By Jeremy Snow
On top of the roof on the South Campus dining hall, sophomore computer science major Jason Rubin stood surrounded by bees. This is normal for most members of the UMD Apiary, a new group focused on caring for beehives located right on campus. While most would back away from such a place, Rubin stood calmly, excited by what the opportunity has to offer.
“Bees are really interesting creatures, and the ability to look, analyze, and help these insects grow, is a really unique experience, especially considering how important bees are to helping the earth,” he said. “It’s not something we can do with, let’s say, elephants or really any other animal.”
The UMD Apiary takes care of a total of nine beehives. The hives are kept on the roofs of the North Campus Diner and 251 North. While UMD already owns various beehives, they are kept by the faculty and used for research; they are not accessible to students without special permission. Each beehive is meticulously looked over by the apiary’s beekeepers. Every week, they check on the hives to ensure feed and the swarm of bees.
Sophomore mechanical engineering major Jordan Arata, started UMD Apiary in the hopes that more students would become interested in beekeeping. A passionate bee fan himself, Arata kept one beehive in his home in South Carolina after partly learning how to from the book, “Beekeeping for Dummies.” His love for bees is easily visible – the background on his phone is just a picture of bees.
“In beekeeping, I’m always learning,” he said. “It’s like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but in a good way. The more I learn the more I realize there is to know about bees.”
Inspired by a guest speaker who came to speak about sustainability, Arata set out to start beekeeping campus as a fun way to make the campus greener. With permission from the university, Arata bought and assembled eleven beehives to kickstart the apiary. Inviting his friends and anyone interested, Arata soon amassed a small group of students hoping to help take care of the nine hives that survived.
From word of mouth and the First Look Fair, Arata quickly found even more prospective members hoping to become beekeepers. The numbers shocked Arata, since the group will not be considered an official university club until next year.
To teach prospective beekeepers the skills, students must first go through informal training sessions that Arata dubbed “beeminars.”
“We want the club to be open to all experience levels and anyone interested. Our main goal to provide education about bees to everyone,” Arata said.
Beeminars are hands-on beekeeping lessons taught inches away from the actual beehive, where students learn how to spot the queen bee, worker bees, honey, pollen and disease, as well as how to feed and safely act around the hive. While learning, members are so close they can stick their finger in the hive to have a taste of honey, literally.
“At first I was really scared, so I wore the [beekeeping] suit,” said Rubin about the beeminars.
“But the lessons really get you comfortable around being around the hive, and with the information you need to know.”
As the club grows bigger and bigger, Arata has plans to ensure the group has goals to match that. Arata hopes to add additional beehives to match their growing numbers. He wants to add even more hives to the top of North Campus Diner until there is enough to sufficiently make plenty of honey and pollen. He hopes that there might be enough hives to even allow research to be done on the hives by local entomologists.
He even has future entrepreneurial hopes, too. Arata wants to start a line of products called “Terps’ Bees” a play on the bee-product based company Burt’s Bees. He wants to sell various handmade items out of beeswax and honey. In two years, Arata plans to make chapstick and a little bit of honey, but farther down he hopes broaden his entrepreneurial horizons and sell candles or other large wax products.
Arata’s apiary boom will not come without a challenge, as modern environmental challenges and natural diseases are known to greatly harm bees.
“The hardest part of keeping beekeeping is keeping the bees alive,” said Research Assistant for the Department of Entomology Andrew Garavito, who also watched over the apiary hives during the summer. Varroa are parasitic mites that cause hives to get deadly diseases that wipe out entire colonies, said Garavito.
Arata is fully aware of the type of mites, and constantly checks for the insect during inspections. He uses a special treatment to avoid them, and keeping the apiary’s bees alive, along with all other hives, are important for everyone, said Garavito.
“It’s said that bees pollinate 30 percent of what we eat, so you can say that one in three mouthfuls are indirectly the result of bees,” he said.