Written By: Emily Cabrera
Experts/Sources: Dr. Keith Delaplane, University of Georgia professor, Cindy Hodges, Master Craftsman Beekeeper, Moreen Rebeira, Certified Beekeeper

Participants in the Master Beekeeper Program at the Young Harris Bee Institute must prove their knowledge of bee handling and bee identification during the certification exam, as pictured here. Photo credit: Keith Delaplane.

After two decades, drawing from twenty-two states and two countries, the Georgia Master Beekeeper Program has just welcomed its 1000th 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 Dr. Keith Delaplane, University of Georgia professor and state director of the program.

Founded in 2002 the Georgia Master Beekeeper 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 within their respective communities on all things bees.

“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 1000th participant to enter the 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, and after I lost two of my own hives I thought I’ll never let the at happen again, I’ll learn from my mistakes through this program to teach others how to maintain healthy hives.”

The certified exam is the first step to entering the Georgia Master Beekeeper Program. The exam is offered each year in late spring at the Young Harris Beekeeping Institute on the campus of Young Harris College. The two-day meeting boasts 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. The zero-fail policy establishes a high standard of integrity and ensures that participants of the program are reliable and can be called upon by the public for their proficiency in beekeeping.

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

In the nearly two decades since the program’s inception, only five participants have received this honor. 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 of 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 ten years working toward her Master Craftsman certification. Her research project focused on the extraordinary behavior of specialized, propolis-hoarding honey bees.

“I consider myself a senior beekeeper, I’m older and I had never published 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 Georgia Master Beekeeper Program, visit bees.caes.uga.edu.