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Toledo raising beekeepers in new animal husbandry program

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Students with Toledo High School’s animal husbandry program show off the beekeeping skills they acquired last term under the instruction of Dr. Tomme Trikosko.

It’s not uncommon for students in rural schools to learn the basics of caring for livestock, but it’s easy to forget that some working animals don’t fit in a saddle or yoke.

Enter Dr. Tomme Trikosko, a science instructor for Toledo who introduced an animal husbandry course for this school year. Trikosko included beekeeping on the roster of subjects, and said she was surprised by the unexpected interest students took in the course.

“I had more student engagement with this course than any other subject we’ve covered so far,” she said, stating the beekeeping curriculum had been intended for 15 hours of instruction, but was stretched to 30 hours due to the frequent questions students kept raising.

Among the topics covered were the basic makeup of a colony (female worker bees tasked with feeding, cleaning and rearing the hive; male drones used for reproduction; and a female queen upon whom the hive depends for offspring), as well as how honey is produced and affected by a colony’s environment.

One issue many students said surprised them was the variety of diseases and other ailments bees can suffer from, such as mites, fungi and bacteria, as well as the need for a beekeeper to be prepared and able to dissect an infected bee to determine the type of disease afflicting a colony.

Students were also taught how to construct their own hives out of wooden boxes and even how to start their own colonies, and some have already begun to do so.

To coincide with Toledo’s beekeeping program, the Lewis County Beekeeper’s Association (LCBA), of which Trokosko is the Membership Coordinator, offered a Youth in Beekeeping Scholarship to students willing to commit to raising a colony on their own, and students Mason Gaul and Joevanie Montalvo were awarded the scholarship and given their own boxes and hives to begin a colony.

Student Arthur Coppernoll said he has also come into a hive of bees, but in a colony of feral honeybees near his house, which he has begun caring for using what he learned in the class. Trikosko said it is a growing trend among beekeepers to seek out and raise local bee colonies, as such groups are likely already used to local climates and diseases and can remain healthier than bees imported from elsewhere.

When asked if beekeeping would be part of Toledo’s course offerings for next school year, Trikosko said she is uncertain as such offerings change year-to-year along with district resources and enrollment. She said she would certainly classify the program a success, as well as LCBA’s Youth in Beekeeping program.

Trikosko added all the students in her class have tested for a state certification in beekeeping through LCBA, which should be considered for approval in the coming weeks.

A hive-building workshop hosted in January by the Lewis County Beekeeper’s Association allows members and amateurs to learn the basics of beekeeping, much like what is being taught to students in Toledo High School’s animal husbandry program.

A chart depicting the European Honeybee, which had been the central focus of the beekeeping program, though many species were discussed during the semester.

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