The recent disappearance of bees worldwide has stung the Occidental community, stimulating the reactivation of the college’s beekeeping club. While the club became inactive about a decade past, students revived it a few years ago in order to work more intimately with these interesting creatures.
“I joined because I really liked bees,” biochemistry major Franklin Maharaj (senior) said. “I love that bees are social insects with complex societies and social structures. There are queen bees, workers and drones.”
The Beekeeping Club provides students with an exciting opportunity to work with bees, eat fresh honey and learn about the issue of disappearing bees throughout the world. The Beekeeping Club hosts speakers on campus who cover subjects such as the biology of bees, different California species and how bees impact students’ lives.
Club members also look forward to suiting up in their beekeeping gear to take care of the hives located on Fiji and extract honey from them. The honey will be shared with the Occidental community at a fundraising event in the quad. The clubs are looking to bring in more bee species so that students can taste different kinds of honey. However, the club’s work with bees has been momentarily halted as members wait to be cleared medically.
“The biggest goal is fostering a better relationship with Emmons and figuring out the best way we can take care of the bees on campus. [Club adviser] Bruce Steele has five hives on campus, and we would love to work with them. In an effort to keep us safe, they have requested that we don’t work on it until we can sort out the allergy issue. They mandate EpiPens, but they don’t offer allergy testing or prescriptions, so it’s a catch-22,” Maharaj said.
While they haven’t been granted permission to make contact with the bees quite yet, the members are receiving training from Steele by working on a dry hive – a hive with no bees – in order to practice the art of beekeeping.
Steele maintains hives in several places. Maharaj mentioned that he actually tasted honey from bees that pollinated avocado trees in Altadena. Due to the different flowers around Los Angeles, the honey collected on Fiji and Altadena have very different flavors.
While members enjoy working with the honey bees, many also care deeply about engaging with these insects.
“The goal is to train people to work with bees before they leave Occidental. You can have a hive, even if you live in a city… People have had bee hives in balconies in apartments. Bees will pollinate the flowers. Unless they’re threatened, they generally don’t sting…” Maharaj said. “We are trying to get people to learn how bees work and how important they are for our survival. That’s the big problem with bees dying, because we are so dependent on them to pollinate our food.”
In addition to teaching people to make more meaningful contact with bees than painful stings or allergic reactions, the club aspires to spread knowledge in the Occidental community.
“Steele… loves to give lectures all about bees…There are a few different TED talks and movies about the disappearing bees, and we want to show those to the student body,” cognitive science major Camilla Folger (sophomore) said.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, over a million bee colonies are disappearing each year. That’s over a third of commercial bees that pollinate crops and make honey that is consumed worldwide. The industry will collapse if they continue to disappear. According to Reuters, millions of bee colonies have been transported to agricultural areas to help the wild colonies pollinate the Central Valley in California.
But after 15 years of research, scientists at the Public Library of Science believe that they have found the culprits – pesticides and mites – threatening our food supply.
“Bees are disappearing because of the use of a particular pesticide…Having fewer bees would devastate us because they pollinate our agriculture. I think in Japan right now, because their bees are gone due to all of their problems with the environment and nuclear energy, they artificially pollinate their food, which is a lot more costly and doesn’t work as naturally. We don’t want that for us. Hopefully, they’ll increase in number, and sustain our agriculture again,” Folger said.
A German company, Bayer, is the primary producer of this poisonous pesticide. It coats over 142 million acres of vegetables is a major ingredient in most gardening products.
According to Reuters, other causes of the disappearance include land development and monoculture agriculture. Monoculture agriculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing a single crop over a wide area for a large number of consecutive years – a process that often includes synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This practice deprives the pollinators of their diverse food supply and has lead to the extinction of wild species that diversify the bee population’s gene pool. Planting genetically modified crops, which now contain toxic insecticides, poisons bees and weakens their immune systems.
The Beekeeping Club is taking a stance on this global issue by challenging the community to pay attention and move toward different practices – and its members are having fun with bees while they’re at it.
“You don’t have to work with bees to be in the club. If you want to learn more about where your food comes from, and our place in the world with respect to our environment, then by all means, join,” Maharaj said.
To join Beekeeping Club, contact the advisor, Bruce Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org or any of the members. The club meets every Wednesday in Johnson 302 at 7:30 p.m. All club meetings are open.