Chapel Hill abuzz with beekeepers

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One great resource is John Rintoul, president of the Orange County Beekeepers Association, who maintains two beehives on display at Carrboro High School. Stefan Klakovich, an AP environmental science teacher at the school, takes his classes out to observe the bees when they study agricultural systems.

“One of the things people really don’t have an appreciation for is our agricultural system,” he said. “It’s more complicated than just growing vegetables and selling them. It’s a global sort of thing and one piece of that are honey bees.”

Rintoul said the hives were moved from a muddy field with no parking to the school in hopes that the hives would be more accessible to the public.

“The demonstration hives are there so that we can provide demonstrations on beekeeping and any aspect of beekeeping that people are interested in to community groups and student groups,” he said. “Anybody that is interested, we will do a demonstration for.”

Klakovich started a beekeeping club and his students helped plant a pollinator garden near the beehive site. He said he, another teacher and a student are now keeping beehives at their homes as well.

At UNC, the Carolina Campus Community Garden, which grows fruits and vegetables for UNC’s lower-wage workers, also hosts a few beehives. Two of them are maintained by Anne Cabell, a volunteer beekeeper.

Cabell has been a hobbyist beekeeper for about 10 years. When she heard about the community garden, she offered her personal hives to help pollinate the plants. She gives tours to community and school groups.

“Honey bees pollinate one-third of the world’s food directly,” she said. “Indirectly, they actually pollinate about three-fourths of the world’s food, because they’re pollinating things that other pollinators need.”

Cabell said one of the hives in the community garden is maintained by the Carolina Beekeeping Club, a newly established student group.

All three beekeepers said it is important to educate the community about bees and their importance to the environment. Klakovich said the beehives are part of an effort to create a more environmentally conscious campus.

“Schools should be places where we experiment, where students are empowered to try new things and take chances,” he said. “So one of the big, overarching projects that we’re working on, of which the bees are a part, is to try to transform the landscape around the campus into something that actually supports the environment.”

Rintoul said last year, many of the bees in one of the hives at Carrboro High School were killed by pesticides. Rintoul found a 2-inch deep pile of dead bees at the hive as a result of harmful chemicals being sprayed within a 5-mile radius of the hives.

“That’s a very important lesson for the indiscriminate use of pesticides,” he said. “There are ways that you can use pesticides that don’t harm honey bees.”

Rintoul said integrated pest management, or IPM, is one way to prevent harm to honey bees. IPM is a strategy of monitoring the pests before deciding if pesticides are needed. Then, one should start with the least harmful pesticides before working up to the more powerful ones.

He suggested spraying early in the morning or late at night and refraining from spraying on windy days or on flowering plants.

Cabell said supporting farmers’ markets that aren’t using chemicals and planting pollinator gardens help the bee populations, too. She said on her tours, many people do not know much about honey bees.

“They pretty much know that they make honey and that they sting you,” she said. “I think they are sort of shocked to find out how important they are to our food system and also to learn that honey bees are not aggressive by nature.”

Rintoul said the bees that need to be protected are native species of bees that do not live in hives like honey bees do. He said native bees are the bees people are talking about when they say, ‘Save the bees.’

“Native bees, since they’re out there all by themselves, mankind can’t do anything to help them other than to not kill them,” he said.

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