Buckfast bees clustered on honeycomb

Bees Knees: UTM abuzz about newest residents

Friday, June 2, 2017 - 10:01am
Blake Eligh

Have you heard the latest buzz? Thousands of honeybees arrived at U of T Mississauga campus on June 2, taking up residence in new hives atop the Instructional Centre.

Beekeeper Don Forster, who tends to about 50 hives around southern Ontario, delivered the bees from Guelph early in the morning. Each of the three hives holds about 5,000 bees, but that number is expected to double by the end of June as the bees settle in. “If it is a good summer, we could have 50,000 bees in each hive by September,” says Vicky Jezierski, director of Hospitality & Retail Services. “We know that honeybees are threatened, so we want to do what we can to support them.”

The bees are an English-bred strain known as Buckfast, and were specially selected for the project. “Buckfast bees are resistant to parasites and mites,” says project lead Suresh Krishnan, food services coordinator with Hospitality & Retail Services. “They are also known for being very calm and non-aggressive.”

The new hives—dubbed "KoBee", "Sting" and "Queen Latifah"—were painted by artist Vitalia Smirnova and are stationed on a third-floor green roof accessible only to the beekeeper and facilities staff, but visible through large windows. “We’ve positioned them so people can see the bees going into the hive,” Krishnan says. “We want students to see the bees at work.”

The collected honey will be used in residence and may be available for sale to the UTM community. “If we have a good honey flow, we might get as much as 100 pounds of honey per hive,” Forster says, cautioning that the damp, cool weather means the honey season is off to a slow start this year.

In addition to honey, the new hives offer educational opportunities, Jezierski says. Forster may offer small teaching sessions about tending bees, and a fall Community Kitchen workshop will give students, staff and faculty a chance to hear more about the project and try recipes using the harvested honey.

The hives are a first for the UTM campus, however, bees abound at U of T. The St. George campus is home to several hives, including 150,000 bees living atop the Faculty Club and tended by the University of Toronto Beekeeping Education Enthusiast Society (B.E.E.S.). More hives can be found at the Sky Garden, New College, Earth Sciences Centre and at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Social Sciences Building.

The UTM bee project is the latest in a series of initiatives by the Hospitality & Retail Services department. In 2016, UTM became a certified Fair Trade campus, and instituted a food waste dehydrator in the residences to help combat the amount of waste going into landfill. “The next step will be working with UTM’s grounds team to find a way to turn it into compost that can be used on the UTM grounds,” Krishnan says.

“We want to have a small footprint and reduce food waste,” says Jezierski.  “We’re a small campus, but there are lots of things that we can do.”