To train students in maintaining the University’s two beehives and to raise awareness about bee-related issues, Tyler Rioff ’14 and Matilda Ostow ’17 founded Wesleyan Beekeepers, which had its first meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
“I want to make sure that the bees are being taken care of,” Rioff said. “I want to find committed younger students to take care of them in the future. People need to help the bees.”
During the first meeting, Rioff, Ostow, and approximately 20 attendees discussed their interests in beekeeping, brainstormed how to develop the group, shared fun facts about bees, and watched the film “Queen of the Sun,” a documentary about the state of bee populations.
“Almost everyone else didn’t know much about beekeeping, which is exactly what we wanted,” Ostow said.
Ostow shared a jar of honey from Louisiana with participants to demonstrate the effects different types of plants can have on the texture and taste of honey.
“It was very sweet and watery because the bees were pollinating watery marshes,” Ostow explained. “Tree pollinations, on the other hand, are much darker.”
Last spring, Mike Curth ’11 donated two hives to Long Lane Farm; they are currently maintained by Rioff and the Long Lane farmers.
“The hives wouldn’t be here without Long Lane,” Rioff said. “Both initiatives are tied together.”
According to Coady Johnson ’15, who works at Long Lane, Curth contacted the farm at the beginning of this summer to see if it would be interested in hosting bees. Curth showed the farmers how to open the hives and gave them basic care instructions. Though he left the farmers to their own devices, he is still in contact with Long Lane to offer advice on technical issues.
“I was really excited about having bees, so I sort of took it upon myself to read a few books and be the person doing the regular maintenance tasks,” Johnson said.
Over the summer, Johnson suited up every week or every other week, opened up the hives, and checked how many larvae there were, how much honey there was, and whether they needed more sugar water food supplement.
“Luckily we had a lot of flowers from the buckwheat we planted, so there was plenty of nectar for them to eat, and all the things I was checking on were going exactly as planned—plenty of larvae and honey and not much of a need to supplement their diets,” Johnson said.
Though the Long Lane farmers take care of the bees over the summer, the Wesleyan Beekeepers take care of the hives during the school year. In the spring, when flowers are blooming, the bees will start to collect pollen.
“In order for people to learn best, the goal for spring is to get everyone doing hands-on work,” Rioff said. “We will call on any local beekeepers to give advice and show [the] ropes.”
However, Rioff is graduating this winter and wants to make sure that the hives will continue to thrive after he has moved on. In forming the Wesleyan Beekeepers, Rioff hopes to find enthusiastic freshmen and sophomores, such as Ostow, to entrust with the bees. He plans to remain available to give advice.
In addition to taking care of the University’s beehives, the Wesleyan Beekeepers want to educate the community on bee-related issues.
“Bees have a fascinating history,” Rioff said. “People have been keeping bees for thousands of years.”
Rioff explained that the world’s bee population is dwindling dramatically. In 2008, the term “colony collapse disorder” was coined to describe the phenomenon of worker bees abruptly disappearing from a hive. This is in part due to the use of pesticides and the neurotoxin Neonicotinoid, which prevent bees from being able to find their ways back to the hive.
Another factor that contributes to colony collapse disorder is monoculture, which is the agricultural practice of exclusively planting one crop and consequently depleting natural resources.
“Long Lane is a perfect environment for beekeeping because it’s not on campus, it’s organic, and it values biodiversity,” Rioff said.
Rural beekeeping operations have a 40 percent chance of maintaining their populations over the winter, while urban operations have a 60 percent chance, mostly because they generally do not use pesticides.
Throughout the year, Wesleyan Beekeepers will organize activities and lectures related to bees. One idea the club has is to partner with Bon Appétit and have Usdan only serve food that is not pollinated by bees for one day; so students realize how many different foods bees affect.
“People don’t know how much bees contribute to all the food that we consume,” Rioff said.