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UNE for the Bees

Catherine Bonner, Opinion Editor

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The University of New England shows its innovation when it comes to being sustainable and “green.” One of these perks is the Honey Bee Conservation Club that is here on the Biddeford campus. This club is filled with dedicated students who wish to make the campus more sustainable and plan to bring honey bees to the campus to satisfy both their passion for beekeeping and sustainability.

When asked when and how the Honey Bee Conservation Club came to “bee” (pun intended), Heather Baron, the treasurer responded, “It started last spring.” “Around April, last spring,” Jessica Kane, the outreach coordinator added. Samantha Schildroth, who is the activities coordinator explains, “A senior last year, her name is Katie Kennedy, she did a project on environmental policy and looked at the honey bee decline and decided she wanted to do something about it, but obviously, she was leaving so she kind of got the ball rolling for the rest of us.” The club now meets on Wednesday nights in Decary to discuss and plan the arrival of the honey bees.

Aside from their endeavors to get honey bees on the campus, the club also integrates education to be a big part of their activities. “we try to make the meetings as fun as possible,” the president of the club, Victoria Sanchez explains. “A huge piece is educating the campus on the importance of bees and why we need to be saving them,” she continues.  “Right now, the club meetings are geared towards personal education for the bees and then planning all our events,” she continues.

Victoria goes on to explain the events that the Honey Bee Conservation Club has held and plans to hold. “We did ‘paint the hives’ back in October, where we had students come and paint a few of our bee hives. We are doing a bake sale on March 9th for St. Patrick’s Day and we’re also going to be extremely involved in earth month, as well. The sustainability department puts on a bunch of activities every year, along with Earth ECO and other clubs, so this year we’re going to be really involved with that. We’ll show one or two documentaries and have a few different games and education pieces incorporated too.”

“Last October we took part in the annual Harvest Festival in downtown Saco, which was super cool, because a lot of people were excited to find out that were trying to bring bees to campus,” Samantha explains.

When I asked if any of the members owned bees of their own, the group consensus was that they all one day plan to own bees. Samantha answered, “It would be a bit difficult being in college, so – one day.”

When we got to the topic about bringing honey bees to the campus, Victoria explained how that process would be funded. “In our club fund there is a certain amount set aside for us to order our bees, so we would order bees, but we haven’t decided if it is going to be through a company or an individual who specializes in doing that for beginners. We already have three full hives on campus, — they’re not set up right now….”

“They were donated to us, so we’re really lucky, because they are expensive and we didn’t have a huge budget for this year” Samantha adds. “All hives and all equipment got donated,” Victoria also computes. “By two different people, who happened to be retiring and couldn’t care for their bees anymore.” Katie Peterson, who is the club’s hive keeper explains.

“We already have the location figured out,” Victoria explains. “So, we’re all ready to go, but we just want to get more educated, because there is no point in getting them today, if we don’t know what to do with them, that’s just not sustainable” she continues.

“We’re in the process right now of getting certified bee keepers to come and teach the club about the knowledge that goes into taking care of the bees, it is just a matter of waiting for email responses and it’s taking longer than anticipated, which is why we ordered the bees yet.” Victoria explains.

But what do you do with the bees in the winter time? “You just leave them,” Victoria explains,  “What they’ll do is kill off all the males and then their population of females will decrease and then their honey is their main food source for the winter, so they just stay in the hive all winter.” Samantha explains. “It can get to be 98 degrees inside the hive,” Katie adds, “they just make themselves into a big cluster and keep moving; like penguins huddling,” she continues. “As long as we much sure that the snow doesn’t get super high, so that there is some kind of vent system for them, they take care of themselves.” Victoria explains. “And that they have an adequate food supply,” Samantha adds. “A lot of commercial honey bee keepers – what they’ll do is harvest all of the honey and leave nothing for the bees and just let them die during the winter and just start again in the spring. Which is what we’re not going to be doing, that’s not very sustainable.” She continues.

“The club won’t start extracting any honey until the bees have had two full honey cycles, so that there’s been enough if we take the top layer of honey, there’s a significant amount of honey left for the bees,” Victoria explains.

When asked about the risk of students and faculty getting stung Victoria responded, “It’s the same risk as if there weren’t hives on campus, because bees won’t typically sting anyone unless they feel their hive is threatened, which means you would need to be very close to their hive and harassing that circumference area around it. If you leave them alone, they won’t bother you at all.”

“And it’s not like people will be accidentally stumbling on the hive, there are going to be signs and it’s going to be fenced off.” Samantha explains. “You would need to deliberately try to get stung” Victoria adds.

“It’s not like there is going to be swarms of bees everywhere, they are going to be spread out and they travel a two, three, four miles a day just looking for flowers,” Heather added.

When asked on where exactly the beehives would be located, Victoria responded, “I’m 98.5% positive that it’s back in the woods, by the Native garden.”

The group also mentioned the other gardens on campus, which include,  the rain, blueberry, community, and the healing gardens that are all located on campus, so that the bees will have multiple food options when they get here.

“One of the activities we want to do in the spring is try and plant more bee friendly flowers around campus,” Heather explains. “We’re planning on doing an unveiling, it’s just a matter of when…” Victoria adds.

“We want be ready for it, educated and have all of our club members be ready and excited for it and of course, educated, which isn’t where were at right now, but were working towards it,” Heather explained.

“We don’t want this to be something where we have the bees for a year or two and then they’re gone and we don’t have anyone to pass the torch to,” Samantha explains. “So, we always are looking for members who actively want to participate in the club,” Victoria says. “Especially now would be the prime time to get involved, because the education would be provided and there won’t be too much stress on the members, so it will be easier to do later; it’ll be a breeze –buzz.”


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