As bee populations decline around the world, Stockton’s campus has become a safe haven to thousands of honeybees thanks to the perseverance of Kelsey Watkins, a Biology graduate now in her second year of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
Bees are in danger, but “there is so much you can do to help,” she said.
This spring marked the second year of the Stockton honeybees’ residency on campus. In return for their stay, they produced 90 jars of honey, harvested this summer. “It’s something to show for the bees’ hard work,” Watkins said.
At the peak of summer, Stockton’s seven hives next to the campus farm are home to an estimated 60,000 honeybees.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association Conference at Princeton University sparked Watkins’ interest in beekeeping two years ago. As a member of the Stockton Action Volunteers for the Environment (SAVE) student organization, she attended a beekeeping lecture and saw campus hives managed by Princeton University students.
When you want to bring a hive of bees to a college campus, it doesn’t sound safe, Watkins explained.
“Princeton does it, why can’t we?” Watkins wondered.
To learn more about bees and the science of caring for them, Watkins signed up for a six-week beekeeping course offered by the Jersey Cape Beekeepers Association (JCBA). She was joined by a group of seven SAVE members.
“It was so exciting to see passionate people” sharing the same interest, she explained. Bill Eisele, a 30-year beekeeping veteran and JCBA president, was equally as excited to see a group of students eager to get involved and donated a hive with bees to the SAVE students.
Watkins worked with Patrick Hossay, associate professor of Sustainability and SAVE’s faculty advisor, to place the bees adjacent to the campus farm.
Determined to expand Stockton’s beekeeping involvement, Watkins took advice from Dr. Lisa Rosner, the Honors Program coordinator, and applied for a Fellowship for Distinguished Students. Last fall she was awarded a $1,000 research fellowship to add six additional beehives to the initial hive donated by the JCBA.
Community education and outreach programs were key elements of her fellowship. Watkins has talked to Dr. Linda Smith’s agriculture students about bees and has traveled to a number of schools with the JCBA to educate local students. Last spring, she presented her beekeeping project at the Northeast Regional Honors Conference.
Caring for the bees includes weekly visits to the hives. “We open the hives to make sure they have enough room. If there’s not enough room, they’ll swarm,” said Watkins, who serves as the head beekeeper.
Bees swarm in search of a new home when a hive becomes too crowded. To add more room to a hive, an additional box is added to the top.
Students also check for pests such as mites. Infestation much be treated to keep the bees disease-free.
“To keep them happy, we feed them sugar water. We want them to stay around.”
To harvest the honey, the JCBA generously loaned its giant centrifuge extractor. Inside each hive are removable frames that provide a foundation for the bees to build their combs onto. The frames are placed into the centrifuge, which spins the honey out of the combs. Before bottling the raw honey, it goes through two filters. Raw honey has no extra sugar, preservatives or additives.
“We took less than we could have because we wanted to leave enough for them [the bees] to get through the winter.”
Honey never goes bad, and Watkins recommends using local honey to ease certain allergies.
She also said, “If you have a passion, pursue it.”