Sweet treats and education were handed out Tuesday, Sept. 24, in the breezeway of Barstow Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus. Students and community members buzzed about capping, extracting, filtering and bottling the schools’ homegrown produce — honey.
Bottles of raw UWS apiary honey were sold, as well as beeswax lip balm in three flavors, peppermint, lemon and orange.
The campus’ Urban Honey Bee Project was launched in 2016 by biology professor Ed Burkett to provide education, research and community outreach.
He got the bug for beekeeping from his graduate school adviser, a marine biologist. When he came to UWS, Burkett focused on marine biology and coral reefs for nearly 20 years before turning his sights once again on bees.
“Three years ago, the university was looking for new and exciting things to do,” Burkett said. “I said, ‘Jeez, there’s nothing more exciting than beekeeping. Let’s put a half-million bees in the middle of campus, start a research program.’”
Little did he know, Chancellor Renee Wachter was a beekeeper.
“She said, ‘We’re doing this,’” Burkett said.
Today on campus, bees far outnumber yellowjackets, both the winged and student varieties. The UWS Apiary near the Oexemann Greenhouse houses 10 hives, each with about 50,000 inhabitants. That’s a half-million bees. This year, they provided about 450 pounds of honey and pollinated the entire neighborhood.
Students help Burkett tend the hives and reap the bounty. The project has spun off educational workshops, a patented technology to protect bees during the winter and a new Head of the Lakes Beekeeping Association, which started in April.
The association has nearly 30 members, including Jamie Koivisto of Hawthorne, Rose and Steve Surchik of South Range and Garner Moffat of Superior.
“I purchased a house and I had honeybees,” Koivisto said. “I had no idea what to do with them.”
She reached out to Burkett for help to improve their living conditions. Although that hive swarmed, she built new hives from the ground up with the professor’s help.
The Surchiks started raising bees this year. They’ve been thankful for Burkett’s educational workshops and the association network.
“There’s such a science behind this. Just the technical part of it is unreal,” Rose Surchik said.
Through the UWS Apiary, Burkett is passing on his passion.
“It’s something I completely didn’t expect,” said junior Cody Coleman, a biology major.
Coleman worked as a lab assistant for Burkett tending the bees and was fascinated by how the hive works as a whole. He’s currently taking Burkett’s honeybee biology and scientific beekeeping class.
So is junior Kaden Bergman, who started this fall with zero knowledge of honeybees.
“Just for everyday living, if I ever want bees or have a garden, it’s a cool experience to have,” he said.
Britta Larson, a sophomore, said she loves the class.
“It’s super interesting,” she said.
Coleman plans to go on to pharmacy school, but he intends to keep bees as a hobby.
“It’s one of those things I didn’t expect, didn’t think about when I joined college and I’m very glad I did,” he said.
The college’s wildflower honey and lip balm are sold in Barstow Hall, Room 202. Beekeeping students will soon be making and selling beeswax soap, beeswax candles and Doctor Bee’s Beeswax Salve using wax collected from the hives. All proceeds support the UWS Apiary.