100,000 Honeybees Feeding at Swarthmore? Maybe Soon.

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

For many, the sound of buzzing and the light warm touch of a bee is a cue to jump up and run. For a few, however, the arrival of a honeybee is something to celebrate. Michael Roswell ’11, would be one of these individuals. Roswell has brought forward an unusual proposal to the Student Budget Committee: bringing roughly 100,000 honeybees to Swarthmore’s campus.

The story of Roswell’s honeybee dreams begins early: Roswell grew up surrounded by farms outside of Baltimore, MD, which he observed being purchased and parceled. He and his family then decided to attempt to use their own property as farm land, planting fruit trees. “I realized, I’d need honeybees,” he explains.

Pleased by the success and relative simplicity of beekeeping at home, he then tried the idea at his high school, the Park School of Baltimore, which met with success as well.

Encouraged by this, Roswell is now working with the Good Food Project to bring honeybees to Swarthmore. Over the past year, he has been in communication with arboretum staff, Grounds Director Jeff Jabco, Linda McDougal of Dining Services and, through McDougal, Noah, the local beekeeper who provides Sharples’ honey.

Honeybees have been making headlines for the past few years, ever since the discovery in 2006 that beekeepers were losing between 30 and 60 percent of their bees. Some of the suggested causes have included poor nutrition, pesticides, cell phones, inbreeding, viruses, and parasites.

This “Colony Collapse Disorder,” in which bees leave the hive and never return, could have potentially great consequences, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that bees pollinate $15 billion of crops annually including fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

The Good Food project, which also runs the organic student garden and composting projects, is supporting Roswell in his proposal, though they are unable to fund the bee project.

Jean Dahlquist ’11 of the Good Food project assisted Roswell in preparing the proposal and is excited about the Good Food project’s involvement. “Having bees on campus is… yet another step towards Swarthmore providing a lot of its own food.” Good Food members would likely be involved in caring for the bees during the school year and over the summer.

The proposal would place two hives behind Cornell, and Roswell’s timeline suggests that construction could begin in February for the bees to arrive during spring break. “Bees are low maintenance,” he explains. “It’s only a few hours a week, though initially they require a little more work as they get a new queen and food store.”

Though his proposal is still under consideration as liability issues are investigated, Roswell is optimistic, observing that most students he has spoken with have been enthusiastic. Concerns about stinging, he reflects, are “not much of a concern,” particularly for Pennsylvania honeybees, purportedly less aggressive than honeybees from other parts of the world.

“I know beekeepers who are allergic and keep bees,” he reflects. “If you approach calmly and don’t try to squish them, they don’t sting back.”


  1. 0
    Mickey from Park says:

    that’s weird Michael because Sharple funds Haverford’s beekeeping project; our bees make gruel for our local slop tank too so it’s symbiotic. Maybe Swat should look into it.

  2. 0
    j says:

    …and then, when the africanized bees reach here, they’ll mate with our hives and there will be KILLER BEES EVERYWHERE!

    this is literally been the only thing I’ve thought about since I read the article. So in a way, this proposal hasn’t even passed and it’s affected my life in a big way. I know I’m irrational, and I don’t care. I really hate bees. If there was a hive at Swat, it wouldn’t matter if there weren’t appreciatively more bees, I would still be paranoid, all the time. So, SAVE THE BEES… but NIMBY.

  3. 0
    BTF says:

    Call me an ignorant city boy, but I don’t see the direct benefits of importing 100k bees to Swat. Do we intend to harvest the honey and use it at sharples? Is harvesting honey really as easy as Winnie the Pooh makes it out to be (grab beehive, punch a hole, chug)?
    I understand that bees help pollinate plants in the surrounding area and I can see why this would be useful on a farm in rural Maryland, but what good would these bees do at Swat? We already have a shitload of bees pollinating our plants, do we really need 100k more?
    Also, if cell phones play a role in “colony collapse disorder,” (just like they can blow up gas stations, pop popcorn, etc.), would a college campus really be the ideal home for these bees?

  4. 0
    Ross Herman '12 says:

    To comment on the issue of bee sting allergy and general fear of bees, I would like to say that neither the community nor the college should be worries about this issue. First, as has been mentioned above, 100,000 bees on a campus of over 150 acres, much of which includes relatively impenatrable forest/foliage, would not appear as some omnipresent swarm. Second, if anyone does get stung by a bee, allergic or not, they will probably be within very easy walking distance of first aid (i.e. a campus building). Third, if someone is so severly allergic to bee stings that they would be unable to get first aid, it is their responsibility to carry an EpiPen whether or not there is an artificial colony nearby. Last, having been here only a month, I’ve already seen honeybees on campus. So there must a natural colony of some size already present in the area and no one is complaining about these bees.

