Cal Poly’s Campus Abuzz with Learning

Students learn first-hand how to care for critical honeybee colonies in beekeeping course.

By Anya Rehon

On a cool, Tuesday afternoon in late May, dozens of students wearing white protective suits eagerly huddle around a collection of boxes swarming with bees, as beekeeping instructor Jeremy Rose gets ready to introduce a new queen to the hive. “This is an introduction cage,” Rose said as he placed a small wooden box that enclosed the queen onto a beehive frame. “The bees will be exposed to her through the screen, but we can’t just put her in right away, or they will kill her.” Within seconds, the bees on the frame pick up the queen’s scent and begin clumping around her cage. Rose, with exposed hands, places the frame back inside the hive. All around, thousands of bees softly buzz amongst the crowd of students.

Honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops in the United States each year, including more than 130 types of fruits, nuts, and vegetables, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At Cal Poly, beekeeping began at least 60 years ago with the construction of the honey room on campus. Today, the bee unit has grown to over 70 hives across five locations, and, on average, 50,000 bees may swarm a hive at one time. In 2018, local beekeepers Jeremy Rose and Patrick Frazier banded together to teach the beekeeping course, one of the university’s most sought-after classes offered through the Plant Sciences Department in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES). The course is offered during fall and spring quarters with only 48 seats available, where students study European honeybee biology and learn how to manage hives and extract and produce honey. With guidance from Rose and Frazier, students produce about three barrels of honey each year (one barrel equals about 55 gallons), which is bottled and sold on campus as Cal Poly Honey. Students also get to make candles and lip balm from the beeswax.

Former students spoke highly about how hands-on the course is and how it represents Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing ethos. “Beekeeping is one of the best classes I took at Cal Poly,” Lilja Jelks (Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration, ’21) said. “The instructors have such a wealth of knowledge and I walked away from the class with the tools needed to become a successful beekeeper.” Jelks, who took the class in 2018, now has a couple of hives and is eager to help the program expand so that more students can benefit from the course material. For other students, taking the class helped with their fear of bees. “These bees are very gentle and taking the class got rid of my fear,” Samuel Dea-huang (Business Administration, ’23) said, who took the class last fall after hearing all about it. “I hope to have hives in my backyard one day and consider becoming a commercial beekeeper.” Dea-huang was so enthralled by the course that he served as a Teaching Assistant in the spring. His skills proved fruitful when he assisted in removing a cantaloupe-sized swarm of bees a couple of feet away from the stage the day before graduation, allowing the ceremonies to go on.

Outside of the classroom, Rose and Frazier are commercial beekeepers. Both were students at Cal Poly in the mid-2000s and took the beekeeping class, which sparked their interest in the field. On Frazier’s property, he produces and sells honeycomb to vendors from his hives. And since 2005, Rose has owned and operated his family-run business, The California Bee Company, based near Avila Beach, selling honey from his hives to local farmer’s markets. Currently, sage honey is abundant on the Central Coast —thanks to the heavy rains during the winter that helped sage plants flourish.

Honeybee populations are also abundant and thrive throughout the Central Coast, so much so that they currently overstock the area without enough flowers to support their numbers. To create healthy bee and pollinator-friendly habitats at home, Rose recommends avoiding pesticides and suggests planting succulents, which produce pollinating flowers year-round, particularly during the winter when native flowers are not in bloom. For now, the bees on campus get a break during the summer to rest before students return in the fall and start the class again.

To support the beekeeping program at Cal Poly and encourage its expansion, you can reach out to Tim Northrop, senior director of development at

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