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Beekeepers assess colony during an LCBA workshop. Courtesy of Susanne Weil.

Susanne Weil and her husband, Peter Glover, first got into beekeeping when the Lewis County Beekeepers’ Association (LCBA) was born 12 years ago. They grew as beekeepers through the association’s mentorship. Now, they’re both LCBA officers and care for seven colonies of their own. 

“We just find them endlessly fascinating,” Weil said. 

According to the beekeeping hobbyist, “bee people are a little different.” Weil teaches English at Centralia College, and recalled a video she made for her students one year. Sporting two pigtails, she filmed herself chatting with her bees through the phone. It was a goof, but Weil can attest that social interaction is a real part of beekeeping. 

“Research has shown that honeybees can recognize individual human beings and distinguish them from each other. They actually can. It’s remarkable,” she said. 

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Beekeepers work to hive a swarm of bees hanging from a tree. Courtesy of Susanne Weil.

This year, the LCBA was forced to shift their monthly meetings online due to the COVID-19 pandemic — not ideal, considering how hands-on beekeeping is. Plus, their outreach was cut short after the cancelation of big events like the Southwest Washington Fair. Luckily, regular workshops were still held, as the organization’s apiary has a dozen hives with enough space between them to maintain social distancing. 

Now, as the pandemic is keeping residents home and away from large gatherings, Weil hopes that the LCBA’s upcoming “Your First Year of Beekeeping” class could act as a “silver lining inside the COVID cloud.” The seven-week course begins this January, and the LCBA is soliciting youngsters to apply for their youth scholarship program before the Dec. 11 deadline. 

“Folks who are homeschooling their kids, these scholarships for beekeeping could be great for them,” Weil said. “We’re really trying to get young people into beekeeping. If you come to a typical meeting, there’s a lot of grey heads.”

The scholarship is aimed at students in sixth to 10th grade interested in animal husbandry and science, but who don’t have experience in beekeeping. Every year the LCBA sponsors three to four kids, who can attend the class for free and are provided bees, a mentor, an LCBA membership and equipment. Students can attend the class in-person or via a fully online version this year. Community members of any age are welcome to take the course for $50.

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Bees buzz through geared-up beekeepers who view a demonstration at an LCBA workshop. Courtesy of Susanne Weil.

The class is held in the winter because that’s when the bees experience diapause, slowing down and staying in the hive to keep the queen warm until spring. In the meantime, novice beekeepers can learn the ropes by getting their hands on equipment and learning how to adapt beekeeping to the Pacific Northwest’s wet and cold climate. The LCBA’s course specifically focuses on beekeeping in Southwest Washington, where a shorter growing season means bees have less time to build up winter stores. Beekeepers can compensate through strategic hive placement and intentional gardening. 

So far, the youth scholarship has been fairly successful, Weil said. About half of previous scholars are still involved with the organization, and even more are still beekeeping. While Weil and Glover beekeep just for fun, the class emphasizes that it can absolutely be a career. 

“We have people in our club who’ve become commercial beekeepers, who travel with their bees and do pollination in California and Eastern Washington, and sell their honey,” she said. “So we want young people to see that beekeeping can be a viable career or a supplemental income.”

As winter rolls around, the LCBA is also a good place to find locally-made honey for holiday gifts. A list of local beekeepers and where to find their products can be found at lewiscountybeekeepers.org, along with application materials for the youth scholarship.

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