For many college students, Saturday mornings are nothing short of sacred; a chance to sleep in, relax, and simply catch their breath.
Members of the University of Illinois Beekeeping Club spend their Saturday mornings quite differently. They wake up early, don long-sleeved clothes, and head off to the Sustainable Student Farm, where they tend to the farm’s beehives.
The University of Illinois Beekeeping Club, active since 2019, is a Registered Student Organization of about 150 members that provides students with the opportunity to learn about our local pollinators and get hands-on experience with biweekly hive visits.
All general members can get involved, from simply taking the caps off the wax seals to literally sticking their hands in for the honey extraction process. The club has a total of five hives with several beecombs each, which are reused each year. These hives house about 250,000 bees year-round, and club members take great care in ensuring that the bees stay safe and healthy.
Regularly scheduled hive visits involve basic maintenance to guarantee that all standards are being followed. Club members check on frames, population growth, how much honey is being produced, and general behavior. As the seasons change, different measures are put in place to keep the bees healthy. The bees must be insulated before the winter, and the de-insulation process for the summer is timed accordingly so the bees don’t overheat. Honey extraction generally takes place during the fall months and requires up to 10 hours of work. This honey then gets bottled and sold with priority to club members. The wax, which is generated as a byproduct, is used to make chapstick, candles, and wax wraps.
Maintaining bee populations in a controlled environment is beneficial to general ecosystem health, as well as for the pollinators themselves. The bees get guaranteed protection from predators, external support against hive pest invasions, and insulation during the winter, all of which help significantly extend their lifespan.
The Beekeeping Club works with European honeybees, which are actually invasive in the U.S. Midwest. However, the these bees don’t bring any harm to native pollinators and plants because they are carefully managed by the club.
Honeybees are also advantageous for agricultural environments, as they can quickly pollinate farm crops. This increases agricultural productivity, which benefits ecosystems as well as the economy. Having pollinators on our campus makes a huge, tangible impact. The Sustainable Student Farm has a number of peach trees and berry bushes, and a lot of the Club’s bees are responsible for their pollination. Supporting native flora and fauna is a main objective of the organization.
The Beekeeping Club values staying connected and maintaining outreach through relationships on campus. Wherever pollinator support areas are located, the club members do their best to get involved and to help establish and maintain the community. For instance, the organization has done Mother’s Day flower sales in conjunction with the Horticulture Club in the past. The students also maintain close communication with Bee Campus USA, a national initiative established to bring communities together to inspire them to take steps toward pollinator conservation.
The Beekeeping Club provides an outlet for members to learn about and appreciate pollinators and the ecosystems around them. Vice President Maja Wlodarczyk said her favorite part about the club is “being able to see people become really passionate about this subject and to see them want to express it in other areas of their lives.” The organization fosters a sense of community for these individuals with shared interests and goals for campus sustainability.
“We feel that it’s important to be able to get people interested in sustainability,” Wlodarczyk said. “And something as exciting as beekeeping can be a really good way to draw people in.”
— Article by iSEE Communications Intern Kratika Tandon