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Buzz about bees: New hives installed at Zena

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Andrea Griffin

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Slideshow: Photos taken at Zena during the installation of the hives. By Craig Amador & Andrea Griffin.

As of April 10, four new honey bee hives have been installed at Zena Farms, marking the beginning of Willamette’s Honeybee Apiary Club. Jordan Uth, Greenhouse Farm and Garden Coordinator at Willamette, has been involved in beekeeping since college and applied for a Community Action Fund for Equity and Sustainability (CAFES) grant in order to get the materials needed for the hives at Zena. Uth came to WU about three years ago, and has been assisting in teaching a hands-on class called Working With the Land (IDS 299) alongside professor Wendy Boring. While working at Zena, Uth found that there was already a honey extractor and other beekeeping equipment out in the woods that had been used about ten years ago. After recovering the old equipment, Uth used her experience and expertise with beekeeping that she has gathered from other beekeeping programs throughout the Pacific Northwest to write the grant, safety protocols and gather the rest of the necessary equipment for the Zena hives.

“I’m incredibly grateful to CAFES for providing these opportunities, because [budget] is a barrier,” said Uth. She had previously been looking for more opportunities to attain funding and make Zena more accessible, since it is about fifteen miles away from campus. One of the ways she hopes to make beekeeping more accessible is to get hives installed on Willamette's campus. She also hopes to have more classes that allow students to be rewarded for their work at Zena with academic credit.

Honey bees communicate with one another through pheromones emitted from the queen, and movements such as the waggle dance that indicates where bees can find resources in relation to the sun. “[Working with bees] is a very intimate relationship that goes throughout the world and has such a spiritual and practical relationship with an insect that is a super organism of great elegance that shows us how we really can work together as more than an individual based group. They really show us our potential as a collaboration,” said Uth.

Grace Shiffrin ’23 is a member of the Zena Farm Club leadership team and has been working with professor Breonna Linn in the biology department as a research assistant. “One of the biggest things for me is that the club allows me to get outside instead of being stuck inside my dorm,” said Shiffrin.

Shiffrin has been working with professor Linn for three semesters to barcode Native Bee DNA.

In most cases the DNA of Native Bees has not been sequenced before and there is a lot that is not known about Native Bees.

Shiffrin became inspired to do this kind of research due to a project she did in high school where she had to collect insects for a class. “That was a really cool experience for me,” said Shiffrin. She also thinks it is important for everyone to learn about bees. Even if they can seem a little scary, interacting with them is not necessarily dangerous.

“There is not an emphasis on Native Bee research and work,” said Shiffrin. Shiffrin would like to see more focus on Native Bees, although honey bees are a great way for people to learn about bees and get interested in bees in general. “I think honey bees are just as important as Native Bees, but you have to understand that sometimes there’s too much of a focus on honey bees,” said Shiffrin.

According to Shriffin, the majority of Native Bees are solitary bees, meaning that they don’t live in hives, they live in the ground. “You don’t usually look for them, but once you do look for them they are everywhere,” said Shiffrin. Compared to honey bees, Native Bees tend to get up earlier and aren't as distrubed by inclement weather and simply need undisturbed ground to dig their holes. According to Uth, bumble bees tend to live together in small cells and leaf cutter bees tend to be more solidary. “In essence, working with both [Native and non-Native Bees] goes hand in hand because it’s all about providing floral nectar and pollen resources that bloom consistently throughout the year in patch sizes that maximize their rewards,” said Uth. Having more bees in general can help to increase their pollination effect overall.

Uth encourages students to get involved with beekeeping because “bee keeping is a very large industry in the Willamette Valley, especially in Oregon, we have a relationship with seed crops that is very unique,” said Uth. According to Uth, the Willamette Valley has a large variety of flowering plants that require pollination, and a wide spectrum of beekeepers from hobbyists to large scale pollination operations that travel the country. Uth also talked about the importance of the role of students to help maintain the hives to ensure they are clean and have access to food and water. Especially seeing as there has been an increase in pests, particularly destructor mites, that in bee terms are pests that cling to bees and are the size of rats by comparison.

“I really do encourage people who aren’t very involved in the club or bees in general to just get out there and interact with the bees and connect with nature in a way that you don’t really get to do everyday,” said Shiffrin. “Insects and bees specifically are really different, in that… when you interact with them you get to connect to them and that helps you connect to nature and the Earth.” She also believes that seeing them in their hive as a community where they are all working together is an entirely different experience than seeing them casually out in nature.

“If you haven’t had exposure to [beekeeping] in your family environment or in your community, then [Willamette] is an excellent, most welcoming experience for newcomers,” said Uth. She also encourages students to apply for the Zena Farm Summer Internship position and to join the Zena Farm Club listservs for more information and event updates.

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