There’s plenty happening on New College’s Caples Campus: Performances at Sainer Auditorium, student artists working and displaying at Isermann Gallery, and the waterfront program, of course.
You could call it a hive of activity, and with the latest addition, you’d be more accurate than ever.
Students, faculty and supporters gathered in early May for the unveiling of 10 beehive boxes, the foundation of a New College apiary. Students from the biology and arts programs – and kids from the College’s Child Care Center – teamed up to paint the boxes with colorful designs. They display designs from honeycombs to flowers and even the occasional saying, like one that a beekeeper might appreciate: “Beehive Yourself.”
“Here is the ultimate STEAM collaboration,” said Emily Saarinen, associate professor of biology and environmental studies, referring to the acronym that includes Arts with the more common Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Some of Saarinen’s biology students led the efforts to start the apiary, while Kim Anderson, associate professor of art, facilitated the painting. Thesis student Zeyna Hadidi — designer of the “Beehive Yourself” box — and many others art students contributed their skills.
Bees and art are a natural combination, Saarinen explained. “Insects support artistic inspiration, from musical pieces, to dances, to visual works,” she said. “Our bees communicate with each other through chemistry and dance and they solve problems as a large superorganism.”
While the event kicked off the opening of the apiary, the work started 18 months earlier. Saarinen sponsors a Pollination Club and Pollination Ecology Tutorial, which generated ideas and enthusiasm. They also spawned an independent study project.
The ISP participants – second-years Lili Benitez and Sydney Clingo, who were at the unveiling, and third-year Kevin Howlett – researched the history of beekeeping on campus and met with college administrators about the process for approving and placing the hives.
Eventually a site was identified on the northern side of the Caples campus, near the Environmental Studies program offices. When New College grounds crew cleared brush at the planned site, they found a surprise: dilapidated old man-made hives, crumbling but still home to thousands of bees.
The residents are believed to be the descendants of bees initially placed there at least a decade ago.
The students had already developed an “adopt-a-hive” relationship with Sarasota Honey, a local business based near campus. Owner Alma Johnson collected the 3,000 to 4,000 bees and brought them back to her facility to transfer them to new hives.
That the bees endured were no surprise to Johnson, whose company has hundreds of thousands of its bees in hives scattered around the area. “Our bees thrive in urban areas,” she said. It seems counterintuitive, but rural and farm areas are often much worse, because of extensive pesticide use and monoculture, the concentration of a single crop.
Johnson said bees love the campus vegetation, in particular cabbage palms, sea grapes and mangroves. “This neighborhood is very diverse and very green.”
The “found” bees will eventually return to the 10 new hives, with thousands more from Sarasota Honey – each hive is home to about 10,000. Johnson and her company will work with students to teach beekeeping. And when the hives are ready in a year or so from now, the company will give some of the honey it collects to the Four Winds Café, so students can get a taste of what their apiary produces.
Benitez says that relationship is in their long-term interests. In high school, she launched a similar beekeeping project, but it collapsed after she left, because it lacked a consistent, professional sponsor.
“Our goals are to have student learn beekeeping, to educate people on pollination, and to create an opportunity for students to learn and be connected to the Sarasota community.”
Saarinen expects more benefits from the project in time: “I learn something new every time I am with the hives, and I am excited to support new creative projects inspired by our bees.”