Oregon Tech’s Bee Club is preparing beehives on campus for winter

Nov. 14, 2022, KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – When talking about bees, especially the all-important honey bee variety, it’s hard not to use puns. Using words like buzz, sweet, hive, sting, and more are all charming puns to describe beekeepers’ excitement and love for honeybees.

At Oregon Tech’s Klamath Falls campus, Environmental Science student Makenzie Stieber remains professional as she explains the orientation process to new club members.

Stieber has been with the Oregon Tech Beekeeping Club for two years and as president takes seriously his responsibility to protect Oregon Tech’s bees. Although the club has 55 members this year, only four were able to join it in October at the Oregon Tech Apiary on short notice to prepare the bees for winter. He explained the process of removing empty frames from the hives and replacing them with full frames of honey to feed the bees for the winter.

“We had a mite problem in the hives over the summer, so we consolidated the hives the week before to strengthen them,” Stieber said.

He was joined by Philip Trier, an Oregon Tech Environmental Science student studying as an international student from Denmark. Trier, who moved to the United States in May 2021, joined the Beekeeping Club last year. “I love the company, the bees, the nature … and also the sweet honey – it’s delicious,” Trier said.

Started in 2018 as a joint effort of Environmental Sciences and Mathematics, the club is open to students from any program. The Oregon Tech Apiary serves three primary purposes: to promote awareness of pollinator decline, to serve as a living laboratory for student research projects, and to provide students with an opportunity to learn the ancient art of beekeeping.

Two teachers help lead the club: Terry Torres, professor of mathematics, and Christy VanRooyen, assistant professor of natural sciences. Torres and VanRooyen are on the board of the Klamath Basin Beekeepers Association and have been keeping bees for more than 10 years.

Torres explains that the campus apiary helps students in a variety of ways, one of which is getting up close to the bees themselves. “It’s good for students to face their fears and overcome them. It’s good to do hard work,” said Torres. “Sometimes they sting. Sometimes it’s scary. But students quickly realize that it is impossible to rise above the fear they feel. The advantages outweigh the difficulties.”

While not all of Torres’ students have spent time with bees in person, she incorporates the study of bees into her math course so students can learn more about the important role bees play in the environment.

“We have placed monitors in the hives that collect information about the weight and temperature of each hive. We discuss how best to present this information in my classes,” Torres said.

VanRooyen has also incorporated the study of bees into his courses and has various ongoing research projects through the Oregon Tech Apiary that involve various bee club members.

In one partnership, Torres and VanRooyen asked if Oregon Tech could be a pollen collection site for a Belgian company called Bee O Diversity.

“Bee O Diversity has been developing methods of using bees for environmental monitoring, and this data collection has been taking place at Oregon Tech for the past two summers,” VanRooyen said. “One of Bee O’s representatives recently came out and visited our team, sharing the results of their research and brainstorming ways we can continue this partnership in the future.”

Computer Systems Engineering Technology (CSET) and Renewable Energy Engineering students have also started research projects with the Oregon Tech Apiary.

In 2020, a group of CSET students led by bee club member Seth Wortylak developed a working prototype hive monitor that monitors the hive’s internal temperature and humidity. With what they learned from the prototype monitor, Torres and VanRooyen wrote a successful Student/Faculty Innovation Grant, and in 2022 they received $11,000 from the Office of the Provost to conduct more formal research on the apiary.

“We were able to purchase commercial hive monitors that monitor hive weight, internal hive temperature and humidity,” VanRooyen said. “We set up cameras near the hives and took time-series photos to study the behavior of the bees. “Pollen and honey samples will soon be sent for DNA analysis so we can determine which flower species around campus are especially important to our honeybees.”

Student researchers are also working to analyze all the data and correlate bee behavior with environmental variables such as air quality conditions, outdoor temperature, and floral resource availability. Club members Kaile Edenhofer, Quin McDowell, Makenzie Stieber and Philip Trier are part of the effort.

Last year, Renewable Energy Student and bee club member William Stobaugh built a mite treatment system for his senior project. Using solar panels, the system heated the hive to a specific temperature range over a period of time, based on the theory that mites have a different temperature tolerance band than bees. The system is designed to raise temperatures high enough to kill the mites and render the bees harmless, which when finished will have the potential to save the hives from this summer’s mite problems. For this, Strobaugh developed a working prototype that could be tested by future students at the club.

VanRooyen also developed and teaches a bee research class on campus, and a bee lab has been established for student researchers to work and store samples.

“It’s been really amazing to see the club grow from a student-interest group about learning beekeeping to an opportunity for applied learning and research,” VanRooyen said. “Student members can dive as shallow or as deep as they want into the scientific side of the apiary. I feel very blessed to work with this exceptional club.”

The Beekeeping Club will oversee the apiaries in the winter and maintain them in the spring. Torres hopes students will continue to be excited about the club and have opportunities to recruit more students. “Students are always pleasantly surprised when they hear we have bees on campus,” Torres said. “Bees are needed both for honey and, most importantly, for pollination. We do both at Oregon Tech. I hope to continue to educate students about honey bees and continue the important research that has been started.”

Beekeeping Club inspects frames

Makenzie Stieber helps club members

Philip Trier prepares to inspect the bees

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