beekeeper and counting

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After two decades of participants from 22 states and two countries, the Georgia Master Beekeeper Program has just welcomed its 1,000th participant.

If you’ve ever attempted beekeeping, you probably know it’s not simply a matter of putting bees into a box. Beekeeping is equal parts science and art. Mastering both requires passion and dedication.

“It’s always a special event anytime someone passes the certified exam and enters the Georgia Master Beekeeper Program,” said Keith Delaplane, University of Georgia entomology professor and director of the Georgia Master Beekeeper Program.

Founded in 2002, the program is a four-step certification process created as a means for establishing local beekeeping experts throughout the state who offer their knowledge and guidance on all things bees within their respective communities.

“I’ve always been interested in bees, but in studying for the certification exam I really became fascinated by bee diseases,” said Moreen Rebeira, the 1,000th participant to enter the Georgia Master Beekeeper Program. “I would never expect bees to be so vulnerable, but they are so sensitive to varroa mites and hive beetles that introduce diseases. After I lost two of my own hives, I thought:  I’ll never let that happen again. I’ll learn from my mistakes through this program to teach others how to maintain healthy hives.”

The certification exam is the first step to entering the Georgia Master Beekeeper Program. The exam is offered by participating local bee clubs as well as annually at the UGA-Young Harris Beekeeping Institute on the campus of Young Harris College. The two-day meeting features a wide array of lectures from world-renowned bee scientists, honey-judging events and beekeeper-training workshops.

The crucial bottleneck of the program is the move from Certified Beekeeper to Journeyman Beekeeper, explained Delaplane. As participants continue through the various levels of certification, the exam material and requirements become increasingly more rigorous. Delaplane makes no apologies about it — if you want to hold a higher degree of expertise, you’ll have to earn it. A zero-fail policy on insect and disease identification establishes a high standard of integrity and ensures that participants in the program are credible and can be called upon by the public for their proficiency in beekeeping.

The capstone of the program is the Master Craftsman Beekeeper certification. The program’s highest level of expertise, it is equivalent to a specialized graduate degree.

In the nearly two decades since the program’s inception, only five participants have received Master Craftsman Beekeeper certification. Participants are required to do a research project, demonstrating mastery of one or more aspects of beekeeping. They must also show a thorough understanding of integrated pest management practices for healthy hive maintenance.

“For me, it’s purely selfish. I love starting new colonies and watching them grow,” said Cindy Hodges, a Master Craftsman Beekeeper who owns a small beekeeping operation in Dunwoody, Georgia, with her husband.

Hodges spent 10 years working toward her Master Craftsman certification. Her research focused on resins — called propolis — that bees collect that have immune-strengthening properties against bee diseases. Her work was published as a scientific note in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

“I consider myself a senior beekeeper, I’m older and never dreamed I would publish anything in my life. This program challenged me, and without that push I would not have known I could accomplish something like this,” Hodges said proudly.

To learn more about the UGA Honey Bee Program, beekeeping or the Georgia Master Beekeeper Program, visit bees.caes.uga.edu.

Emily Cabrera is the public relations coordinator for the Integrated Pest Management program at the University of Georgia.
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