After more than a year of preparation and planning, Elmhurst College recently moved 40,000 honeybees into two hives on the roof of the Arthur J. Schaible Science Center, where they will play an important role in campus research and sustainability efforts.
Honeybees provide 80 percent of the pollination for fruit, vegetable, seed and flower crops, which make up about a third of the U.S. diet. Beginning this fall, students will learn firsthand about bees, beehives, biological processes, pollination and the impact of bees on the environment, biology professor Paul Arriola said.
The College’s Heritage Garden, which grows fruits and vegetables to contribute to the College’s dining services operation and local food banks, should be helped greatly by the natural pollinators, Arriola said. So should the College’s arboretum campus as a whole, which includes more than 800 trees and shrubs, the Prairie Garden and the Monarch Butterfly Waystation. Community and backyard gardens nearby, as well as the Wilder Park Conservatory, also will benefit from the bee colonies.
That could be one reason why the College received overwhelmingly positive feedback at its public information sessions about the project. “Everyone was very supportive and understanding of the bees’ role,” said Paul Hack, the College’s arborist and supervisor of grounds and maintenance.
Much of the preparation for the bees involved working with the City of Elmhurst to change an ordinance so that beehives would be allowed inside city limits for educational purposes, said Jill McWilliams, the College’s director of foundation and government relations. The College then won a grant from the Honeybee Conservancy to pay for the bees’ housing and supplies; beekeeping suits, hats and gloves; and training for the facilities and grounds staff members who will care for the hives. The grant also provided the honeybees, which arrived in two buzzing shipments in April and May.
The staff has put out sugar water and a “pollen patty” to feed the bees as the hives are established, Hack said, but barring disease or hive failure, the colonies should become self-sustaining within a year.
The honey from the hives will be harvested each fall except for the first year, when the bees will need all the honey they produce to get through their first winter. Hack said he’s looking forward to finding out whether the bees like the linden trees around the Frick Center—he has heard that linden pollen gives honey a minty flavor.
The College has not yet determined what it will do with its new crop in subsequent years, Hack said, although options include using it in the cafeteria, donating it to food banks or selling it. He and two other grounds employees are thrilled to find their job duties expanded to include those of beekeeper.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said.