This summer, USF’s honeybee population doubled. What started as a single hive in the USF Community Garden in 2015 grew to two hives last year and doubled again to four this summer, spanning from the garden to the courtyard beyond the School of Education building. So, how did two hives become four?
“The hive did so well that it had a phenomenon this summer known as ‘swarming,’ where a colony outgrows its current location and about half of the hive and the queen leave to go find a new residence,” Craig Petersen, director of Facilities Operations, said.
The first swarm came from a hive in the courtyard of the Sisters of the Presentation building. After the bees migrated to a tree right outside the organization’s main building, the Facilities team collected the swarm. The swarms are collected by capturing the queen in a temporary hive and waiting for the rest of the bees to file into it. The temporary hive is then closed and safely transported to wherever the permanent hive is located. After the swarm from the Sisters of the Presentation courtyard was collected, it was moved into an empty hive, which then became the second hive in the Community Garden.
Honey bees tend to swarm in late spring to early summer due to increased population, which causes colonies to outgrow their spaces, according to the University of Nebraska’s Department of Entomology. When a hive decides that it is time to swarm, it makes a new queen. This new queen will stay behind with half the population, while the old queen leaves with the new swarm. This process is a sign of a healthy hive.
When these swarms happened on campus this summer, Petersen said that most people did not notice.
“Quite frankly, what was happening was that people were oblivious to a swarm of bees as they walked by on the street with their headphones on or on their phones,” Petersen said.
One week later, a second swarm migrated from its Community Garden hive to a different tree also outside of the Sisters of the Presentation’s main building. This second swarm was collected and moved back to its home in the Community Garden.
The original hive in the Community Garden went through a common practice known as splitting. Petersen describes a split as when beekeepers physically separate a hive into two smaller hives — one with the original queen, and one with a new one. When a hive is doing well, the beekeeper splits it in half before the hive can swarm, as that could end up being a big loss for a beekeeper. This particular split was relocated to a space in the garden of the Loyola House, marking the fourth and most recent hive.
The University’s four hives are home to around 50,000 bees. This number, combined with other on-campus projects like the implementation of bee-friendly plants, have allowed for USF to become a certified “Bee-Friendly” campus.
USF has also recently been recognized as a member of the Bee Campus USA program. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation developed this program in Oregon, and its goal is to work with colleges across the country to create environments on campuses that support pollinators.
“I got into beekeeping, in part, because I wanted to do my small part in maintaining the bee population,” Joe Murphy, the USF environmental safety manager, said. “I just thought, ‘Hey, if I could maintain a hive, then I could ensure that pollination and the bees continue in my neck of the woods.’” Murphy also participated in collecting the two swarms and works to maintain the hives on campus.
When asked what would happen if another swarm were to occur, Petersen explained that there are several remote places around Lone Mountain or Star Route Farms in Bolinas, California, where a new swarm could be placed. Another option, Petersen said, would be to provide a swarm to a local beekeeper who is looking to start their own beehive.
Despite all that is being done to manage the beehives on campus, Murphy explained while there are still safety concerns, it is important to remember that bees are entirely independent and want nothing to do with someone who might just be walking by — there is only the danger of being stung when bees feel that their hive is threatened.
All the hives on campus are in remote locations with posted signage to ensure that people are aware that they are entering areas with honey bees.
“That’s just USF landscapers and facilities striving to maintain the campus grounds in an attractive way and encourage pollinator friendly plants and blooming plants, all of which attract bees,” Petersen said. “If you get rid of the beehives, you will still have the bees. They just might come from somewhere else.”
The bees also benefit the growth and pollination of the produce in the Community Garden, according to Novella Carpenter, head of the urban agriculture department.
“It is a wonder to observe the bees working so hard in our garden, doing their work collecting nectar and pollen,” Carpenter said in an email. “All of the fruit trees respond to the presence of the bees — I swear to god — we have so many more lemon blossoms right now because of the hive returning to the garden.”
Having bees on campus, Murphy said, is ultimately mutually beneficial for both students and the bees. “We’re an educational institution, and this is an area of biology that deserves study and awareness,” Murphy said. “We as a campus talk about social justice and environmental justice, and so maintaining beehives is a way to provide students with one more facet of biology and what’s happening in the world.”
The writer of this story is a student employee in the Department of Environmental Studies and works with Facilities Management to maintain the honeybee hives on campus.