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Pomona College Offering Workshops on Bee Husbandry

Beekeeping workshop at Pomona College's Organic Farm
Beekeeping workshop at Pomona College's Organic Farm
Beekeeping workshop at Pomona College's Organic Farm

February marked the start of weekly workshops in bee husbandry at Pomona College’s Organic Farm. During the workshops, led by Upland-based beekeeper Russ Levine, students learn how to maintain healthy and productive bee colonies. Bee suits are donned, hives are opened, and students get to see how the bees communicate, learn how to look for queens and drones, check for insects that could put the hive in jeopardy, gauge honey production and see if the hive needs to be enlarged.

Two active hives are maintained on the Farm’s Academic Field. Their residents help to pollinate the Farm’s nut trees; fruit trees, which include peach, pear, apple, nectarine, plum and varieties of guava; summer greens; tomatoes; and, in the fall and winter, pomegranate and citrus, among other crops.

Students in Pomona’s popular Farms and Gardens class and Pitzer’s Organic Gardens class are all required to attend one bee workshop.

“We want our students to learn about agricultural production, not to turn them into farmers,” explains Professor Richard Hazlett, who teaches Farms and Gardens, “but because agriculture is an important part of liberal arts education, not only relative to food supply but because of agriculture’s ties to so many environmental problems. Many of the world’s environmental and poverty problems can be tied to bad agricultural policy, bad trade practices and bad land management practice.”

Adding to the importance of promoting the husbandry of bees is the phenomena of colony collapse disorder, when worker bees from a hive abruptly disappear. Since 2006, bee colonies throughout North America and Europe have disappeared at an increasing rate. In California, approximately one-third of all agricultural crops rely on bees for pollination.

On a recent weekend, participants learned the importance of using a smoker to mask the alarm pheromone as the bees began to get agitated. They also had the opportunity to hold frames dripping hundreds of bees while searching for the queens.

“The workshops are marvelous,” says Hazlett, who is also coordinator of the Environmental Analysis Program, “I love those moments in teaching where the education becomes less like a Dr. Spock epiphany and more of an emotional experience. The first workshop was one of those moments. Bees are socially spectacular creatures that have lead lives patterned by co-evolution with plants for more than 150 million years. Bees bring us into contact with nature in an awesome way.”

The workshops will continue through the spring semester and are also open to members of the Claremont Colleges community and local residents, as space allows. To inquire about space availability, e-mail Juan Araya.