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MUSC creates hive of excitement partnering with The Bee Cause Project
By Dawn Brazell | MUSC News Center | August 4, 2014
MUSC's new observational bee hive opened to the public July 31.
Some of the hardest workers at MUSC just got new glass digs in a palatial garden setting.
It’s a well-deserved honor, according to Susan Johnson, Ph.D., director of Health Promotion at the Medical University of South Carolina. MUSC hosted an Urban Farm Bee Pary & Honey Harvest July 31 to celebrate the new, observational hive in MUSC’s half-acre Urban Farm, located on the corner of Bee and President streets.
MUSC partnered with the non-profit The Bee Cause Project in getting the hive as part of a pay-it-forward model. “She’s giving us our hive for free, but we’re raising money for the next one,” Johnson said of the $2,000 hive. “We’ve decided to do an annual fundraiser for them. We want to continue to promote the cause. It’s so critical for food pollination and the bee colonies.”
Honeybee populations worldwide are dwindling. Though not all causes are known, factors contributing to the decline include mite infestation and a type of beetle that can clean honey out of a hive in just weeks causing the bees to starve, said Tami Enright, executive director of The Bee Cause Project. Another disturbing phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder, which causes bees to abandon their hives en masse.
This disorder was first documented in 2006 when beekeepers in the U.S. experienced an unprecedented loss of 30 to 90 percent of their hives during the winter. That loss has continued since then, averaging about 30 percent annually. It is thought there are several causes, including pesticide exposure, pathogens and parasites, and nutrition and management practices.
Beyond helping a good cause, the hive fits perfectly into the Urban Farm’s educational goal, Johnson said.
“The mission of the urban farm is to build and teach that connection about food and health, and sustainability and wellness. It gives us a chance to partner with an organization that fits our mission and is also connected to the schools. We want to reach out to them and create those partnerships.”
Enright said it’s a great partnership.
“MUSC has such a nice reach with the community and the schools, and our mission is to educate the next generation of the importance of honeybees and to bridge the gap between where their food comes from and the farmer. It reconnects kids back to nature. This urban farm is so beautiful. To have bees in this environment puts both pieces of the puzzle together.”
Enright, who has four young children, keeps bees at home as well. All of her family got beekeeping suits for Christmas. Children are naturally curious and the observational hives her group is installing in schools, as well as at MUSC, get out important educational messages.
“One in three bites of our food requires pollination, and honeybees are amazing pollinators. But bees are declining in population because of colony collapse disorder. The bees are like the canary in the coal mine, and they are dying off.”
Enright got involved with the cause when she attended a weekend beekeeping class at The Citadel. “At the end of the weekend, I ordered bees. I was like ‘Wow, I had no idea how this superorganism worked.’ The intelligence within this bee colony is just mind-blowing. It’s amazing what they do for us and how little they take back – everything they do in nature is good for the greater whole.”
The cause is gaining momentum, she said. Four years ago there were only 40 or 50 people in the Charleston Area Beekeeper Association and now there are several hundred, she said. In her work with The Bee Cause Project, she has found once hives go into schools, the interest just blossoms. In the last year, the group has installed more than 30 observation hives in Charleston and Savannah.
The group worked with MUSC to get its old hive removed and divided up into two hives to go to other sites. The observational hive hosts a new queen bee and a new set of bees, and it provides a safe platform for viewing at the front through glass plates with the bees exiting from the back. The hive has a fraction – 25 percent – of the bee population of a normal hive, she said, so it’s safer in that sense as well.
“Another benefit is that only a portion of the bees at any point in time are foragers. They become foragers the last three weeks of their life cycle. They work through six or seven different types of jobs during their six-week life cycle, the last two to three weeks, becoming foragers.”
The Urban Farm will serve as an outdoor classroom to educate visitors about the role of honeybees, what nectar is flowing in what season and what they can do in their own yards to attract native pollinators. “I’m super excited. It’s going to be a great outdoor classroom,” Enright said, adding that on the new hive’s opening night visitors already were able to see a queen laying an egg within the hive, pupating larva and a hatching bee – the full cycle.
Seeing that goes a long way in helping to reduce fears about bees and is a platform to help visitors see the tie between insects, food and health, especially since most fruits and vegetables rely on pollinators. “We have such a bug phobia that we’re spraying and killing everything – butterflies, ladybugs. We’re killing the good things too. There are good bugs that eat the bad bugs.”
Enright said she can see the difference having observational hives in schools is making, and she loves to share the incredible workings of the complex world of a superorganism.
“The worker bees have to have the queen and work together in the hive. They all have a job to do and know by being a part of the family what their job is to do. You can watch a bee hatch and immediately after it hatches it will turn around and clean the cell where it came out of so it’s ready for the queen to lay another egg. It just knows that innately,” she said. “When pesticides or other pollutants or toxins are introduced so that bees aren’t functioning the way they should because they’ve been dazed or stressed in some way, then it really throws off the balance in the hive.”
MUSC’s hive will help in the push to shift public perception from seeing bees as menacing stingers to critical foragers so that the next generation will less likely reach for that can of pesticide, she said. “There are so many life lessons that can come from slowing down and realizing where our food comes from and all the different spokes on the wheel. It’s all an interconnected web. Bees are as important as sunlight and water when it comes to growing our food.”
Special honeybee sessions in the Urban Farm are scheduled to begin soon. Watch for updates in The Catalyst, visit the Urban Farm’s website at www. musc.edu/urbanfarm/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a weekly farm newsletter. If you wish to make a donation for the next pay-it-forward hive, contact email@example.com. The next educational event for The Bee Cause Project will be Sunday, Aug. 10 from noon to 5 p.m. at The Birds of Prey Family Day. The Horticulture Society of Charleston also will also host The Bee Cause Project on Aug. 27th.