Urban beekeeping is definitely an up-and-coming trend, and it is exciting to see Boise State lead that trend here in Idaho. The rooftop of the Student Union Building, located in the heart of campus, is home to multiple bee hives. It serves as a great location because the hives are viewable to the public through large glass windows, but off the beaten path of college pranksters. The best part of this program is that it provides internships to college students. Each semester I accept two to four new interns eager to learn about beekeeping.
This internship program started in 2011 and is now thriving! This past summer we harvested over 150 pounds of honey. We also harvested a lot of beeswax that we used to create hand cream and lip balm. All the honey and wax products are sold right on campus through our Bronco Shop. Good luck getting your hands on any of these products. They rarely stay on the shelves more than a couple of weeks! All of the proceeds go right back into the program to keep it running semester after semester.
What makes this program unique is that it is housed in the division of student affairs and not within an academic department. We do not have any entomology or biology professors with expertise in beekeeping leading the interns in their work. None of the interns have come into the internship with any beekeeping experience. They work alongside myself (just two years experience) and a few local mentors. The point here is that you do not need to be a scientist, an expert beekeeper, or a prodigy to keep bees. Eagerness, a love for learning, and some basic research skills can take a brand new beekeeper from being a “new-bee” to being a “queen bee” faster than you think!
However, our current success didn’t come without some struggles. Not all of our hives have survived season after season. The interns and I have seen first hand the devastating effects of some of the deadliest diseases and conditions in beekeeping, including American Foulbrood and PMS (Parasitic Mite Syndrome that is. Not to be confused with the human condition). It is certainly sad seeing a colony collapse, but it gave us an opportunity to work with some great community mentors, Steve and Kevin.
Another important lesson was learned here, mentorship is critical to beekeeping success. Why reinvent the wheel when local experienced beekeepers are willing to share their knowledge? These men used their many years of experience to guide us through the steps necessary to manage these sick hives and keep the rest of our colonies strong. For example, one of our hives became queenless, and our mentor Kevin came to the rescue with an extra queen from one of his personal hives. Never leaving his witty sense of humor behind, he even marked the queen with Boise State colors.
The enthusiasm, perspective, and passion that these mentors have shared with us folks at Boise State has been truly inspiring. This is exactly what beekeeping should be, a community effort, where we all help each other out to make our common effort more successful and sustainable. This is the exact mission that the Rooftop Bee Farm aims to accomplish, instilling knowledge and passion into the young minds that will soon leave Boise State and impact the world around them.
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!