BURRILLVILLE – Betty Mencucci says she ‘knew nothing’ about bees when she first inherited 10 hives following her father’s death in 1988.
Now, the Burrillville native teaches courses on the skill of beekeeping at Rhode Island College, sharing her expertise on the ecologically valuable insects with those new to the subject.
Mencucci keeps 20 hives at locations in Glendale, Harrisville and Mapleville, and is the bee school director – and bee school instructor – for the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association. Later this month, she’ll begin teaching the five-week course at RIC, educating beginners about how to get started with topics such as the honeybee life cycle, and choosing an apiary site.
A past president of RIBA, Mencucci first began teaching the courses in the 1990s.
“Back then, beekeeping was becoming a lost art,” she said. “There was very little interest.”
Keeping bees, she notes, was mostly a retirement hobby for older men, and hardly any women were involved.
“There were very few in the classes back then – maybe a dozen students,” Mencucci said.
That’s before the disappearance of bee populations became a subject of national concern.
Around a decade ago, the number of honeybees began declining at an alarming rate, with beekeepers losing 60 percent or more of their hives to a phenomenon that became known as “colony collapse disorder.” As pollinators of some 70 percent of agricultural crops, bee populations and the health of nature’s little seed spreaders drew a lot of attention.
“Now we are holding four classes in two locations,” said Mencucci. “Most people have heard about the plight of the bee and want to help.”
The trend toward more natural and locally-grown foods is also believed to have helped spark interest in the hobby.
“Some people take it for the love of nature,” Mencucci said. “Some people take it to produce honey and beeswax, a local product.”
Mencucci says anyone with an interest in beekeeping should take the course, designed with the assumption that the participant has little or no knowledge or experience. When the student finishes the classes, she said, he/she should be ready to start beekeeping.
She is one of two instructors for the class, the same one she took to get started back in 1988. It’s a hobby, she points out, that doesn’t require a lot of land, since bees fly in a two to three mile radius.
“Sometimes pesticide applicators take the course so they know more about the honey bee, because they do not want to harm them,” she said. “Others take the course for apitherapy – bee venom therapy is used to treat arthritis and other ailments.”
At RIC, participants will learn about buying bees and equipment, assembly of the hive, installing package bees, catching swarms, nectar sources, bee diseases and pests, hive inspections and wintering. A variety of beekeeping equipment will be displayed and demonstrated.
Stephen Burke, a South County resident who currently serves as secretary for RIBA, will teach the same course at the University of Rhode Island.
The cost for the 5-week course is $65 per person and includes all course materials, a textbook and membership dues for RIBA through Dec. 31, 2019.
As room space is available, additional family members at the same address may attend and share course materials for $10 each, but RIBA reserves the right to limit family members. Advance registration is required and are being accepted now. Those received after Friday, Jan. 18 will be assessed a late fee of $10.
Mencucci’s classes will be held Fridays at RIC on Jan. 25, and Feb. 1, 8, 15 and 22 from 9 – 11:30 a,m. She’ll also teach the course on Saturdays Jan. 26, and Feb. 2, 9, 16 and 23 from 9 – 11:30 a.m.
Burke’s classes will take place in the URI Greenhouse on Thursdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 7, 14, 21 and 28, and March 7. He will also teach the course on Saturdays Feb. 9, 16 and 23, and March 2 and 9, from 9 – 11:30 a.m.
To enroll, go to www.riba.org and click on the link for bee school. Print the registration form and fill it out and send with check or money order to: RI Beekeepers Association, PO Box 685, Glendale, RI 02826
Questions can be directed to Mencucci at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-568-8449. Classes fill quickly.