LITTLE ROCK – As backyard vegetable gardens and chicken coops become more popular, so does another element of modern homesteading: beekeeping. For those looking to learn more about the practice or brush up on their skills, the Cooperative Extension Service’s new online beekeeping course provides information on the tools, costs, and safety precautions.
The free complete beekeeping short course is available at uaex.uada.edu/bee-class and on the Cooperative Extension Service YouTube page. Jon Zawislak, a beekeeping specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and Eastern Apicultural Society-certified Master Beekeeper, teaches the course, which is broken down into multiple topics. The series covers the structure and function of every part of a modern beehive, basic tools and equipment needed, and information on safe practices and protective clothing. Zawislak also covers basic honey bee biology and behavior, honey production and harvesting, and honey bee health, including recognizing and treating honey bee diseases, parasites and hive pests.
Zawislak said the biology and behavior of honeybees “are often neglected in training beekeepers.”
“Some books and classes focus mainly on what a beekeeper should do at different times of the year, without much explanation of what the bees will be trying to do,” he said. “Honeybees are fascinating and intelligent living creatures, and they are constantly trying to explore their world and get resources from it, and they make some very complex decisions as a group. If beekeepers are better able to understand what their bees want, they can better manage those colonies to help them thrive and be productive.”
The online beekeeping course also includes information about the challenges of the practice. Zawislak said people should spend between $500 and $800 to get started, and the work can be physically demanding.
“Expect to spend warm hours in a bee suit, lifting heavy, and there will always be the occasional bee stings when you least expect them,” he said.
Zawislak said part of his goal with the beekeeping course is to encourage people who think they are “willing to take it on,” as well as to discourage “those who may not be ready for this kind of commitment.”
“It’s a bit like gardening,” he said. “It takes a lot of hard work to get it right, but it’s a labor of love. A home-grown Arkansas tomato will always be better than a supermarket tomato shipped across the country on a truck. The same goes for your own backyard honey. It will always surpass the stuff available to you on a supermarket shelf. And once you’ve tasted fresh honey, you can’t settle for less.”
Zawislak started offering personal beekeeping classes in 2010. He said he received a “very positive response” to these classes, leading to many requests from local beekeeping clubs and county educators to offer similar classes in Arkansas locations.
Amy Cole, the extension’s digital media program manager, said beekeeping content brings many visitors to the Cooperative Extension Service’s website and social media pages.
“The honeybee pages on our website are always very popular and we are found in the top search results in Google for keywords such as ‘beekeeping’ thanks to relevant and robust content from Dr. Zawislak,” said Cole.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, all face-to-face classes were suspended. As he continued to offer programs through Zoom and consult individual beekeepers via email and phone calls, Zawislak said it became “clear that there was a great need for broad availability and on-demand online of these types of courses.”
“I wanted this course to be available online to everyone for free, to give people a solid foundation of knowledge about honeybee keeping,” Zawislak said. “It will benefit beginners before they start and can be a good refresher for experienced beekeepers, who may not have taken a formal course before.
“It had to be thorough without being overwhelming,” he said. “There are some great videos available online on specific topics, but not a complete, comprehensive series that is scientifically valid and current. That is the niche we wanted to fill.”
The beekeeping course videos became available on September 20, and the Southwest Arkansas Beekeepers Association is already planning to use the course materials in an upcoming series of classes and workshops.
“The basic beekeeping course that Dr. Zawislak has taught in person over the years has been without a doubt the best classroom training available in Arkansas, and we are very excited to see the Cooperative Extension Service provide the course material online so that it is available to anyone, at any time. said Debra Bolding, membership president of the Southwest Arkansas Beekeepers Association.
Zawislak said he hopes to add more beekeeping content to the Cooperative Extension Service’s YouTube page in the future.
“Anyone who has ever considered keeping bees could benefit from watching this series,” he said. “The industry continues to change, so even experienced beekeepers can tune in to get a deeper understanding of what they’re already doing. Once people realize just how amazing honeybees really are, they can’t resist trying beekeeping.”
For more information and to access the complete beekeeping short course, visit uaex.uada.edu/bee-class or the Cooperative Extension Service YouTube page.