Beekeeping club helps plants thrive on campus
University Club Feature
Sarah Maceachern took a class last spring on beekeeping to conquer her fear of bees.
But the fuzzy striped insects must have left a mark on Maceachern, as she and classmate Chris Farina teamed up to establish Hive, the Apiculture Society at Rutgers — the University’s first club dedicated to beekeeping.
“I’m probably going to keep beekeeping for my entire life, just based on this experience,” said Maceachern, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
The club builds hives on every campus to boost the overall ecology of the University, he said.
Pollination is essential for plant growth and strength, acting almost as an immune system supplement for plants, said Farina, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
“Bees are absolutely necessary to keep plants living in certain areas,” he said.
Bees are responsible for pollinating 70 percent of the world’s food supply, said Mark Robson, dean of Agricultural and Urban Programs via email correspondence.
“Without pollinators we would have a total disaster as far as the food supply, so all of us should worry,” he said.
New Jersey previously had many feral honeybee colonies until they died off in the mid ‘90s, said Professor Tim Schuler, who teaches the University’s beekeeping course.
“Wild places are being replaced by golf courses and housing developments,” he said. “All those things contribute to poor forage and lack of honey bee nectar from plants.”
Beekeepers speculate that pesticides, urban sprawl and disease cause the die-off, which is sometimes called Colony Collapse Disorder, he said.
Preventing Colony Collapse Disorder is challenging because beekeepers and scientists do not know the disorder’s causes, Robson said.
“Is it pesticides, overusing the bees, poor management [or] mites that attack the bees?” he said. “We are not sure. I personally think it is all of these factors in combination.”
Schuler’s beekeeping course focuses on bee disappearance because bees are crucial for crop cultivation, Maceachern said
“A lot of crops are dependent on pollination from bees [and] a lot of people are agreeing that pesticides are the main issue. It’s ironic because those are the fields that need the bees in the first place,” she said.
Schuler teaches a semester-long course as well as several three-day courses through the Department of Continuing Studies. His one-semester class on apiculture covers all aspects of beekeeping.
Students learn the different types of equipment and hives and the biology of honeybee colonies. They also receive hands-on training on how to increase a colony’s size, extract honey and protect the bees from disease and parasites.
Schuler said he tries to work as much hands-on activity into the classroom as possible because he learns by doing and believes students feel the same.
“I’ve had to dig deeper into beekeeping so I do a good job teaching a college level course,” he said.
When the beekeeping class returned during spring semester 2010, the class did not have a beehive, so Schuler brought his own once the weather warmed toward the end of the semester.
The next year, a student donated a beehive to the class and Schuler brought several hives to the University, where they now stay year round.
“Now there are bees for the club to use as well as the class,” Schuler said.
Each year the class improves as more hands-on learning is added over time.
Over 2,000 people took Schuler’s three-day courses in the past five or six years, he said.
In the last four years, 85 to 90 students took the semester-long course, which is always full, he said.
Farina said most people react quizzically when learning of his hobby, but he has recruited several friends to join the club.
Maceachern said the club started repopulating three old hives, the box structures that domestic bees live in.
While the club still uses the old hives, members constructed two new hives and ordered new bees for building up the colonies this year, she said.
Maceachern said the club started in April, when bees can take care of themselves. Bees hibernate through the winter in colder climates, gathering around the queen bee and only leaving for occasional forages.
“A lot of workers die off during the winter,” she said.
The club cares for its three hives year round, checking them seasonally for different calamities, Farina said.
“It’s a lot more fun and a lot less scary than you think,” he said.
Farina said he considers bees pretty domestic. He has only been stung once in a year, which was because he squashed a bee.
Club members pull individual rectangular frames out of the hive and use a hot knife to slice the caps off the honeycomb, Farina said.
After spinning out the impurities using a centrifuge, the club fills 96 eight-ounce jars of honey, he said.
Club members bottle the honey onsite and sell most of the jars to members or University students at the farmer’s market, Maceachern aid.
The club has used this money to buy two new hives to expand their colony, she said. The club hopes to team up with other sustainable living clubs, integrating beekeeping with other clubs that have a focus on nature to grow gardens on campus.
The bees prosper because of the abundance of flowers around campus, Maceachern said. She would like to see the bees pollinate vegetable gardens.
Robson brought back the apiculture class five years ago as a part of the revised agriculture and food systems major. The class had not been taught at the University in almost 20 years.
Robson said he was happy to sign on as faculty adviser when Farina approached him about starting the club.
“I have been at Rutgers 40 years, four degrees, three jobs and one wife, so it has been good to me and I try to be good to the students and the University,” he said.