Written by Hayley Wood
When we think of the benefits bees carry, honey is normally the first thing that comes to mind. Yet honey bees are only one of the tens of thousands of other bee species that exist. While the fruit of their labor is sweet, their pollination services extend beyond a pot of honey. These tiny pollinators are valued at $15 billion for US agriculture and $170 billion for honey production. From a small snack of almonds to seasonal favorites like pumpkins, bees are to thank. Plagued by colony collapse disorder, species-specific parasites, and loss of habitat, each passing season reveals a persistent decline in the bee population since the early 2000s.
While they are not the only pollinators we have, they are the best creatures for the task. Honey bees have a small and hairy body with a tube-like mouthpart, or proboscis. As they move flower to flower sucking up nectar, their hairs trap pollen and simultaneously pollinate each plant they come in contact with. Apples, citrus fruits, avocados, blueberries, and almonds are a few of the produce staples we would lose if populations do not stabilize in the next decade.
As news of the population decline has spread, urban beekeeping has become an international area of interest, finding its way onto college campuses. There is more to keeping bees than wearing a suit and veil. Beekeeping is a smoky, sticky, and time-intensive labor of love. Kobi Naseck, a senior member of UT’s BEEVO Beekeeping society, is trying to “establish UT Austin as a Bee Campus USA” by the end of the Spring 2018 semester.
The goal of BEEVO is to inform faculty and students about the bountiful benefits bees provide for habitat and agriculture. By offering hands-on instruction on beekeeping practices, performing bi-weekly hive checks and tending to the new hive site on Speedway, the organization has seen an influx of interest from students of all backgrounds.
By “undertaking some activities like creating awareness on campus” or “making more pollinator-friendly gardens,” UT will be aiding all pollinators. Additionally, “working with landscape services to develop a least toxic pesticide implementation plan,” will assure a flourishing environment for healthy colonies.
He says “other than to have a successful harvest,” the best aspect of tending to these special insects is “creating something from nothing.”
Naseck reasons that keeping bees “keeps us in tune with our environment.” The relationship between humans and tiny foragers helps us learn “cooperation and tenacity and love of life.”
The mutual reliance between bees and plant life is vital to a diverse food system and, ultimately, our well-being. As a society, if we keep expanding the boundaries of our interference in natural habitats, beekeeping will become a necessity rather than a privilege. Getting involved with beekeeping will guarantee a change in the way you think about urban spaces, wildlife, and the value of the food on your table.
All images by Hayley Wood