About a dozen students gathered in the early evening outside the Durrell Center for a “hiving,” placing honey bees in three newly built hives as part of the campus-wide initiative to educate the Colorado State University community about the importance of bees to our ecosystem.
Freddie Haberecht, a freshman in the Warner College of Natural Resources, was beaming with enthusiasm as he carried a box of white beekeeping suits, helmets with veils and other supplies.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said of the event held on Earth Day, April 22. Haberecht is president of CSU’s Apiculture Club, which welcomes anyone interested in bees and beekeeping; apiculture is the technical term for beekeeping.
Christina Geldert, a first-year student in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program, serves as the club’s vice president. She is also the president and founder of the Honey Bee Veterinary Medicine Club at CSU, the first club of its kind at a veterinary school in the United States.
Geldert arrived at CSU with five years of experience in beekeeping. As an undergraduate at California Lutheran University, she managed bees on campus and helped educate people about their importance as pollinators.
“I became ‘queen bee’ on campus,” said Geldert, who is fond of bee-related puns.
Before the students moved the bees from small plastic cages to the larger wooden hives — constructed by members of the club — Geldert gave the group some safety tips.
“The bees are docile,” she said. “We don’t anticipate any aggression from them. If one lands on you, just brush it off, gently. Make sure you’re wearing gloves, and that your sleeves are rolled all the way down. You want your suit to be loose, just in case a bee gets inside.”
Geldert described working with bees as “fascinating.”
All of the workers in a hive are female, she explained. The males don’t do anything but sit around and eat honey. Each hive functions as a superorganism: Individuals have their own task but also contribute to the whole. Each bee has to do its part so that the hive can function as its own ecosystem.
Bees pollinate up to one-third of the crops that humans eat. They also pollinate crops that animals eat, like soybeans and clover, not necessarily on purpose. But when bees move from flower to flower, they’re covered in pollen and they bring that pollen to the next flower or plant they land on, Geldert explained.
“Bees promote biodiversity. Their health is important for the health of so many plants,” said Geldert, adding that lately the health of bees has become a major concern in both the agriculture and environmental communities. “Bees are considered an indicator species. If we didn’t have enough red flags about how the climate is changing, bees are another red flag.”
New regulations for honey bee medicine
The more than 80 CSU veterinary medicine students who belong to the Honey Bee Veterinary Medicine Club are interested in something that goes beyond what is cool, or trendy.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Veterinary Feed Directive, which went into effect in January 2017, classified honey bees as food-producing animals, since they make honey. With that classification, beekeepers now are required to obtain a prescription for antibiotics from a veterinarian before they treat their hives.
The federal regulation is designed to curb the misuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals, since it can lead to antibiotic resistance in these animals and humans.
Dr. Ragan Adams, a CSU Veterinary Extension Specialist, said the new regulations create a bit of a gray zone for veterinarians, who have not historically had a relationship with beekeepers. And while honey bees produce food, they are also wildlife, which presents an additional challenge.
For a veterinarian to prescribe antibiotics, he or she must evaluate a patient (or in this case, patients) and have a relationship with the client, Adams said. It is similar to how veterinarians help treat large herds of cattle.
National organizations including the American Veterinary Medical Association are producing educational information and offering courses to help bring veterinarians up to speed.
Becoming a ‘bee vet’
For Geldert, the new regulations offer an opportunity she thought she wouldn’t have. “Wait, this is a real thing,” she said, when she first learned about the Veterinary Feed Directive. “I could be a bee vet.”
The student clubs collaborate with Arathi Seshadri, a pollination biologist and special assistant professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and Bob Todd, who has been a beekeeper in Northern Colorado for 50 years.
Geldert has talked with Seshadri and Dr. Sue VandeWoude, associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, about the possibility of adding an elective class at CSU on beekeeping for veterinary students.
“The ramifications of the honey bees’ little task on the planet is so astounding, we can barely comprehend it,” said Geldert. “People didn’t realize bees were so important until they started dying. It’s how we all want to be in the world, doing our little job but also how it echoes to something greater than us.”
Haberecht said the club’s efforts do indeed contribute to a greater good.
“The whole campus is on a positive trajectory with the Pollinator-Friendly Campus Committee to be a better place for flowers,” he said.
Watch what the bees are up to through the Durrell Center Bee Cam, sponsored by Housing & Dining Services. Once the hives are established, the aim is to serve small batches of the honey produced by these bees in the dining centers.
Sustainability Fund backs beekeeping
The CSU Apiculture Club received $4,000 from Housing & Dining Services‘ Sustainability Fund to support bringing honey bees back to campus. Freddie Haberecht, the club’s president, applied for and received the funds last fall.
Housing & Dining Services has provided almost $500,000 over the last seven years to back environmentally-friendly projects, including an organic hand fruit pilot project ($19,500), CSU Ski Shuttle ($2,000), and a Mountain Campus Energy Measurement Project ($15,000).
“The bees are a living example of the importance of pollinators to our globe,” said Tim Broderick, assistant director of sustainability for Housing & Dining Services. “For us, the bees located at the Durrell Center, because of the proximity of the food being served, really help reflect that.”