HomeEducationSustainability EducationWhat’s all the buzz about?…Bee Lab’s new building!

What’s all the buzz about?…Bee Lab’s new building!

Bees have been in the news countless times this past year, with articles highlighting the dangers of pesticide use, parasites and diseases, the importance of pollination in food production and tips for beekeeping. Adding to the buzz is the news about the opening of the Bee Pollinator Research Lab on the St. Paul campus. The Bee Lab is part of the University of Minnesota Department of Entomology and has a mission of promoting bee health. I met with Bee Squad member Ana Heck to comb out the details of this exciting new development.

How did you become involved with the UMN Bee Lab?

After I finished my undergraduate program, I was working in Nicaragua for a couple of years with a non-governmental organization called Cantera that did a lot of work around sustainable agriculture. Part of my role with this organization was to work with a cooperative of mostly women beekeepers who were doing beekeeping as way to earn money from honey sales and also working on a sustainable farm that managed over a hundred bee colonies. That’s how I got connected with beekeeping. After I came home to Minnesota, I took a beekeeping course from the UMN Bee Lab. I had just been looking for opportunities to volunteer but got connected with my current position at Bee Squad.

What is your current position at the Bee Squad?

Right now, I’m an education program associate and most of what I do is community outreach mentoring beekeepers. Because I speak Spanish, I get to train some Spanish-speaking beekeeping apprentices. Right now, I have a research grant to work with an urban planning professor on policy and beekeeping ordinances. I also manage bee colonies throughout the city.

Could you tell me a little more about the Bee Squad?

The Bee Squad is the outreach and engagement arm of the Bee Lab, so we work with beekeepers and the public, focusing on education and community outreach. There are various programs within the Bee Squad, including education for beekeepers and veterans on beekeeping and wild bees. Encouraging the public to plant bee-friendly plants is a crucial component of Bee Squad.

What’s new and different about the new Bee Lab buildings?

I actually haven’t been in the new bee lab yet! It will open sometime in August if the development is on time. The Bee Lab has been working in Hodson Hall on the St Paul campus; what’s new and exciting is that we’ll have more space to do research and outreach. We’ll have areas in the building that will host beehives connected to the outside, pollinator gardens and a place for honey extraction. We’ve received a lot of interest from the public on our operation so it’ll be great to have all of this for education.

How can students help out pollinators?

The biggest thing students could do to help is to plant food for pollinators as well as spread the word to others to do the same. Flowering plants that provide good nutrition to bees and do not contain pesticides are the food bees need. Although many students at the university do not have gardens to plant on their own, they may be able to influence their friends and parents to grow important pollinator plants.

(Here is a list of bee-friendly plants)

Are there any upcoming events that you’re excited for?

One event that is coming up is the “Pollinator Party”on Thursday, July 28, from 5-8 p.m. in the Rose Garden near Lake Harriet. Many bee organizations and businesses come together and educate via booths and tables. It’s open to the public and anyone interested in bees. Plus there will be honey ice cream!

I’ve heard you talk about how your work is aimed at wild bees and honey bees. What is the main difference between the two?

Honey bees are social bees which produce much more honey than they need when they have access to enough forage, so most of the work I do with them is checking to make sure they have what they need to be successful. Wild bees, with approximately 400 species in Minnesota, are solitary for the most part. This means that they are more likely to nest in the ground or in stems so their life cycle is different. My work with wild bees is to help them by talking about forage sources and how we can provide for them.

I take it you’ve been stung? Are you not affected by stinging anymore?

It’s pretty rare for me to swell up. I’ve built up a tolerance!

If you would like to know more about Bee Lab, visit their website for events and information!

Photo courtesy of Mary Hannemann

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