The Vermont Cynic

Beekeepers’ garden builds ecological buzz

Isabella Alessandrini, Staff Writer

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Amid all the construction on campus, honey bees are working on building a place of their own in UVM’s first apiary, the fancy word for bee yard.

The pollinator-friendly garden sprouted up this August in the lush space between the Catholic Center and University Heights South.

This new apiary is the triumph of a two-year-long effort by the UVM Beekeepers club.

The idea for the apiary originated with alumnus Samuel Hartman, said senior Peter Chlebowski.

But, it was set in motion by myself and built with the help of fundraising, faculty hive mentor Steve Flemer and generous donations, he said.

For a club that’s only been SGA recognized for a little over a year, its impacts on campus have surprised even the faculty adviser and Plant and Soil Science professor, Mark Starrett.

“The growth of the club has been pretty amazing,” Starrett said. “In just a few months we went from having zero members to hundreds.”

The Beekeepers’ iconic tie-dye stickers decorate dozens of Nalgenes, laptops and doors all over campus, and their Listserv alone includes 842 members, as reported by Chlebowski.

UVM has been certified as the first Bee Campus in New England and the 17th in the U.S., Starrett said.

They’ve generated quite a lot of interest, but the question remains: what’s all the buzz about?

“Besides making honey, bees are huge,” Starrett said. “Most of the things you find in the produce aisle are not going to be there without pollinators,” he said.

Fresh honey, organic chapsticks, and other cooking products aren’t the only reasons the topic of bees is booming.

“I think bees have become a mascot for the sustainability movement because they’re cute and they’re fuzzy and they are responsible for so much of what we have,” junior Ben Kotzen said.

Kotzen joined the Beekeepers last fall in an effort to learn more about Vermont culture, he said.

In fact, they are such a big part of VT culture that although honeybees aren’t native to North America, they’re the state insect of Vermont according to statesymbolsusa.org.

Bees have also seeped their way into social media campaigns through prominent hashtags #SaveTheBees and in Kellogg’s’ Cheerios #BringBacktheBees.

To the horror of environmental activists, bee populations have plummeted in recent years as a result of colony collapse disorder, which is a phenomenon that causes swarms of bees to desert their hives and disappear, Starrett said.

Colony collapse disorder is brought on by a variety of causes, including the use of pesticides like neonictinoid, commercial transportation and extreme weather patterns, he said.

“All of these things together stress [the bees] out and weaken their immune systems,” Starrett said.

Thanks to the spread of awareness about the crisis, neonicotinoid use has been severely restricted in the U.S. and researchers are working tirelessly to find solutions, he said.

According to Alan Bjerga of Time magazine, efforts like this and organizations like UVM Beekeeping have resulted in “the number of commercial U.S. honeybee colonies rising by 3 percent” this year.

UVM has the potential to contribute to the research now that the apiary has been established, Chlebowski said.

This is UVM’s Apiary and, according to Beekeeper President Peter Chlebowski, “now that it’s here, it’s here to stay.”

For those interested in learning more about bees and their future, there will be a lecture by Dr. Dewey Caron, UDel professor of entomology at 7 p.m. Oct. 25 in the Davis Center Livak Ballroom.

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Beekeepers’ garden builds ecological buzz