Boise State’s Student Union Building (SUB) is home to a wide variety of services such as art exhibits, collections of student history and views of Boise and the campus. However, few who visit the SUB on a daily basis are aware of the hidden apiary on the third floor.
The apiary is home to three busy beehives, regularly cared for by Boise State’s Bee Team throughout the school year and summertime.
The hives are wooden boxes with dividers inside, designed to create the perfect environment for the bees to install their honeycombs. The Bee Team has been caring for the honeybees and harvesting the leftover honey for eight years on campus.
Savannah Durfree, senior biology major and the Boise Bee Team president, discussed the current bee population and what can be done to help preserve honey bee populations in the U.S.
Durfree shared that the current hives in the apiary were donated from California almond orchards, as almond trees are nearly 100% dependent upon bees for pollination.
However, honeybee populations have been in decline for the past several years as a result of habitat destruction, mites and, most especially, pesticides.
“Between farmers and beekeepers, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Durfree said, referring to the rift between farmers using pesticides and beekeepers who regularly utilize bees for their pollination abilities, ensuring better crop health for farmers.
The pesticides have harmful effects on honeybees, impairing their ability to find their way back to the hives again and breaking down their exoskeletons, according to Durfree.
Durfree shared that for farms in Idaho, bees are renowned for their pollination abilities. Because of this, alternative pesticides are becoming more prominent, although not mainstream just yet.
“Bees and pollinator decline are becoming a more prominent issue in the U.S., and I’m glad we are discussing it more,” Durfree said.
The bees kept on campus don’t have the range for these dangers, as they can only roam about two miles from their hive. The on-campus bees are free to go about pollinating the many flowers and plants on campus and along the Boise River without fear of pesticides.
The Bee Team, however, has another threat they routinely address, especially as they prepare for the winter months.
Durfree shared that a beekeeper’s biggest fear is deadly mites no bigger than a grain of sand that can devastate a beehive. Varroa mites are a specialized kind of parasite that can only reproduce in a beehive. Fortunately, the Bee Team is prepared for this threat.
The team is currently treating their bees with a special kind of medicine, Thymol, which is laid on top of the dividers in the hive so that when the bees land on the solution, they track it all through the hive and spread it to the other honeycombs, ensuring an environment unsustainable for parasitic mites.
This hive inspection is all part of the winterization process of the hives, as the bees stop producing honey and go into a form of hibernation.
As the weather gets colder, the hive population gets smaller. Male bees are “evicted” from the hive, while female bees form a ball around the queen. As they form this ball, they cycle from the inside of the hive to the outside, with the main purpose being to keep the queen warm enough to survive until the spring.
Gian Luca, the hive manager and a fourth-year student in the biomolecular sciences Ph.D. program, shared that one of the hives produced about five gallons of honey last year.
“When we got this hive in May, it was two boxes. It became four boxes in two months,” Luca said.
However, there are less bees in all of the hives around this time of the year. A typical hive in its prime will have about 30,000 resident bees, whereas in the fall months the population decreases to about 10,000, according to Luca.
Durfree shared that this is normal. Since all of the male bees have been removed from the hive, the smaller population will be able to sustain themselves and the queen, given their limited food supply.
The Bee Team and their bees are looking healthy, and are ready to keep hosting hives and harvesting honey for many years to come.