WESTFIELD – The Hampden County Beekeepers Association (HCBA) will host its annual seven-week course on beekeeping via Zoom this year.
The course is held every other Thursday evening Jan. 14 through March 25 from 6:30 to 9 p.m., for a total of six classes.
Westfield Technical Academy Horticulture Instructor and beekeeper Nate Sperry is one of several HCBA members who will be teaching the course, which is usually held in Longmeadow High School. Sperry said the enrollment fee of $75 includes membership in the HCBA, access to mentors for a year which include club meetings, and for the first time a hands-on visit to the HCBA apiary in Suffolk, Conn.
“We decided to do it remotely. Last year, a lot of people started beekeeping because of the lockdown. The places where we buy supplies were having a hard time keeping up,” Sperry explained. He said the HCBA felt it was important to hold the course due to all the new beekeepers out there.
Currently, Sperry estimates that there are 200 beekeepers in Westfield. He said the number of people keeping bees has grown exponentially since he started 15 years or so ago. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of local help, and people at the club meetings numbered in the single digits. They now average 60 to 70 at every meeting.
Sperry also said it’s a good idea for somebody just starting to take the course. “I would not recommend someone keep bees without taking the course. I learned by making a lot of mistakes, which was expensive. With access to a mentor, you can avoid those mistakes,” he said, adding that keeping bees alive is not that easy, and there are a lot of things to keep in mind during the progression from spring to summer to fall to keep the colony healthy. HCBA members receive reminders during the calendar year of things to be mindful of with their hives.
“I think it’s a good value,” Sperry said. He said the visit which they’ve added to their apiary in Suffolk in March or April will be a hands-on component, at which people will be able to go through the hives with the teachers “It’s a much better situation for people to have a hands-on piece,” he said.
People who are interested in learning about bees and their place in the ecosystem are also encouraged to take the course. Sperry said the class is set up to teach basic information about keeping bees, but is also for people interested in gardening and the environment, or people who might want to have something to do and connect with a group.
“We talk about honey extraction and bottling in the class, and other products you can make, such as wax. It’s a hobby that pays for itself and it’s very satisfying when you can jar your first bottle of honey made by your bees on your property,” Sperry said.
Sperry has three hives at WTA which he introduces to horticulture students as a part of their shop work. “We go into it with students, six or eight at a time, either when we have time, or when something needs to be done. It’s not a main focus of the program, but generally students are pretty amazed at what they see,” he said.
He teaches the students about the relationship of bees to horticulture and the importance of pollinators, and also about marketing an agricultural crop.
“I do tell them there are people who do commercial beekeeping as a career. They are not a huge portion of the agriculture industry, but it is a thing that people do and make a living at. It is a viable career field,” Sperry said.