While the gnats stake their claim to the Chapel Green and every other grassy patch on campus, senior Hannah Richards is formally re-introducing a new hive of honeybees to Eliestoun and its unclaimed wildflowers. The project, Richards said, is an opportunity to explore the loveliness of bees while simultaneously supplementing her quarter’s Biochemistry research paper with dirt-under-the-fingernails experience.
Four years ago, the Biology department purchased the hive Richards has since refurbished. At the time Ellie Stevens, then a freshman and now Operations manager in the department, developed an independent bee-keeping course. This was a project she would continue for two consecutive years, eventually abandoning it in 2008 when her bees “swarmed” and left the hive.
Richards has brought the bees back. She commented on the harmony the opportunity has allowed her to witness. “Bees are all for the greatest good … all focused on providing the energy to make the hive survive,” she said. “There’s the honey, and the males which give their sperm – only to die … each bee has a role in the hive, each is going through phases of work … They couldn’t live without one another; it seems other animals are out for themselves.” It was with giddy emotion that Richards sat down and shared her bee story, focusing just as enthusiastically on the logistics of keeping Apis millefera, or the western honeybee, as on the inspiration the colony offers. “No greater harmony exists in nature,” she concluded, a keen comment from one of three graduating Bachelor of Science majors.
Recently Richards, Stevens, and I visited the then-empty hive to inoculate its chambers with hundreds of buzzing females, a handful of male drones, and the separated lone queen bee, cleverly dubbed Elizabeth. Over the next couple of days, the separate container in which the queen was shipped will be licked clean away (there is a sugar door between her and the worker bees.) At this point – fingers crossed – Elizabeth will be satisfied with the conditions of her own Eliestoun mansion and choose to stay.
During this tornado-esque process of opening the bee-shipping container and sweeping them into the hive, Richards and I were engulfed in a cloud of aimless bees. Though we each wore a beekeeper hat, gloves, and shorts, and though we operated a smoker, the precautions were moot. Bees crawled all over us, but neither of us was stung. During the procedure, it became clear that Richards had worked to eliminate all fear from the occasion, resolving to enjoy the energy-packed moment for the opportunity that it was.
Throughout the next couple of weeks, the hive will continue to grow and produce that sweet royal amber sustenance. While Richards hopes to collect honey, the department currently lacks the tools she will need to clean it. Pure honey, she said, will be a gift she will share unrefined: honeycomb, bits of bees’ wings, everything left in it.
Later this quarter, Richards will present her project to each of the Field and Natural History course sections. She also invites anyone curious to join her for a ranger ride up to the hive, and to share in the experience every Sunday.