The Geneseo Beekeeping Club learns about the complex role of honeybees — and encourages them to thrive on campus.
By Mary-Margaret Dwyer ’20
As Beekeeping Club President Allison Menendez ’20pries the top off the beehive, bees emerge from their sticky shelter, flying in and out of the hive.
A few puffs from a smoker put the honeybees into survival mode. The smoke urges bees to retreat back into the hives, so club members can work without interruption. They check that the bees and the queen are alive and look for irregularities, like parasite infestation.
Members maintain two hives on campus. At each visit, an experienced member demonstrates different beekeepingtasks. Students learn basic skills, such as filling mason jars with sugar water for food and inspecting hive frames.
Each is a vital task for the greater good: Bees form a true community.
“The hive acts as a superorganism,” says Menendez. “Each bee is a little part but 20,000 to 80,000 is a hive.”
Each bee has a specialized job and could not survive on its own — like the drone, a male whose sole purpose is to mate with the queen bee. It takes thousands of bees to work toward the survival and upkeep of the hive.
“Bees are so special because they provide us with so many benefits,” Menendez says. “Pollination, honey, other bee products — honeybees do it all.”
Understanding their complex role in nature — and providing safe spaces for bees — is increasingly important, say members, as bees face growing peril throughout the world.
In recent years, bees have been dying from disease, pesticides and habitat loss. In 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the rusty patched bumblebee endangered.
“They say if the bees go, we go,” Menendez says.
Bumblebees pollinate crops such as blueberries, cranberries and clover and are almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. One-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honeybees, including apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli and almonds, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Club members meet weekly to discuss bee-related topics. In addition to their two hives, club members recently built “bee barns” for mason bees in the Roemer
Arboretum, with the help of Jennifer Apple, associate professor of biology. Mason bees lay eggs in holes made by insects; the barns (made of bamboo straws stacked sideways) offer a safe place for the bees to do so, ultimately encouraging more pollinators and more flowers and plants.
“The way the hive functions and certain bees will protect their queen
is kind of unbelievable,” says Sydney Freeman ’22. “Their whole process makes you realize how they’re not insignificant.”
SWEET AS HONEY:
BEN GAJEWSKI ’07, A GENESEO BEEKEEPER who sells his honey commercially, offers this tip to eating well locally:
“People who want to know where their food comes from and avoid processed sugars and artificial sweeteners find honey a good choice. By buying it locally, people can know its source and feel confident that the honey isn’t being altered.”
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