I sat down with Davis Wertheimer, a junior majoring in Symbolic Systems and the founder of Stanford’s new beekeeping club. We talked about his interest in beekeeping, groggy bees and the best kinds of honey. Thus far, the club has had a sum total of three meetings, and there are 18 members on the mailing list.
ME: How did you get interested in beekeeping?
DW: I know nothing about beekeeping. I come from New York and I know people who keep bees there and further upstate, but I’ve never tried it myself. The idea came from Patrick Hunt, who is a professor in archaeology. I was on a research trip with him, and we were in the car, and apropos of nothing he said, “You know what’s a real problem that we’re facing in the environment? Colony collapse disorder. Stanford doesn’t use any pesticides. Somebody should really get on that and make a beekeeping group.” A year later I thought, “Well, it might as well be me. It’s all plusses, no minuses. I could help the environment and help campus and meet new people and start a new group. That’d be cool.”
ME: Did you know it was a possibility? How did you get started?
DW: Patrick Hunt sent me a link to a grant competition, and I applied to that and unfortunately got rejected, but I got started with the process of forming a student group. Then, the SIL office actually put me in contact with Patrick Archie. I didn’t even know the new farm was opening, and he said that he was already planning to bring in new hives, so this was perfect and I could help.
ME: How complex is beekeeping?
DW: Not really hard at all. The hive basically takes care of itself, and you check in once every week or every 2 weeks. If there’s something wrong, you have to know how to respond and help it along and fix the problem, but it’s not time intensive so it’s perfect for a college campus.
ME: What would the group be doing?
DW: Right now we are focusing on getting bees on campus. There’s four hives on the way, and come mid- or late April we will actually put the bees in.
ME: That’s funny that they bring in the hives and the bees separately.
DW: You order the hive structure, and then they ship you live bees in big wooden boxes.
ME: Oh god, that’s so scary. I would not want to be the person that ships that stuff.
DW: Yeah, you can just order them online and ship them through the normal postal service. They tell you to prepare for the funny looks when you get to the postal office and demand your box full of live bees.
ME: So then you just open them and let them loose?
DW: Yeah, they’re basically very groggy when you get them, so you can just pour them out of the box. Next year we’re going to start doing a lot of workshops and raising bee environmental issues to the general campus community. We’ll become a lot more active rather than just attempt to keep the bees alive.
ME: Is there going to be any honey as a byproduct of this whole endeavor?
DW: Most definitely. I’m hoping we can produce enough honey and sell it, and then we would be a self-sustaining operation and we wouldn’t need funding from anybody. So there will be honey. I haven’t quite decided what we’re going to do with it or what we’re allowed to do with it. Maybe give it to dining halls. We have to ask the university about that.
ME: How often is the group going to meet?
DW: I think once a week to check in on the hives. More than that is actually unhealthy for the hive, because you have to cut the hive open to check it out and then they have to reseal the box with beeswax, and to do that often just stresses them out.
ME: Do you have to get those suits?
DW: Right now we’re looking at the funding process, and once we have enough money from that, we will be able to get the bee suits and the safety equipment.
ME: Do you eat a lot of honey?
DW: Yeah, I love honey.
ME: Do you have a favorite kind?
DW: Yeah, depending on what flowers they come from, they all taste very different. The best honey that I ever had … this is kind of a long story, but eight generations back, my great-great-grandfather came from Hawaii, took a second wife, raised a family and then went back to China. But then his Chinese son came back to the mainland, and we found out ten years ago that this other half of our family exists, so if you go back enough generations I’m related to half of Hawaii. So we have these Hawaiian family reunions every four or eight years, and the last time we went, we picked up a macadamia nut honey, which was just fantastic.
ME: So why don’t we normally find more variety in honeys?
DW: It’s hard to control where the bees are getting honey from. They forage for maybe two miles in every direction, so you need to make sure they have enough immediately around them or that there’s nothing nearby.
ME: How much honey does a hive make?
DW: It is more than you would expect. Somewhere between 100 and 200 pounds a year for a healthy hive. For the first year it’s less. Typically zero to 60 pounds, but someone in the club has raised bees before, and he said he had a first-year hive which produced 100 pounds.
ME: Wow that’s a lot of honey.
DW: Yeah, honey’s pretty dense so it’s not a huge volume, but it’s still great. I think the maximum anyone’s ever heard of is 400 pounds for a year.
ME: Have you ever gotten stung by a bee?
DW: I never have, actually. But when we moved to New York, there were three yellow jacket nests in our backyard. I never got stung, but I’m used to being around stinging things.
ME: What are your visions for the future of the club?
DW: Once we have things set up and stable here, we’re hoping to branch out to other areas of campus too. I know there are other community farms, or maybe we can get off campus a little bit. But I’m kind of glad we got this far to begin with. The timing is kind of impeccable with the new farm. Once we get going, we will really be able to expand.
The beekeeping club welcomes new members of any experience level. If you are interested, email [email protected].
Contact Michaela Elias at melias23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.