The Beekeeper’s Apprentices

PRINCETON University has a BEE TEAM!

This fall, the University has its first-ever beekeeping group, the Princeton BEE Team, which plans to offer free beginner lessons this spring. The team already cares for a large hive located at an old quarry site on University property.

“If you’ve ever been interested in beekeeping, as a hobby or otherwise, BEE excited,” is the cheerful description of the group on the student organization directory.

Michael Smith ’10, president of the BEE Team, said he has been interested in beekeeping for many years, though he did not get involved with it until 2005. “There was never anyone to teach me,” he said.

While in the United Kingdom for boarding school, Smith met a beekeeper who taught him the basics of the craft. He then started a beekeeping project at that school that still exists today.

Though he said he wanted to start a club at Princeton right away, there were no opportunities until this summer. Luckily for Smith, Frank Locke, a local beekeeper and a member of the Central New Jersey Beekeepers Association, donated one of his largest hives to the BEE Team.

“Frank saw that we’d be doing something good with the hives — teaching new people the art of beekeeping — and was willing to donate one of the pivotal pieces to getting us off the ground,” Smith said.

During the fall, there isn’t much to do. “We’re just feeding the hives so that they will have food stores for the winter,” Smith explained. After the bees become more active in February or March, the hives will be opened, and free lessons will be offered.

The process of beekeeping is not a simple thing. “You could just leave the hives and collect the honey, but you also are checking up on them,” Smith explained. Beekeepers must make sure that the colonies have enough room to expand.

Every hive must have a queen, so beekeepers often undertake “queen maintenance” to make sure that one is always present.

Bees may also need medication over the winter to keep them healthy.

Smith said his favorite part of beekeeping is the smells: “honey, wax and the smell of the pheromones when they’re angry with you.”

Beekeeping requires a bit of protection. Most people will wear a “bee suit”: a wide-brimmed hat, boots, gloves and a veil. Smith admitted that he often goes without equipment, but stressed that wearing a veil is important because “bees can tell carbon dioxide output. Your breath can excite them, and they will aim for your eyes.” All beginners should wear full equipment, Smith advised.

“Every colony has a different personality,” he said, adding that almost every beekeeper has been stung at one point.

But overall, “Bees are really quite peaceful,” Smith said. “They’re usually not going to hurt you unless you provoke them.” To those who have had bad experiences with bees in the past, he explained, “a lot of times it’s not even a bee; it’s a wasp. [Bees have] gotten a bad rap for their annoying cousins.”

No comments: