Robber Bees Hijack WC Campus Garden Beehive

By Cassy Sottile
Elm Staff Writer

It’s every bee for itself at Washington College.

Robber bees attacked the WC bee colonies, which are maintained by the Campus Garden Club and the Department of Environmental Science and Studies. The robber bees depleted the WC bees’ winter honey stores to the point where the bees did not have enough individual members to provide warmth to keep the hives alive through winter.

In mid-October, the Chestertown region experienced a drought that reduced the fall nectar flow that bees depend on for survival through the winter.

“The drought desiccated the autumnal flowers. Without access to nectar, honey bee colonies in the area turned to robbing each other,” said Campus Garden Club advisor Shane Brill, permaculturist.

Once Brill and senior Emily Castle, president of the Campus Garden Club, noticed the robbing, they reduced the entrances to the colonies to make it more defendable.

“If the fall nectar flow had started, the hives might have been able to replenish their honey stores and recover from the assault. Bees across the region depleted their honey stores by fueling failed foraging trips, and in desperation they turned on each other,” Brill said.

The apiary at the Campus Garden houses the bees. Each spring, the Department of Environmental Science and Studies hosts a co-curricular Beekeeping 101, covering bee anatomy, nutrition and colony behavior, and how to establish a hive.

“Honey bees offer a profound example of how we can participate with natural forces and enhance life on this planet, presenting a powerful model for cooperation in human society and inspiring us to develop an intimate understanding of insect allies that we depend upon for our own survival,” Brill said.

Through the beekeeping class, students are able to experience catching a wild honey bee swarm and find themselves in the role of a “bee ambassador” for the public.

“The apiary at the Campus Garden enables students to get hands-on experience and expertise working with bees. The hives deepen our appreciation of pollinators and sweeten the student experience,” Castle said.

New packages of bees will be installed this spring. They will be given established wax foundation frames to build upon, ready access to a close water source, and preventative herbal treatment for varroa mites— a parasite that can kill off honey bee colonies.

“We’re also implementing permaculture design strategies to give them extra support. We’re also going to be planting windbreaks to buffer against heat loss from the icy northwest winds, and planting new forage nectaries passively hydrated in mulched swales,” Brill said.

According to Brill and Castle, the Campus Garden Club will be collaborating with the Student Government Association as well as Buildings and Grounds to research the best plants to coincide with the inaugural pollinator bed plantings for their Bee Campus USA certification.

According to its vision statement, the Campus Garden reconnects people with historical foodways and explores food resources that support environmental resilience through the practice of permaculture and the multidisciplinary study of the environment. One of the goals of the club is to create nectaries for beneficial insects, pollinator corridors and habitats for other animals such as birds, which is why the club handles the beekeeping.

Any student with an interest in working with bees, supporting pollinators, or helping bees survive the winter can join the Campus Garden Club. The club meets every Friday from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Campus Garden.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *