The buzz around campus

Luke Henderson, Contributor Ω

Ron Rosentreter poses alongside his 300,000 honeybee colony on the roof of the culinary arts building. – Photo by Luke Henderson

Have you seen an abundance of honeybees buzzing around TRU as of late? If so, be assured this is not an infestation. Rather it is a small project run by Ron Rosentreter, a chef and instructor in the culinary arts program.

300,000 honeybees call TRU home, nesting in five different hives located on the top of the culinary arts building.

Rosentreter began this project two years ago. It all began when he took a backyard beekeeping course out of self-interest.

“I’ve just always liked bugs,” he said.

Rosentreter then got permission from the school to keep bees on campus grounds.

There is no concern for safety, as honeybees do not attack unless provoked.

“I’ve only been stung four times in two years, each of which was my fault,” said Rosentreter.  “Most of the time nobody knows the bees are there.”

Rosentreter does not feed these 300,000 honeybees at all. They take care of their own needs by searching out their own food such as the flowers around the campus. No doubt the flowers on campus reap the benefits of pollination, but pollination is not the goal of this project; its honey.

Rosentreter uses the honey as a sugar substitute in the food in the cafeteria.

“We use it at night in the ice cream, we use it on the sauce in the ribs,” he said.

The honey is also jarred and sold in the cafeteria.

“I’m quite excited about it,” said Tom Owen, TRU’s director of environment and sustainability. “Here what you got is a sustainability initiative, taking what could be a wasted space and turning it into a producing part of campus.

“ [The culinary arts students] are using the honey in their Accolades presentations,” Owen said. “It lowers their costs and they get a return out of it.”

“Honey makes back the investment,” said Rosentreter.

Rosentreter’s beehive project couldn’t have begun at a better time, since honeybee populations are rapidly declining in various parts of the world.

A 2010 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, “Global honey bee colony disorder and other threats to insect pollinators,” indicates Europe, North America, Japan and the Middle East are all experiencing severe annual losses in honeybee colonies. Annual losses in the Middle East are reported between 10-15 per cent, in North America losses are in the range of 30 per cent and in Europe as high as 53 per cent.

This breakdown in honeybee population is called colony collapse disorder.

These declines are reported to be due to a parasitic mite species, Varroa destructor, which is no bigger than a pinhead. Originating from Southeast Asia, it feeds on bees’ circulatory fluids, spreads viruses and bacteria and can kill an entire colony in three years.

According to Owen, the problem with invasive species is that “they have no known predators. The invasive [species] come in and run amok.”

The loss of honeybee populations may be farther reaching than once thought.

According to the UNEP, agriculture has become increasingly dependent on pollinators over the past 50 years. The UNEP also states that honeybees are the most important pollinators worldwide, contributing an estimated $153 billion to the production of global food crops. This contribution totals 9.5 per cent of the value of human food production worldwide.

“It’s going to [have an] effect on biodiversity. If all the plants that need to be pollinated are not being pollinated, they will die off,” Owen said. “People are anthropomorphic in our views. It’s like a deck of cards, you only see the top card, but all the bottom cards are holding it in place. It’s not well understood and these bees are a good example of that.”

According to the UNEP, the value of crops pollinated by bees in the United States was $14.6 billion in 2000.  Paralleling this is the fact that over the last 50 years in the United States bee colonies have declined from more than 5.5-million honeybee colonies to less than 2.5 million, a 50 per cent reduction.

Honeybees find themselves in an important place both economically and environmentally.

“Pollination is not just a free service,” the UNEP states within its report, “but one that requires investment and stewardship to protect and sustain it.”