AASHE Student Diary Series: Abuzz with Rooftop Bees
The novice beekeeping adventures of a group of Graduate School of Design (GSD) students at Harvard University are featured in this installment of the AASHE Bulletin Sustainability Student Diary series. The following is republished from the university's Office for Sustainability website with excerpts from the students' Pollinators blog. The student pollinators are a subdivision of the GSD Green Group. AASHE welcomes questions and invites feedback on each Sustainability Student Diary entry. Submit diary entries of your own for consideration to email@example.com.
The Buzz About Rooftop Beehives
By Hallie Chen and Connie Migliazzo
In the spring of 2011, we were involved in a conversation with Louisa Dennison of the Harvard Community Garden about bringing beehives to the rooftops of buildings on campus. As two design students with histories in farming and food systems, our interests intersected on the roof of Gund Hall. The more we learned about rooftop hives, the more we realized how feasible and ecological it would be to have a rooftop apiary. This hive would fit in nicely with the existing Green Roof of Gund Hall established in 2007.
Why keep bees?
While the honey is a nice byproduct and would be a great local food product, the real point of the bees fits into Harvard’s sustainability commitment. Bees are vital to the pollination of many of the crops that feed this country and with the recent collapse of so many colonies, healthy urban food systems are a viable alternative to industrialized food production. Urban beekeeping, like urban gardening, can be a small scale intervention that plugs into a larger network moving us towards healthier and more sustainable cities.
In Cambridge, the bees have access to the ideal mix of weeds and wildflowers on the banks of the Charles River, as well as many local plantings such as the Harvard Community Garden. Bees generally forage for food within a two-mile range; with this city’s significant greenery, local beekeepers have noted that Cambridge is a great place to keep bees. The network of bees throughout the campus would serve to pollinate the Harvard Community Garden, as well as the numerous surrounding community gardens in Cambridge, while also serving as a symbol of the importance of bees to the sustainability of our larger food system.
After receiving a Student Sustainability Grant from the Office for Sustainability (OFS), we quickly discovered that there were already two beehives on the roof of the Northwest Labs. Bodo Stern, the Director of Research Affairs at the Harvard FAS Center for Systems Biology, took us to see his thriving colonies and introduced us to the necessary equipment and basic care strategies.
With this shared knowledge and an OFS grant we were able to purchase our own equipment and bees in early June 2011. The hive on Gund Hall is now heavy with honey and brood.
From the Pollinators blog...
May 27, 2011: I don't think we are going to get full suits.
We learned that starting this late is tough. Every place is sold out of “package bees”- these are the bee stock that you would buy and you would buy a queen. Normally, we’d have their box all set up, buy these bees and let the worker bees eat out the queen (tee hee) from this special box (heheh) that allows her pheromones to go out and is sealed by sugar coating or something.
After a lot of debate, Connie and I decided that we should go for a nuke. A nuke is a several frame nucleus of a hive complete with a queen bee so we wouldn’t have to worry about the queen and workers getting off to a good start. There will be a brood-a-brewing!
June 2, 2011: We were able to meet Bodo Stern- the coolest guy in the Northwest Labs Building! He and his pal Rachel put two beehives on the roof of the northwest labs. Some things we learned from Bodo:
- Change the Bottom Board from a Solid to Screened/Mesh in the summer- Keeps the hives cool and mites can’t crawl back up once they fall out.
- Make sure there are drown-guards for tiny bee feet in watering/feeding situations. An old sock has worked well for them. Bees like landing on that (gross and cool!)
- Wind doesn’t seem very ideal for them, but so far they haven’t had a problem. We are going to have a lower roof and a parapet so I think we might be okay.
- Buying a subscription to Science Magazine gets you a really really cool t-shirt.
Sept. 19, 2011: We attended a NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) bee wintering workshop where we learned the ins and outs of beekeeping winter preparation:
- Feed in the fall to supplement their food for the winter.
- Water and moisture - not cold - are what kills bees in the winter. They cluster, detach their flapping muscles from their wings, and buzz enough to keep themselves at about 98 degrees. Therefore proper ventilation is critical! Screen bottom board!
- Starvation is not only from lack of food- their cluster contracts in extremely cold temperatures, and they could be 6 inches away from food and never make it there.
- Dry sugar or fondant are methods of emergency feeding in the winter.
There’s work to be done!
Oct. 29, 2011: We went up on Saturday for what will probably be one of our last visits to the hive this year. After temperatures drop below 50 degrees consistently, you are not advised to open the hive, unless to emergency feed in the winter. So, we removed our empty honey super and filled our feeder trough with some sugar syrup to give them one last treat before the winter sets in. Additionally, we added these “patties” of a combinations of vegetable shortening, sugar, agave syrup and wintergreen oil as a deterrent to the Varroa Mites that frequently infest hives. We have done all we can to prepare these girls for winter and now all we can do is hope!
Nov. 18, 2011: One of the biggest challenges for bees in the winter is moisture. They can survive the cold with a steady food source but it is the water that kills them. We decided to make sure that snow and rain had a tough time getting into the hive.
Success! Happy winter, bees.
See more pictures and keep up with Hallie and Connie's progress here.
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