By Allison Thomasseau
The Daily Free Press
October 6, 2010
Bees are some of the first signs of spring and while many people flee at the sight of these insects, the Beekeepers Club at Boston University enjoys spending time with honeybees and is working on teaching others that bees are beneficial and necessary.
The Beekeepers Club was started last spring as an outgrowth of the Organic Gardening Collective. Chris Hall, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, and Lydia Glenn, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, formed the club to educate people about beekeeping and to promote the benefits of honeybees.
While neither Hall nor Glenn had had previous experience with beekeeping, they were both interested in learning more about it.
“I had never had a hive before but a good friend from home had commercial bees so I had seen a lot of different hives,” Hall said. “I became interested [in beekeeping] in high school and decided to do a research paper on bees.”
Hall knew he wanted to bring beekeeping to BU.
For information, Hall and Glenn turned to Bill Murray, Facilities Management and Planning plumbing manager, and Nancy Mangion, owner of the Beekeepers’ Warehouse in Woburn. Both Murray and Mangion have had years of experience with beekeeping and helped the club get started in terms of equipment and expertise.
“I like helping students,” said Mangion. “My mission is education and passing along something to someone that you are passionate about.”
Her store sells beekeeping equipment and teaches beekeeping classes for interested beginners.
The club received some funding from the Student Activities Office as well as donations from Beekeepers’ Warehouse to set up their beehive.
The club started beekeeping with two head veils, gloves, a hive tool, hive boxes and frames and a smoker donated by Murray. They only have one hive right now, but “hopefully we’ll have more hives in the future,” Hall said.
Even though SAO approved the club in the spring, it didn’t receive the first shipment of bees from Georgia until June. Since receiving the shipment, the club has been mainly “babysitting the bees,” Hall said. “Bees know how to do their job. We make sure they’re not sick, and they will do their job.”
Looking after the bees also includes making sure they are able to get through their first winter. “We feed them a sugar solution and in the winter the bees stay in a ball around the queen in the hive and keep warm,” Hall said.
In addition to tending the beehive, the club engages students by organizing activities and outings. They venture out to beehives in the Boston area to learn from professionals.
Last weekend, they went to the Topsfield Fair.
“It has the biggest bee exhibit in America, competitions for who has the best honey and a bee convention,” Glenn said.
The club is also planning to visit a local beehive next weekend in Lunenburg to see the bees and learn about natural remedies involving bees.
Hall hopes that in the future, the Beekeepers Club can sell honey from their own hive on campus.
“It would be cool to sell BU honey on campus because it’s local and it would get students interested and informed,” Hall said.
However, the club is not able to take honey out of the hives until after the first year because the bees use it to make the hive.
In addition to supporting local businesses and eating organically, Mangion is a strong advocate for local honey because, when ingested, it prevents the development of pollen allergies, she said.
“Honey has the minute particles of pollen that are local. You then become immune to local pollen,” Mangion said.
Despite the benefits honeybees offer, there have been growing problems with beekeeping in recent years.
“The bee population is disappearing,” Hall said. “Beekeepers go into the winter thinking they have a strong hive, but they open up the hive in the spring and the bees are gone.”
One theory for the bee shortage suggests that hives are becoming weaker because commercial farms that use bees for pollination are adding chemicals to their crops, Hall said.
“Pesticides for the crops can do damage to bees,” she said.
Commercial beekeeping calls for bees to pollinate one type of crop for a long period of time. Typically, honeybees pollinate different types of crops at a time, providing them with diverse nutrients.
“It’s not good [for bees] to have one specialized food for a certain period of time,” Hall said. Having to draw from a single food source at a time can cause a hive to weaken and disappear during the winter, she said.
Another enemy of the hive is the parasite mite, Varroa, which attaches to male drones and weakens them. Once a honeybee brings the parasite into the hive, the parasite multiplies, causing death of the hive, Hall said.
While this parasite has only recently become a problem, “[Scientists] are working on a lot of solutions to the disease,” Hall said.
One way to combat some of the problems in beekeeping is to turn to urban beekeeping, Hall said.
It may seem strange to keep bees in an urban environment verses a rural environment, but it’s easier and more practical than many people think.
“If you have the space for it, there’s no real problem with it,” Hall said. “People say that there’s nothing to pollinate in the city, but look around you. There are trees and flowers and plenty to pollinate all year round.”
Urban beekeeping has been a continuously growing trend for the last five years and it’s happening throughout all of Boston. An urban beekeeper can easily keep a hive on a rooftop or in his or her backyard.
“50 percent of my calls are from urban beekeepers,” Mangion said. “With the strange drought this year, city beekeepers have fared better than farmers because of the Charles River. The bees keep on finding nectar because of the wetlands nearby.”
Urban beekeeping can be healthier for bees than commercial beekeeping can. “There are a lot less pesticides in the city and less bees die in the city,” Hall said.
Even with the growing population of honeybees in urban environments and awareness of the benefits they bring, many people still confuse them with wasps, which do not lend the same positive effects.
Mangion said the common-spread fear of bees is not due to confusion between bees and wasps, but that the common perception of bees is a “misdiagnosis of a major beneficial insect being thrown into a quagmire of another insect.”
One of the main differences between honeybees and wasps is that honeybees are vegetarians, whereas wasps are carnivores.
“Yellowjackets eat honeybees,” Mangion said.
Another difference between the insects is that honeybees can sting only once before they die, but wasps can sting as many times as they wish.
“Bees are not aggressive,” Hall said. “They aren’t trying to sting. They will sting if they think there is a threat to the hive, but they’re doing their own thing.”
While many people, even with this information, will never wish to be near a hive of 60,000 bees, Hall hopes that bees will eventually become known for their positive effects on society.
“I hope people start to understand the importance of [beekeeping]. It’s vital for our ecosystem, for our agriculture. I want people not to be afraid of it. I want people to understand it’s important and to take notice,” Hall said.