Friday, April 25, 2008

‘Bee farm’: New buzz words for global issues classes

By Joe Holman
Guest Writer

The Saint Mary’s University campus may soon be buzzing about a new project that Associate Professor of Social Science Wesley Miller is proposing.

The proposed project is to bring a honey bee colony, or “apiary” as it is referred to in the bee-keeping community, to campus.
The colony would be made up of two hives. The project is still in the early stages, since Miller is currently seeking a grant to fund it. Miller hopes that he can secure a grant by the spring of 2009.

Miller wants to use the apiary to engage students in learning about global issues. He sees a relationship between the lives of bees and the concrete problems that the global community faces. Students in Miller’s Global Issues classes will be able to interact with the bees on a daily basis and see the concepts that they learn about in his lectures illustrated by the colony. “If I can get you emotionally attached to these creatures, I can use that relationship to engage you to abstract lessons,” said Miller. “What affects bees also affect you and me.”

The biggest concern about Miller’s project is the health and safety of students and faculty. There is the risk that someone may be allergic to bees and would be nervous of their presence on campus. Miller acknowledges this concern and would first seek to educate both students and faculty about honey bees before his project moves forward.

Bees are often confused with their more aggressive relatives, yellow jackets and wasps. Honey bees by nature are not aggressive and will not sting unless they feel threatened at the hive. “I’m still concerned about the danger of bee stings to those sensitive to them so I’m still a little nervous about an on-campus apiary,” said Chris Kendall, vice president of student development at Saint Mary’s and beginning bee-keeper himself.

Miller is still looking into possible locations on campus for the hives at this time. One option would be to put it near the old apple orchard, behind St. Yon’s field, so the bees could pollinate the trees and restore the orchard.

Another option, Miller said, would be to put the hives on a rooftop. Saint Mary’s Hall would be a good location because it would create a respectful distance between the bees and the rest of the campus community. The rooftop location would also get the hives out of the way of scavengers such as raccoons, skunks and bears.

The bees that Miller hopes to bring in to fill the on-campus hives would come from a new breed of bee developed by Marla Spivak at the University of Minnesota. This breed, known as the “Minnesota Hygienic” bee, is bred to sense diseased larvae in the hive and routinely clean itself. The thinking behind the development of the cleaning trait is that it wards off infection of a parasite called Varroa Destructor. This parasite was responsible for eliminating half of the U.S bee population in 2004-2005.

Miller also has a unique plan in place for the types of hives that he will put on campus. The first hive would be the standard box hive. The second is a hive type that was developed in Kenya, called a top bar hive or “honey cow.” By incorporating an African inspired hive, Miller will add to the globalization aspect of his project. The top bar hive is also less intrusive than a box hive and results in a less aggressive bee.

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