August 28, 2014

My Ticket to EAS and the Master Beekeeper’s Certification Test

by Jacky Hildreth, President Cumberland County Beekeepers Association, (and 3/4 Jedi Master!)

 Support up until the end from my mentor, Erin. Thank you! [Erin, left; Jackie, right]

Support up until the end from my mentor, Erin. Thank you! (Erin, left; Jackie, right)

WOWZA!!! Is my head spinning! I am so jazzed up from the whole event. I can’t believe what a powerful week this was for me. From all the great people I met, the excellent talks, demonstrations and social gatherings all wrapped into five quick days. It was like a full year of information in an apiary, without all the heat and humidity, rain, snow and the cold (except for the short-course level 1 room on Monday — no one fell asleep in that conference room, brrrr!).

I went to the conference in hopes of acquiring the Golden Ticket, the Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup of Beekeeping, the honor of becoming one of Maine’s master beekeepers. There are presently only four: Theo Cherbuliez, ’88; Rick Cooper, ’94; Carol Cottrill, ’05; and Erin MacGregor-Forbes, ’08.

I arrived in Rhode Island on Sunday night with Geoff MacLean. The exams were to take place on Thursday, starting at 8am (who gets up that early on vacation?), so I had three more days of studying and  late-night cramming available to get ready for the day-long event of high anxiety. Thank God those three days were jam-packed with plenty of information (as a refresher!) on apiary management, pests, diseases and the controls for them, floral sources, hands-on demonstrations from other master beekeepers, and vendors with all the latest gadgets. All very valuable information for me, as I was about to embark on the adventure of my life (taking tests again at the age of 48), to become one of Maine’s best.

I started my journey three years ago when Erin asked me to find out if there was anyone in the Cumberland County Beekeepers group who would be a good match for her to mentor. I thought that as president of the CCBA, I should probably get more hands-on training and become more knowledgeable in all aspects of beekeeping so that I could help satisfy the booming demand of quality information needed from all the new beekeepers. I suggested that perhaps I might be a good candidate for her. And so my training began.

I helped Erin on the SARE project and took notes, recorded inspections, built equipment, and saw new apiary gadgets. Erin taught me how to test for and diagnose diseases and pests. We raised queens, re-queened, split hives, pulled honey, and went on various swarm captures and hive inspections. I helped with teaching beginning beekeeping, intermediate beekeeping, swarm, and Nuc-splitting classes. I went to our MSBA annual meetings to hear the guest speakers. I even experienced a swarm removal demonstration with Cindy Bee. I went to open-hive demonstrations, tried my hand at making mead (my favorite part: bottle sampling), collected pollen, melted wax, and collected propolis (for medicinal purposes — infused in cognac, of course!). I started mentoring beginner beekeepers so that I could practice saying aloud what I was seeing — practice making the beekeeping lingo understandable. Anything that would give me hands-on experience. Erin encouraged me to try and explain things in layman’s terms to enable me (and therefor others) to better comprehend them.

Then there was the reading (ugh!) and the biology and the Latin names to remember (ugh again!). The EAS provides you with a list of recommended reading material. I tried my best to get through as much as possible, but my retention of something I read is not as great as for information that is shown and described to me orally, so I made recordings of some of the important readings, diagrams, beekeeping school classes, and Tony Jadczak’s pest and disease talks. Then my wife burned the recordings onto CDs that I could listen to in my car on my way to and from work and then also at night while I slept. (Thanks, Honey, for making the CDs and for putting up with listening to them with me.) These helped me considerably and made fodder for some joking around by Tony and Erin.

PREPARATION FOR THE TEST

There are four parts to the test that one must pass in order to become a master beekeeper. First: a written exam of true/false, multiple choice, short answer and essay questions. Second: a lab exam consisting of stations of equipment found within the apiary, disease samples, vials of pests, odd equipment, and slides of photographs — the test taker is asked to identify and/or describe the use of all of these things as the case may be. Third: an oral exam to evaluate the accuracy and completeness of your knowledge, plus your question-listening skills and the delivery of your responses to those questions — from the media, the public, a fellow beekeeper, and town officials. Fourth: a field exam which consists of you performing an open hive inspection during which you need to explain, step-by-step to a master beekeeper, what you do when you inspect a hive.

I passed the lab exam, the oral exam, and the field exam. I was extremely pleased with my efforts and after reviewing the written exam, I am very confident I will pass that portion next year in Vermont. I offer the following four simple steps which will, in my opinion, help anyone aiming to become a master beekeeper:

Step one: find a beekeeper who is better than you and do what they say. I was very fortunate to be able to work along-side Erin and learn from one of the best. (Thanks, Erin.)

Step two: read, read, read; speak, speak, speak. Try to read as many of the publications that come out as possible; volunteer to be a mentor, or go to a school and talk to kids and adults about beekeeping. These things will help expand your vocabulary, making what you are doing and describing easier for others to understand.

Step three: meet master beekeepers, hear them talk, ask them questions (as I found out from the dozen or so new master beekeeper friends I made at EAS, they love to help fellow beekeepers), talk with them, see what they specialize in, and get to know them.

Step four: end your exam day with a refreshing “Summer in the Apiary” beverage  with your mentor, and enjoy the rest of the conference and all it has to offer. “Summer” really hit the spot then and is now part of my end-of-the-work-week tradition to say to myself, “well-done; relax and enjoy.”

Before I sign off, thanks for all the support from the mass of Mainers who were there in Rhode Island encouraging me and quizzing me throughout the week. If you get a chance to go to EAS Vermont in 2012, please do so. Even if your visit is only for a portion of the events, it is well worth the trip. There is a possibility of at least five Mainers who will be taking the master beekeeper’s certification exam, and hopefully we will all be at the graduation together as masters. Come see us succeed!

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