“Beekeeping is a total learning process all the time,” master gardener Denise Drummond says to a class of more than 20, gathered around the horseshoe-shaped table in the Elizabeth Community Learning Center at Frontier High School on May 9.
Drummond gives the presentation, along with fellow master gardener Diane Stack, a retired Denver Police detective and six-year beekeeping enthusiast, while Drummond's 10-year-old daughter, Hailey, acts as technical support, advancing PowerPoint slides and presenting teaching aids.
Both Stack and Drummond volunteer as Colorado master gardeners through the Colorado State University Extension Office in Kiowa. Master gardeners are volunteers trained in a variety of horticultural subjects and offer their expertise free to the public.
“All of this is for people who are community oriented, people who like to help,” said Kali Benson, Ag/4-H Livestock Agent with the extension office in Kiowa. “It's a significant commitment.”
Each fall, prospective master gardeners apply to the CSU Extension Office for entry into the program. By December, selected candidates are contacted and begin a one-year apprenticeship starting the following January with a 10-week course comprising aspects of horticulture, a university-level curriculum covering a range of instruction from weeds to pesticides and landscaping to mulch.
Once the course is complete, apprentices are encouraged to focus on a specific discipline, cultivating their interests through research and eventually passing on their acquired knowledge to members of the community who request their expertise as master gardeners.
To keep their master gardener status current, all volunteers must perform a minimum of 50 hours of service each year. In addition, each master gardener must take 12 hours of continuing education annually.
The trained volunteers are available to the public through the county extension in Kiowa office most Tuesday and Thursday afternoons or can be found staffing tables at the Elbert County Fair or other community events, such as ElizaBash.
The two-hour class on beekeeping counts toward Drummond and Stack's volunteer requirement for the program, but from the meticulously crafted slides and energy, their enthusiasm is evident. Their audience, ranging from experienced beekeepers to prospective enthusiasts, easily taps into their zeal as Drummond and Stack offer their expertise on bee health, demonstrate the use of equipment, and offer anecdotes illustrating the highlights and occasional pitfalls of beekeeping.
Stack rolls up a sleeve to display slight swelling and redness on her arm from two of the eight bee stings obtained from a minor mishap while transporting bees the previous evening, but despite the occasional sting, both Stack and Drummond dote over their bees.
“They become mesmerizing,” Stack said of her bees. “They are so beautiful. Sometimes I go to bed at night with them still buzzing in my head.”
Drummond is so in tune with her bees that when she sees them on the flowers near her house, she is able to distinguish her bees from those from other hives by their markings.