Green Guide

University's showcase of sustainability features beekeeping

Posted July 14

— Roy Saenz starts each Tuesday by putting on his old Marine desert cammies, a bee veil and gloves — his outfit for tending to about 55,000 bees.

Starting at the Conservatory at Potawatomi Park, Saenz and Amanda Harlow, a marketing and advertising student, walk back to the gardens where two beehives wait for their weekly inspections.

They check the bees' sugar water, and refill if necessary. Then they begin looking for the queen bee on the different frames inside the hive.

"We check to make sure she's healthy and alive, and then we check to see if she's laying eggs and how well," Saenz said. "We look at the general health of the hive, any signs of disease, and also for hive beetles, mites or wood roaches."

Each hive is a stack of boxes, called honey supers and deeps, with 10 frames in each layer of the box. A honey super can weigh 40 to 60 pounds when full of honey, and a deep can weigh 90 pounds.

Saenz and Harlow use tools to loosen the frames to remove them. They examine how the bees are building honeycomb, and the pattern of the eggs, if there are any larvae.

After, they make the quick trip to the Indiana University South Bend campus, where two more hives wait behind the Franklin D. Schurz Library. Then they start the process over.

The beehives are the first example of sustainable living in the university's sustainability showcase. The showcase isn't a one-time event; instead, it's 10 city lots on the university's campus that will eventually include several examples of how sustainable living is possible in the city.

Saenz has seven full hives and three nuclei (or "baby" hives, as he calls them,) at his house. He started keeping bees almost by accident, after he bought abandoned properties and was looking for something to do with them. Soon after, he saw a presentation on beekeeping.

"I thought why not do it in urban areas," Saenz said. "We have lots of clover and very diverse stuff for them to eat and not as many pesticides in the city. I like doing my part for the environment, and the honey is a plus. I drink a lot of tea, and having natural honey to put in it is great."

Saenz, an adjunct professor for the Judd Leighton School of Business and Economics, also said he uses beekeeping as a way to overcome his childhood fear of "anything that flew or buzzed."

The hives at the conservatory have about 25,000 bees, and the hives on campus have about 30,000. During this time of year, a healthy hive will have anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 bees.

The university's bees are all northern European mutts, because many species are not native to the United States, according to Saenz. These bees typically have calmer temperaments, though that can change based on factors like the weather.

"Things we do can also change their temperaments, like wearing cologne or perfume," he said. "They can also detect chemicals in our bodies, so if you're in a bad mood or scared, they'll give you feedback."

Part of the reason bees are so important for sustainability is their ability to pollinate plants, according to Krista Bailey, director of the Center for a Sustainable Future at IUSB.

Bees "are the primary pollinator of the foods we eat," she said. "So we couldn't eat if we didn't have bees."

More bees also means a more diverse population of bees, which is important for the species itself. Bees are facing challenges such as colony collapse disorder, contamination from pesticides, and disease.

"Colony collapse disorder is where the entire colony just dies for no reason," Bailey said. "It's a national and potentially international problem. It's not clear whether there's one cause or a lot of causes for the diseases they get."

South Bend city ordinance does allow residents to keep bees, but most people most likely don't know how to do it, Bailey said. She said the program aims to model how big and active urban beekeeping is.

"We're planning for more hives, hopefully by next spring," Bailey said. "Ideally we'll get a different style hive so people can see more possibilities."

The program is doing well, but Bailey said they're looking at modifications like different types of hives to see if improvements could be made.

The goal is to become a certified Bee Campus by Bee Campus USA. The organization looks at campuses that not only have bees, but also provide public education opportunities. Bailey said she and other faculty members are trying to see if they could develop a course in sustainability that involves beekeeping.

"We want to not just to be a resource for urban beekeepers, but also budding beekeepers," Bailey said. "This is all part of our attempt to learn and develop healthy relationships with bees."

Saenz said he plans on keeping the bees on campus for as long as he's allowed. He said he hopes to have a class going by next summer.

"They're neat little creatures," he said. "Every day is a surprise. You never know what you're going to get when you come out here, never know what you're going to find."

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Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/2t7tCTp

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