If you saw two guys standing in the middle of the SUB with a bunch of bees, what would you do? That’s how Elizabeth Lake found the UNM Beekeeping Club, and she immediately wanted to join them.
“I thought that was pretty quirky and weird and there was no booth, there was no table — it was just a couple of guys and bees,” said Lake, the current president of the club. “I thought, well, whatever that is, I want to be a part of that. So I joined their club.”
The UNM Beekeeping Club is an organization where students can come to learn about bees and beekeeping. Lately, the club has focused on making good habitats for pollinators and honeybees, Lake said.
“We’ve gone and looked at what you can plant for the bees and what you can provide for the bees in particular,” Lake said. “If you live in the dorms, if you’re a student, you might not be necessarily prepared to build your own garden. You might not be able to keep bees anywhere yet, but you can put out just a few little blooming flowers that will attract the pollinators and provide food for them.”
The club does not have any hives of their own yet. They recently partnered with Mandy’s Farm, a farm where young adults with developmental disabilities can learn farming and live independently, to manage bees there. To get the bees for Mandy’s Farm, Lake said she is hoping to catch a swarm.
"(When bees swarm,) tens of thousands of bees (are) frantically flying around and buzzing and then they’ll land someplace they’re not supposed to — the edge of a pool, the edge of a fence, playground equipment, and people get very scared of that,” Lake said. “It’s actually when they’re most docile and calm, because they don’t have a home to guard. They’re shopping for a home — they’re housing-hunting.”
Beekeepers, according to Lake, can catch these swarms by forcing the bees into a home of the beekeeper’s choice. It’s a good process for the bees and the community, because the bees get a home and people generally don’t like swarms of bees in their house.
“If people don’t want the bees in their bushes, then you’re doing them a favor, and you get free bees — but you never know when it’ll happen,” Lake said.
Lake said that bees are generally gentle, and being gentle in return during beekeeping will help to avoid being stung. She said beekeepers ought to wear a veil and ought not to wear fragrances or dark colors. Some people even talk or sing to the bees to calm them.
Stinging doesn’t happen very often because bees die when they sting, Lake said. Aggressive bee hives are usually not tolerated by beekeepers, and they will change out queens to introduce gentler genetics.
“You take your queen, and off with her head!” Lake said. “You leave her little dead body there because (the bees) smell the dead pheromones and they say, ‘Oh, we don’t have a queen!’ You don’t let them build a new queen because it will have all the same genetics.”
Lake said that the solution to an aggressive hive would be to purchase a completely new queen that is known to be gentler. After the introduction of a new queen, she will produce new larvae that will share her gentle demeanor.
As for regular beekeeping check-ups, Lake said that the bees will let you know when they’re done with you.
“Let the bees show you what they need,” Lake said. “Usually, you’re just checking to make sure there are no problems. If you’re too active, if you’re trying to make decisions for the bees, you could make it worse. You could bother them enough that they think, ‘Oh, this is an unhappy house and we’ll constantly be bothered.’ Then they swarm into a tree or something.”
The club has had some problems over the years. Once, they managed bees for New Mexico State in Los Lunas, but then the bees were stolen.
“Some jerk came onto the property, loaded the bees on his truck and stole them,” Lake said. “That’s several hundreds of dollars worth of bees and beehive boxes, and he took them. When you’re a student organization, how do you solve that problem? Do you go spend your student money to buy more bees? Because those were going to be free bees. Do you buy a fence?”
The club draws people of all majors, leading to a very diverse club, she said.
“It’s an interesting unifier of people who would otherwise never cross paths, and yet we all have that in common,” Lake said.
Lake said that beekeeping not only connects her to people, but to nature, as well.
“Humans did not decide what their wax should look like in those perfect hexagons, (the bees) decided that,” Lake said. “They have these beautiful hexagons, the wax is produced naturally from their body, and then they fill it will pollen. It’s all different colors from all different flowers and it’s just gorgeous.”
It’s prime bee season, but the school semester is ending soon, so the club doesn’t know their summer schedule just yet. Check their Facebook page, “UNM Beekeeping Club,” for more updates.
Ariel Lutnesky is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ArielLutnesky.