ITHACA, N.Y.—On Oct. 10, Ithaca College’s apiary hosted a Bee Fest during which attendees could do everything from take a guided bee tour of hives abuzz with activity to don their own bee suits.

Those who came could participate in insect bingo, and read detailed infographics about bees and their positive environmental impact. Edible bee products from Ithaca College’s South Hill Forest Products, such as creamed honey were also up for sale.

The apiary is one of IC’s best-kept secrets. It has a discreet location down a beaten path just off the Mail Center on the edge of campus. Most students who are introduced to the apiary are Environmental Studies students who learn about it through professor Jason Hamilton, who has helped manage the apiary since its inception.

Ana Maria Arroyo is the head beekeeper at the apiary. A current senior, she began working at the apiary when she was a freshman, and grew attached to it.

“Bees are so cool,” she said. “They can communicate with you. And despite the fact that they are these insects in giant hives, you can understand how they’re thinking and feeling and it’s really awesome.”

And this is true: bees have an intricate form of communication. They will often use specific dance patterns to convey where sources of pollen are. Eye contact and pheromone secretion are other ways bees respond to stimuli—bees will even exude scents from their Nasonov gland to inform other bees where their hive is.

Denise O’Leary is a 2017 IC graduate and former apiary beekeeper who pursued beekeeping even after she graduated from college. She keeps her own bees in Ithaca, and teaches other people how to beekeep through mentorships. This year, she received her Master Beekeeper certification, a credential only given to those who have had years of beekeeping experience and have passed coursework that proves their knowledgeability. She is also planning on launching her own bee product business. 

“I’m so filled with pride and joy for this event, because I think it will get more beekeepers on the map,” O’Leary said. She also acknowledged the growth of the apiary since her time as head beekeeper.

“When I was here in 2016, we had seven colonies,” she said. Now, the number of colonies has nearly doubled. 

The apiary is not only primarily student-managed, but it is also student-founded. Hannah Whitehead, a 2012 graduate who came up with the idea in the midst of a stressful summer before her sophomore year. It all started with a cup of tea.

“I’m a tea drinker, not a coffee drinker, and I knew bees made honey, but I didn’t know how. I never thought to ask the question. And so I started reading about it, and I got really interested in bees,” she said.

By coincidence, she met a friend of a friend at a party, and they began conversing about Environmental Studies. The mutual friend advised her to reach out to Hamilton. He loved the idea, and he and Whitehead worked together to build the apiary from scratch in the autumn of 2010. By spring of 2011, the apiary was up and running, and has only grown from there.

Presently, Hamilton continues managing the hives with students, and finds it very rewarding. When asked his favorite part about his involvement with the apiary, he responded, “I love working with the bees. The bees teach me new things every day. My other favorite part is working with the students. I just love working with the students, and they teach me new things every day. So the combination of those two things just can’t be beat.” 

Ultimately, the apiary seeks to protect bee species. Bees are able to collectively work together effectively, but they need people to stop destroying their hives out of unwarranted emotions such as fear.