Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. At the Northwest Beekeeping Club Ribbon Cutting ceremony April 22, a handful of students and staff gathered to release bees on campus. As more than 24,000 bees were relocated from their shipment packages and into hives, the sound of bees flying around became background noise. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.
Four packages of bees, each costing $125 per package, sat stacked two by two near the propped-open backdoor of Facilities Services as Beekeeping Club President freshman Abigail Rosonke stood over a sink, mixing sugar water for the bees to eat.
It was Rosonke’s idea to start a beekeeping club on campus. She was inspired by sophomore Kendra Robbins, a beekeeper that lived down the hall from her dorm room. While filling jars with sugar water, Rosonke got a call from Robbins who was on her way to help release the bees.
“I woke up this morning and I was like ‘holy crap,’” Rosonke said. “I couldn’t believe it was today because it has always seemed so far away.”
After the bee packages were loaded, Beekeeping Club members boarded a short University bus that took them to the University's Pellet Plant where four pre-painted beehive boxes stood.
The bees will be kept in the beehives at the Pellet Plant for at least a month for the Beekeeping Club to keep a close watch. Then, two beehives will be transported to the R.T. Wright Farm, about two miles north of campus. The other two beehives will be put in the orchard on campus, near the greenhouse.
Each of the four hives has a queen bee that will lay around 2,000 eggs per day — the club is projecting to have 60,000 bees mid-summer. Arboretum Manager Pat Ward, who has four of his own beehives, said he agreed to be the Beekeeping Club adviser after Rosonke asked him.
“I was tickled that there were students interested,” Ward said. “They have done a lot of work to get it all up and going. I just helped where I could to get them started and made sure no one got stung.”
The bees were brought in from Georgia. Ward had a friend transport the bees overnight April 20 from Georgia to central Illinois. The bees then traveled five more hours from central Illinois to Maryville with Ward in his green two-and-a-half door truck, Willie Nelson playing over the radio.
Beekeeping Club member Taylor Sutton said she felt hopeful as she watched her peers, wearing beekeeping suits, relocate the bees to their designated hives.
“Bees are pollinators and they’re in decline,” Sutton said. “Without bees, we have no food. I really hope that this will help campus and the health of the environment in this area.”
Ward said on average, beekeepers are losing 50% of their hives every winter. To protect the bees from harsh winter weather, Ward said they will likely put up fiber mats to block the wind, and make sure the bees have plenty of food.
“The weird thing is bees have to fly in the winter because that’s when they go potty,” Ward said. “Otherwise, they just stay in the hive. We want to have a warm day up in the 40s, one a month would be great.”
Ward said each hive will ideally produce 50 pounds of honey each spring. The Beekeeping Club is considering selling honey on campus.
“For the most part, bees are not aggressive unless you are really messing with them,” Ward said. “I find that when people understand bees and have a chance to be around bees, they find that they are very interesting and not the dangerous, scary little insects a lot of people think bees are.”