New Colorado State University club is busy As a bee
for The Fence Post
There’s quite a buzz about a new club at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Called the CSU Apiculture Club, the recently formed group of bee enthusiasts is headed by its Founder and President Freddie Haberecht.
The plight of bees has been a hot-button topic for several years due to worldwide die-offs. One of the common phrases describing this sad phenomenon, Colony Collapse Disorder, refers to entire swarms of the pollinators perishing en masse. Causational theories abound: pesticide/herbicide usage; air/water/soil pollution; climate change; ozone layer issues; parasitic wasps; stress; and many more.
Regardless the reason, a large percentage of Earth’s crops might be lost without enough pollinators to help reproduce them. CSU, a world-reknown agricultural-based college, is seeking ways to help revive and maintain our tiny, winged farm workers.
In 2017, the Pollinator-Friendly Campus Committee comprised of CSU employees first brought bees onto campus; Housing and Dining Services sought to use their sustainability fund to place hives in Durrell Center.
Haberecht said that three flourishing hives were installed on April 23, 2018. The Apiculture Club takes interested members, a total of 50 so far, to work with the bees. Students (usually only three to four per visit on a rotating schedule) participate in the educational hive inspections every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. during the summer.
These novice handlers safely suit up head-to-toe before learning how to handle tools and the basics of beekeeping. Their one-piece, canvas-like fabric outfits are worn loose fitting but cinched at the wrists and ankles to prevent bee entry. The suits’ detachable hoods unzip for easy removal.
The hands-on, informational sessions combine members of the greater Apiculture Club and the Honeybee Veterinary Medicine Club, which is an actual part of CSU’s veterinary school.
FIRST OF ITS KIND
Christina Geldert, a second-year vet student and HVMC’s president and founder, noted that the fledgling organization already has 80 members and is the first of its kind of club in the entire country.
Honeybees were put under the jurisdiction of vet schools by the Food and Drug Administraion in 2017 and are now considered “food supply animals.” This designation will likely affect research funding, among others; Geldert believes that before the change honeybees weren’t actually classified at all.
She takes bees seriously, as should anyone who enjoys eating just about anything,
“I am excited to be one of the first veterinary students making it my mission to teach other vet students how we as health professionals can treat and take care of these animals,” Geldert said.
HVMC is a year-round club that teaches bee biology, such as hive structure; identification of worker bees vs. queens; Colony Collapse Disorder and specific honeybee diseases. Quite interestingly, these animals are now perceived as an entire community of individuals, just as a farmer might look at his herd of cattle. When disease strikes, it can quickly run through an entire population.
Bees are quite fragile so the sad fact of the matter is that humans can accidentally squish some during handling. Geldert remarked that this occasional occurrence doesn’t affect the hive in general unless the unintentional victim is its queen.
Depending on the length of visits to a hive by humans, stress can become a factor. The pitch of buzzing becomes higher when bees are agitated, Geldert said. Also, if a hive is overcrowded or there’s a food shortage, stress levels become elevated and bees become more aggressive.
Thanks to the two combined CSU bee clubs, such overcrowding should not be a concern. A pre-packaged starter hive contains 10,000 individual workers and a queen, who lays approximately 2,000 eggs per day. The CSU clubs oversee growing numbers by adding additional boxes. Unattended, hive populations can quickly reach 25,000.
When that occurs, a hive splits on its own when its queen lays another queen egg. When that female hatches, half the hive flies away with her. But how does a queen choose to produce another royal female monarch?
Geldert said is it an almost mystical process. Workers know when and how to build a special size comb into which the queen then lays her eggs. Gender is determined by what is fed to the larval unborn. If its food source is Royal Jelly, a special gene switches on that produces a queen. All male bees are born from unfertilized eggs but all worker bees in the hive are female. All the brood rearing, maintenance and foraging is completed by female bees. The males are only present in the hive seasonally for mating purposes. If at the end of the season they do not mate, they are kicked out of the hive.
OFF-CAMPUS OUT REACH
The Apiculture and HVMC student members (from undergrad through vet school) are currently the only individuals working with CSU’s hives; there’s presently no outreach to the off-campus community. But, Haberecht said, future plans hopefully will involve Fort Collins area residents with an interest in beekeeping.
If a citizen currently calls the club seeking help with removal of an unwanted swarm, Haberecht usually refers them to a professional unless the location is quite close to campus; in that situation, he might personally go out to help.
“I’m pleased to have the opportunity to help the CSU community learn more about honeybees and what it means to be a beekeeper,” Haberecht said.
Haberecht and Geldert both expressed big plans for the upcoming school year. These revolve around “picking up more steam;” teaching more; recruiting more students through emails, word-of-mouth, and a CSU vet school club fair scheduled for Sept. 2.
For additional information about the club and the Pollinator Friendly Campus Committee, visit https://green.colostate.edu/pollinator-friendly-campus-committee/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions to get involved. ❖
— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.