The main goal of my signature project was to establish two hives of honey bees in Bethel, Ohio. The hives serve as a practical application of what I have learned in my entomology studies at Ohio State as part of my minor.
Working with my hives has shown me that knowledge comes from a combination of formal and practical education. The beekeeping course I participated in on campus laid an amazing foundation of formal education for my project. Everything after that has come as a result of finding what works for me and my bees. I’ve talked to other bee enthusiasts, seasoned beekeepers, online forums, and registered apiarists as part of this project as well as aided a neighbor in setting up his first hive. Sometimes school can seem endless and the knowledge gained pointless, but there is practicality at the end of the tunnel.
While beekeeping is usually seen as a niche hobby, start-up is more based in capital than effort. Bees want for very little in the grand scheme of things. It is the job of the keeper to set them up right and monitor their health. Everything else is left up to the bees. I tried to start my bees off as well as possible. I chose a location at my home in rural Bethel that would provide the hives with everything they needed. It is essentially the textbook definition of a good hive location. They receive a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight a day, are located near quality pollen and nectar sources throughout the growing season, have a close source of fresh water, and are in an area with excellent drainage. In class, we covered these aspects of hive placement and their importance to the hive’s success. Many diseases and parasites that are found in bee hives are the result of suboptimal placement. Diseases that can destroy the entire hive- such as foulbrood disease- need moisture to proliferate. Adequate drainage wound the hive reduces incidence of foulbrood spores successfully reproducing. Pests such a varroa mites are unable to reproduce in warm hives. Bees themselves produce heat which helps to regulate where in the hive these mites will be successful, but long exposure of the hive body to sunlight also helps keep the internal temperature high without as much energy expenditure form the bees. We also discussed the wide range of resources that need to be readily available. Growing seasons of plants do not necessarily coincide with the needs of any particular hive. Because of this, it is in a beekeeper’s best interest to have pollen and nectar sources that are producing during the span of annual hive activity. My bees are situated near nectar sources such as honey locust trees, apple trees, and butterfly bushes as well as pollen sources such as dandelions and corn. Each of these plants produces pollen or nectar at varying times which allows for continual harvest throughout the season.
After location was determined and a deposit was placed on the packages, supplies were needed. A majority of my funding went toward the actual hive bodies. The goal was to start 2 hives with supplies available to give each hive 4 boxes. As a lab activity in the beekeeping course, we perused various beekeeping supply catalogs and, with a list of necessary basic provided by the professor, were tasked with getting everything needed for hive startup at the lowest price. That particular exercise was extremely helpful in getting what I needed while staying within my STEP budget. What arrived in those BetterBee supply packages was the biggest time commitment of my project. 8 unassembled boxes, 80 unassembled frames, and no school breaks between delivery and bee pick-up. Luckily, during a rain day for the practical (outdoors, in the hives) lab portion of the class, we learned to assemble boxes and frames. Frames take a bit more finesse to put together as they bear a heavy load when drawn out and filled in by the bees. My dad picked up on this quickly was an enormous help in assembling all of this. With his help, all the necessary boxes and frames were assembled in time for the bees to be installed.
Installation to the present has been the fun part of my learning experience. The day of installation went smoothly. The bees remained relatively calm throughout the process and took well to their new space. Since installation, the county apiarist has come for an inspection. One hive is doing astoundingly well. The other is struggling. Hive 2’s queen is currently MIA. She has either died or is being replaced due to poor performance. The hive is currently focused on raising a new queen and collecting nectar for honey production. When the new queen is established, the hive mentality will shift toward raising brood. It is currently a waiting game for me. Hives are checked every 3-4 weeks for health monitoring but are otherwise left alone. Whenever I have had questions or issues with my budding apiary, I have been able to reach out to my professor with questions or problems. He has been a great help to get them off the ground and keeping them in good health.
As a student whose learning style straddles the line of visual and kinesthetic, practical application of the concepts I learn in the classroom is extremely important to me. Something like beekeeping isn’t something that can truly be taught or learned without the application. The success of my hives (at least one of them) is extremely validating for my studies. Schoolwork is much more than schoolwork when it has real life experiences to back it up. This project has renewed my academic fervor because it allowed a glimpse into the opportunities I will have to apply my knowledge outside the classroom and after graduation.