For university scientists and student volunteers, the reality of bee deaths during winter is harsh.
Just last year, the Beekeepers Club lost all of its bees to the cold weather, thus slowing its productions and making this year one of rebuilding.
The López-Uribe Lab works in conjunction with the Beekeepers Club to provide insight to the beekeepers. The honeybee research labs are housed at the Center for Pollinator Research, the Grozinger Lab and the López-Uribe Lab.
Katy Evans is the primary caretaker of the apiaries — places where beehives are kept — at the López-Uribe Lab and the Wiley Apiary.
Evans said one of the difficulties of keeping bees alive during winter is the timing of the processes related to beekeeping. For example, knowing when to treat a colony for pests, when to feed a colony and when to split a colony all provide challenges for beekeepers.
“Winter prep begins mid-summer,” Evans said. “This includes making sure the bees have enough food to sustain them during the winter, condensing colonies and treating colonies for Varroa mites.”
According to the USDA National Survey and Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, the primary reasons colonies have trouble with losing members are poor quality queen bees and Varroa mites.
“It is important to take the time to monitor mite populations and treat a colony if necessary,” Evans said. “Starvation during the winter is also a concern and is more common than one thinks.”
Evans also noted the importance of the queen bee’s genetics in making sure the rest of the colony survives rough conditions.
“Last year the majority of our colonies originated from package bees from the South,” Evans said. “Many times, a local or regional queen will be better adapted to the local climate.”
Hoping to have a better turnout than last year, Evans is optimistic working with the Beekeepers Club will help to make research about both native bees and honeybees more accessible to the local community.
“I am looking forward to working with the club to manage colonies at the Wiley Apiary,” Evans said. “The Center for Pollinator Research has worked very hard over the years to establish a strong, positive and supportive relationship with beekeepers in Pennsylvania and surrounding states.”
Hannah Chisler, co-president of the Beekeepers Club, shared Evans’ sentiments regarding the future of the organization’s work. She cited a desire to make the club “bigger and better.”
“[We’re] constantly growing and attracting many different students from all academic backgrounds,” Chisler said. “These students all bring different insights and questions to the club that we never had before.”
Carrie Zamonski, agriculture student council chair of the Beekeepers Club, shared Evans’ enthusiasm about what the future holds for the organization.
“This semester, we have a wax workshop planned in which we utilize wax from beehives to make different objects such as candles or reusable beeswax wraps that replace plastic wrap,” Zamonski said. “We are lucky to have a great relationship with [the López-Uribe Lab] that allows the club to have hands-on experiential learning at their research hives.”
The research project Evans mentioned, Tracking the Health of Feral Bees, can be found on the López-Uribe Lab’s website.
The club’s commitment to bees has been recognized, as Penn State was recently certified as a “Bee Campus USA,” the 55th educational institution in the country to do earn such a title. Institutions that alter their landscapes to the benefit of pollinators are eligible to receive the accreditation.
At University Park, Penn State has done just that. The Class of 2019 recently pledged to donate the Pollinator’s Garden Entry Gate to the Arboretum as its class gift. Additionally, Penn State has various labs dedicated to pollinator-related research around campus.
Currently, university researchers are conducting a citizen science project throughout Pennsylvania. The project aims to develop a state bee-breeding program.
“We will continue to collaborate with beekeepers and other research institutions to further research on bee health,” Evans said. “We are looking forward to continuing to engage the community and recruit citizen scientists in 2019.”