A swarm of new residents at Humber College is creating a quite a buzz.
Humber’s sustainability team set up honeybee hives at both North and Lakeshore campuses last spring.
“There were beehives in the Arboretum and they approached us and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about putting them on the roofs at Humber?’ and we thought that was a great idea,” said Lindsay Walker, Humber’s sustainability manager.
“Bees are really important and we thought why not showcase that in the project on campus,” she said.
As temperatures begin to rise, the honeybees are getting ready to commence their second year on campus.
There are three hives at Humber North and during the summer when activity is at a peak, each hive is home to about 55,000 bees.
“About a third of our grocery store produce would disappear if it weren’t for bees, so it’s a huge connection to the environment and our food systems,” Walker said.
“Also, having them on campus allows students to wonder what they’re for and why they’re here which adds to that message of why they’re important, otherwise it’s an issue that we don’t really think about,” she said.
Professional beekeepers Fran Freeman and John Coffman come around to check on the bees and make the necessary adjustments to the hives.
“We check in on them a few times a month and we look for any sign of disease of pest, we make sure that the queen has enough room for egg laying, so we’ll put extra boxes on if she needs more space and we’ll also put extra boxes on when there’s a lot of nectar out there for them to bring back to turn into honey,” Freeman said.
“We expand hives and when the season winds down, we decrease the size of the hives, depending on the bees’ needs,” she said.
Walker said rural bees are not surviving well right now because of the pesticides used on farmlands that are impacting their ability to work.
“Urban bees have become a bigger, popular thing because there are no pesticides in urban areas and that keeps them going,” she said.
The hives at Humber’s North campus are located on a rooftop location where they can be seen by the windows next to the staff lounge in L Building. Having them there allows minimal interference with students and the public while still being accessible to those who care for them.
“ I think having them specifically at Humber College, the two places we have them are right outside cafeterias and so people can immediately make a link between bees and pollination and the (food) security,” Freeman said.
“When people are up there eating their lunches, they’re always looking and asking questions. It’s amazing how much information they gather just watching the bees,” Coffman said.
Having the hives in a visible place for students allows them to notice the bees and discover their importance and purpose on campus.
“At Humber, sustainability has become a huge and proud factor of what they provide for the community,” said first year Fashion student Ashley Gardner. “I believe the honeybees serve their purpose but could become more than what they are for the community and Humber.”
Although Humber’s hives may be covered with tarps over the winter, the bees are still inside. Staying close together, they shiver to stay warm and on milder days, when temperatures can be as low as -12C, they go on cleansing flights.
“The inside of the hive is where their food is, where the babies are so they don’t want to make a mess in there,” Freeman said.
“In the winter time they’re feeding off the honey that we leave inside the hives, so they’re not just sitting around, they’re using that honey to produce energy so when they shiver they can keep warm,” Coffman said.
During colder months, the number of bees in the hives decreases to about 10,000 as not as many workers are needed since there is no pollen to retrieve. Many of the bees also work themselves to death, flying hundreds of kilometres a day and going from dusk to dawn, Coffman said.
“In the winter it’s all about keeping enough of them alive so they can start all over again in the spring,” Freeman said.
“They kick out all the extra bees, a lot of the bees that were out collecting nectar and pollen have all totally worn themselves out too and they die while there are bees that are born in the late summer. They’re the ones that can last maybe six months because they’re not running themselves ragged trying to bring stuff back for the hive,” she said.
As for the honey, generally the bees need just about a year to produce enough to be cultivated. By this fall, Humber sustainability hopes to gather the honey and if enough is produced, they plan to give it away to students as prizes.