New hives on campus make students amateur beekeepers

In the springtime, a wafting smell of flowers and rain brings honey bee pollinators, dancing through sweet prairies and helping plants grow fruit and reproduce.

“You don’t need a large property to start a garden to attract honey bees or native bees. Take a piece of the lawn that gets five to six hours of sunlight and turn it into a garden. Think big and start small,” says Kathleen M. Prough of the Indiana DNR, Division of Entomology & Plant Pathology in “Gardening for Honeybees.”

Augustana sustainability will “think big and start small” by establishing two beehives on campus in the spring.

While junior Brayden Harris didn’t come up with the idea for beekeeping on campus, he picked up the project from junior John Walker after seeing how happy it made Walker to work on. Although Walker’s plans for a beehive got swept up as a result of COVID-19 last spring, Harris picked up this sustainability project where Walker left off.

Harris didn’t know much about beekeeping, so he searched for a Sioux Falls bee- keeping Facebook group, and that’s how he found Dale Hill, a retired beekeeper with a Ph.D. in animal nutrition who raised bees himself for more than 15 years and now helps others become beekeepers.

“He’s the brains, and I’m the — don’t wanna say brawn — but I’m the logistics,” Harris said about their dynamic. “He’s got all the information, and I’m the one dispersing the information.”

Together, the duo found the most efficient type of hive for the campus (Eastern European bee boxes, the type that stand like a chest, designed to be easily moved all over the country), the type of bees best suited for a South Dakota climate (European or Western honeybees) and the best location on campus for a hive (on top of the hill behind the Moses statue). They established and spread the word about their beekeeping class and tackled other logistical problems in order to try to raise a successful colony on campus.

At the beekeeping classes on Jan. 26 and 27, Hill taught people over Zoom and in person the body structure of a bee, the different types of bees in a colony and what to wear when beekeeping. He also answered im

portant questions. What happens if the queen leaves? What does a beehive look like? How do people inspect the hive for fungus? How do keepers spot a queen? How do they process the honey?

Professor David O’Hara, director of sustainability and environmental studies, said a lot of the students he’s talked to about having honey bees on campus are excited because they can watch how some of their food is grown. They have been “taken up with the joy of growing food,” he said.

Harris concurred with this grassroots idea, saying that raising honey bees helps bring people closer to their sources of food. “People are really detached about where their food is coming from and understanding how that food is processed,” Harris said.

The Augie beekeepers plan to sell their harvested honey at $8 per pound, depend- ing on how much honey gets produced each year. Typically a hive can produce up to 50 pounds by August. Different times of the spring and summer create different types of honey depending on what flowering plants are in bloom.

Beyond the honey they produce, bees are an essential part of how humans get nutrients. If pollinators like the honeybee weren’t around, the world would lose over a third of the food people eat. According to the World Atlas, about 80% of plants are angiosperms (flowering plants), which means that they need pollinators to reproduce. If these pollinators disappear, so do those plants — unless we somehow create an efficient technology to fill that vast void.

“Raising bees on campus is a lesson in food, in ecology, in history [and] in the relationship that we have as a species with insects,” O’Hara said. “I think it’s also a lesson for the future about taking care of the planet that we live in and that we share together.”

Bees have a rich and complex hive communication network. Each bee performs a crucial role in maintaining the hive’s form and function, and they have their own unique way of communicating that stands out in the animal kingdom — dancing. According to Science Daily bees are deaf, so they have numerous dances that have certain meanings depending on how they’re used.

Science Daily also said that “part of the dance is the so-called waggle run, in which the bees energetically shake their abdomen.” The direction of the waggle run on the honeycomb communicates the direction of the destination in relation to the position of the sun while the duration of the wagging indicates the distance.”

Hill said he’s probably spent over a hundred hours watching the eusocial (animal societies that have specific purposes for each creature) insects keep their colony alive and thriving.

“They are, without a doubt, the most fascinating critters I have ever worked with,” said Hill. “If I would’ve known then what I know now, I probably would’ve gone into entomology.”

Hopefully in the spring when the bee colony arrives, students can watch honeybees work across campus, using the chapel and the administration building landscaping, the sugar maple tree next to the commons, the organic garden north of campus, the green’s wetland, the apple orchard and the prairie garden as sources of food.

All this being said, bees are difficult to keep alive as a result of colony collapse disorder, which happens when the worker bees leave and never come back. Bee populations declined by 61% between 1947 and 2008, according to the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology. The winter of 2019 saw a 35.9% loss for bee colonies in the United States as a result of colony collapse disorder.

But Harris said if the project fails, he’s happy that he at least set up the groundwork for someone else to continue the project after he graduates.

Keeping bees on campus can affect the way students perceive food, the environment and, ultimately, how they interact with each other.

“I think if you study bees, you’re studying not just a little insect but your studying a whole ecosystem, and you’re studying what it means to be human, too,” O’Hara said.

Hill and Harris plan to have another beekeeping class in the spring to show interested beekeepers in-depth processes behind raising the colony. Those interested in joining can email Harris at

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