- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
She and 51 other beekeepers had gathered that day in September 2016 at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis to undergo testing to become California Master Beekeepers at the apprentice level.
The UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program, launched and directed by Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, continually seeks science-based bee ambassadors. CAMBP's vision is "to train 2500 apprentice beekeepers over the next 5 years so they can effectively communicate the importance of honey bees and other pollinators within their communities, serve as mentors for other beekeepers, and become the informational conduit between the beekeeping communities throughout the state and UCCE (UC Cooperative Extension) staff."
The 52 beekeepers had just answered 125 questions on the written test, dealing with basic honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, maladies of the hive, and management techniques. Then they took the practical exam, which consisted of 20 minutes of one-on-one time with an examiner. They demonstrated their mastery of basic colony and hive inspections, identification of equipment and different hive types, and various management techniques.
Veretto, then president of the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association (SCBA) and a member of the Sonoma County Master Gardeners (SCMG), had no qualms being first in line to take the practical test.
“I signed up to get it over with," Veretto told us. "I hate waiting for a test--it is nerve-racking. But once I opened the hive, I felt at home. The Master Beekeeper session was somewhat intense studying for the test. There is a lot of science/biology and vocabulary that I learned. Overall, it was a great experience. And I passed."
Sadly, Cheryl Veretto died on Aug. 3 after a hard-fought battle with cancer.
"It is with a heavy heart that I inform you all that Cheryl passed away on Tuesday 8/3," wrote a daughter on a Go Fund Me page. "She fought long and hard and in the end, she was surrounded by family and love. I want to thank you all for for the love and support you sent to Cheryl. She was loved and treasured by us all."
Cheryl had moved several years ago from a small town in Sonoma County, California, to a small town in Hays County, Texas, west of Austin, to be closer to family. She was a member of the Hays County Beekeeping Association.
The accolades are pouring in on social media:
"What a sad day when we lost Cheryl. A beautiful person inside and out."
- "I have missed Cheryl and her vivaciousness and energy since she left Sonoma County a few years back. I will always remember her in her bee outfit practically giving away the plants she propagated at the bee club meetings. She was a talented master gardener, artist, graphic designer, leader and beekeeper. Hard to believe she is gone. Much love to the family."
- "The story I remember the most is when you put down your hive tool and couldn't find it just when you needed to put the hive back together because the bees were angry and coming at you. I'll never put my hive tool down again while I am in the hive!"
“No, my family runs from bees,” she quipped. “I come from a family of gardeners-- generations of them."
We wrote about her and the California Master Beekeeping Program in a Bug Squad blog on Dec. 13, 2016.
At the time, Veretto said she lived on a small rural farm with her human family and 12 bee hives, along with Cashmere goats, chickens, cats, dogs, a food garden and several pollinator forage gardens.
"I started beekeeping with one hive six years ago and gradually built up to 12," she told us. "I think that is a good size of apiary for me; it takes a little more time for management but I am learning so much more, having several colonies to watch, and something different is going on in each. I keep bees in both Langstroth and TopBar hives, and have an observation hive for demonstration.“
Veretto related that she joined SCBA seven years ago, and had been keeping bees for six years.
How did she decide to be a beekeeper; what interested her in bees and in beekeeping? “I started out as a greedy gardener-- wanting everything to be pollinated so that I could select my best,” Veretto recalled. “I have always planted for pollinators in my gardens, but wanted to maximize, and so, I started beekeeping--and what a journey its been. I am now an activist for pollinators, and you never stop learning when you get into bees/beekeeping. The honey bee and humans are tied together closer than many think."
Veretto said she thoroughly enjoys keeping bees and engaging in public service. “I enjoy building community. We have an awesome bee club with a membership that is fully engaged--we have activities going on most every week, and we are active in the community, doing presentations and demonstrations,” she said. “I do public speaking with both SCBA and SCMG groups talking on 'Planting for Pollinators' and 'Safe Gardening' practices. I just finished the Advanced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program with Master Gardeners and hope to include much of that information in my presentations as well. My true passion is gardening and propagating bee forage plants; most days you find me outside in the gardens and apiary.”
"It is important to recognize we have to change our landscapes, build community, reclaim yards and convert them to gardens, grow food--share with your neighbors--plant it and they will come. Our environment is changing rapidly and we have to act fast to make a difference."
Let it "bee" known that Cheryl Veretto made a difference, a huge, definable difference.
Beekeeper Christine Kurtz of Petaluma said it well: "Cheryl was an amazing person, gardener extraordinaire and deeply cared about bees and all pollinators. She ran circles around us and her enthusiasm was intoxicating. We miss her so but she lives everywhere in our pollinator gardens because we all got plants from her. We will all continue planting in her honor. Life is short embrace the ones you love even if it's virtual."
Current SCBA president Kelli Cox related that in Cheryl's memory, "we are going to have a very informal gathering at Bees N Blooms in Santa Rosa on Saturday, Oct. 2 from 4-6. Her beekeeping friends, her gardening friends, her fellow Master Beekeeping Friends and family members are among those planning to attend. (For more information, contact her at email@example.com)
Cheryl Veretto's passing brings to mind, "telling the bees," a European-based ritual that involves telling the bees when a beekeeper dies so that bees can share in the mourning.