Brandon University to become ‘Bee U’ with rooftop honeybee hives

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Call it Plan Bee: Brandon University is set to be the first location in the city to host urban honeybee hives, with a pair of hives safely located on the roof of Harvest Hall this summer.

A five-year by-law variation was unanimously approved by the City of Brandon planning commission Wednesday evening, and the pilot project will expand up to four hives in future years, providing research and learning opportunities, important pollination services, and delicious honey for the community.

“This is a sweet feeling, and we’re buzzed by the support. We can’t wait to get hives installed as soon as the weather is right,” said project proponent Deanna Smid after the approval. “Bee populations are under threat worldwide, and these hives are a small first step to support honeybees, bee education, and bee research, while also being careful to avoid outcompeting our local wild bee species.”

Smid is an Associate Professor in BU’s English, Drama, and Creative Writing department who helped spearhead the project at BU, securing administrative and logistic support to find the best location for the hives as well the best way to use them for education as well as for honey. Her wide-ranging interest in bees includes how the insects were portrayed in Renaissance literature as sources of both income and creativity.

“Bees are fascinating creatures, and humans have always found them so,” she says. “Today, we continue a similar relationship with bees as we have for hundreds or thousands of years. Bees provide both money and honey, pollinate other foods for us, and occupy a unique cultural niche as examples of hardworking communities. There’s a reason we say, ‘as busy as a bee’.”

The new hives at BU will be installed in spring, on top of the one-storey cafeteria building at the centre of campus that houses Harvest Hall. On top of the building’s flat roof, which is accessible by hatch and safe to walk on, the hives will be low enough to the ground for the bees to easily find forage but protected from tampering or vandalism. The small number of hives and the distance that bees typically travel to forage (up to 5 km), as well as the large number of wild bee species already in the city, means this project is not expected to noticeably increase the number of bees for residents of the area. Bees are not aggressive when foraging, are not usually attracted to food or drink, and typically only sting in self-defense or to protect the hive, meaning their location on the roof should greatly reduce the chances of any sting.

Visible from the second-floor solarium in the John E. Robbins Library, the beehives will provide an opportunity for students, including Mini U, and members of the public to safely view the hives from a distance, and BU is exploring opportunities for bee-related research.

The project, known internally by the playful moniker ‘Bee U,’ fits well with the Brandon University Campus Master Plan, and with the new BU Strategic Plan, Mamaawii-atooshke aakihkiwiin. The Strategic Plan situates BU as Canada’s Finest Regional University, including through community engagement and the innovative and vibrant uses of campus spaces.

Brandon University has partnered with a licensed area beekeeper this year, who will mentor and train members of the BU community to keep the hives. The project also received funding and support from the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation and Prairie Mountain Health (“Healthy Together Now”).

The hives will be removed each August for overwintering elsewhere, after producing approximately 45 kg of honey each. This project plans to donate much of this honey to area organizations, including the student food bank, to help with food insecurity. Some may also be used in Harvest Hall meal preparation or sold at area markets.

Since 2006, when colony collapse disorder was first reported, bee populations have been under threat, and this past winter was especially difficult for Manitoba bees. Everyone can help support bees, including both honeybees and native species, by planting pollinator-friendly gardens, including sunflowers, asters, coneflowers, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, and raspberries. Don’t have a green thumb? You can also help! Bees love dandelions.


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