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There's a buzz in the air at the Food Innovation Center

Kalamazoo Valley's staff, students, and the community learn to protect these crucial pollinators

There's a buzz in the air at the Food Innovation Center

It’s time to harvest honey!

Here at the Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Food Innovation Center, we have our very own apiary (a collection of beehives) that consists of approximately 240,000 European Honeybees (Apis mellifera L.) housed in six hives. The apiary is mostly for educational purposes; the honey is a bonus.  Today was an exciting day for us. We pulled off seven frames (about 25 pounds of liquid honey) and placed them in the freezer. They’ll stay there until we have collected enough frames to make going through the sticky process of extraction worthwhile (stay tuned, we will post more photos when that time comes). To ensure our bees have plenty of food for the winter, we will make sure each hive has approximately 60 pounds of honey to feed on throughout the winter.

In cooperation with Charlotte Hubbard and the Kalamazoo Bee Club, we host approximately four beekeeping classes throughout the year. The courses cover everything from describing the time and monetary investment required for beekeeping to winter bee care to the ins and outs of honey harvest - and everything in between. The apiary enables students to gain hands-on experience working with bees under the helpful eye of a professional beekeeper. Please visit our Life Enrichment website to see what the buzz is all about: https://www.campusce.net/kvcccommunity/course/course.aspx?catId=37

Michigan's long history with Bees

Michigan is home to approximately 450 native bee species, but European Honeybees are not native to Michigan, or even North America. The first recorded shipment of honeybees to the US Colonies was recorded in a letter dated December 1621 to the Governor and Council of the Virginia Company. According to records from the British ship Discovery, the bee hives arrived (along with pigeons, peacocks, and mastiffs!) into the Jamestown Harbor in March 1622. By 1776, wild bee swarms were reported living in what is now the state of Michigan. Over the years, beekeeping in Michigan has come a long way. At one time our state produced more “clover honey” than anywhere else in the world, and we are home to the Michigan Beekeepers Association (https://www.michiganbees.org/), the oldest operating organization of beekeepers in the country.

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All for one and one for all!

Honeybees have a particularly interesting social structure; one that is quite uncommon among bees and other animals.  They are eusocial insects – which means they perform cooperative brood care, have overlapping generations of workers that perform tasks based on age, and are divided into reproductive and non-reproductive castes. The castes can be broadly divided into three categories: 1) the queen bee “runs the hive” via pheromone communication and she is typically the only egg-laying individual in the colony, 2) worker bees (all daughters of the queen and sisters to each other) do the work – they clean, care for the queen and her larva, forage for nectar and pollen, process honey, and generally keep things buzzing along, and 3) drones, the male bees who have only one “job” - to leave the hive and mate with an unmated queen in the wild.  These castes cooperate in a complex system that ensures hive survival and reproduction.

Bees' critical role

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Bees of all types are crucial to the health of our ecosystems and provide multiple ecosystem services (benefits to humans provided by organisms or ecosystems). Bees (and many wasps, butterflies, flies, etc) provide “supporting” ecosystem services via the process of pollination (the transfer of pollen from male to female flower parts). This process is particularly important in our Michigan food system; at least 60 of our major fruit and vegetable crops rely on bees for pollination. No bees = no cherries or apples (or squash, or blueberries, you get the idea)! Michigan is consistently in the top ten states for honey production, because we need so many bees to pollinate the diverse food crops grown here.

What can I do?

Despite media attention, honeybees as a species are not endangered, however, many of our native bee populations are declining due to habitat loss. If you’d like to help “save the bees”, focus your efforts on providing habitat and resources for native bee populations. Want to know more? Please visit the MSU Extension pollinator website on how you can improve habitats for native pollinators: https://pollinators.msu.edu/resources/pollinator-planting/


July 26, 2022
By: Sara Tanis, PhD
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