    Regarding the issue of utility, vis a vis veggies for Sharples, has no one thought of the benifit bees would bring to the nonedible flora on campus? Bees don’t just pollinate tomatoes an peppers but ornamntal flowers, bushes, shrubs, etc. as well. This would not only lead to the further beautification of the inhabited portion of the campus but would also benefit the health of the Crum Woods.

    There are many more reasons for supporting this proposition and I hope it will be approved. This spring, let’s hear that pleasant sound of a humming bee flitting from flower to flower.

  5. 0
    Wendy Resnick says:

    If more of us thought about and ACTED on ways to help the environment and our communities, we would ALL be better off. Don’t let the naysayers persuade you to give up your ideals and ideas. Forge ahead and SAVE THE BEES!!

  6. 0
    Carolyn Whipple ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I understand that there is a huge problem with the declining bee populations. However, there are so many more constructive places where adding more bees would be a real benefit. You know, like, near actual orchards. This is an arboretum, and, in case no one noticed, there are already a LOT of bees flying around. Sending bees to a local orchard or something might be a good idea, but, frankly, more bees on a college campus is just plain stupid. The “making our own honey” thing is a cool afterthought, but it is just that, an afterthought. The amount of honey we would get from that amount of bees would be miniscule. Also, if I remember correctly, Sharples already gets its honey from a local source (the Swarmbusters honey). There are better things to do with the college’s money.

    Additionally, I feel like getting people to care for bees regularly is going to be more difficult than anticipated. It’s like getting a little kid a bunny around Easter. They love it for about a month, but after that, they neglect it. Bees aren’t even cute and cuddly.

  7. 0
    Michael Roswell '11 says:

    Thank you to everyone who has expressed interest in this project, your feedback is very helpful. To the allergic, skeptical, and scared:
    The college would not experience a huge jump in bee population from two hives. Especially close to the hive, however, the relative proportions of gentle honey bees to less gentle wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, and other stinging polinators might increase. The number of bees flocking around deserts behind sharples on a given sunny day in September would not change measurably.
    The only place where a significant change would be observed is directly in front of the hives, as foragers, a subset of the colony, leave and return. This area would be the road and woods behind Cornell.

    Next, I’d like to talk a bit about money, and lastly, tell a bit of the story of the beekeeping club at my school at home. As far as money is concerned. Honey bees pay back for themselves and even in non-agricultural areas can be profitable over a number of years. In order to start the project I have requested enough money to construct two hives and buy two “pacakages” of bees with queens. This money would come from Student Budget Committee if the proposal is deemed suitable.
    Dining services might see a reduced cost for honey if dining services decides to support the project, essentially getting honey at cost.
    The more time consuming and significant portion of the Bee Keeping project is education.
    A tip for those bothered by bees while eating or studying outside this time of year: you can calmly brush honey bees away without getting stung. Wasps such as yellowjackets may not take to this as kindly. If you have nothing delicious, bees won’t bother you for long.

    The same year that my family decided to begin beekeeping, a new biology teacher joined the highschool. Along with huge student interest, he began a beekeeping club. Interestingly, the club found that an ideal place to keep bees was directly behind the elementary school playground. Although people were scared and even angry at first (mind you there was no unilateral decision, but great dialogue and reasoning about where to put the hives), the school has come to really enjoy the bees in their present location. No incidents at the playground have marred this decision.
    The project has worked with the bees and the wax, propolis, and of course, honey they produce. Equally, however, the club has brought bees (in observational hives) to classrooms, led “tours” of the hives, and raised awareness about insects, food production, and biology in exciting ways.

    I hope that those with comments, questions, and suggestions in regard to this project will continue to send them my way. Email is a great way to get in touch, mroswel1.

  8. 0
    jim marzluff says:

    One thing that no one has mentioned here is that honeybees, which are docile creatures with little capability, let alone inclination to sting, can out-compete and displace other species of bees, such as the yellowjackets we all know and love.

    The idea that no one is going to study outside anymore is ludicrous. 100,000 bees is not going to be noticeable on a campus this large. I remember a beekeeping project we did in middle-school, where we kept a hive in a classroom connected to the outdoors via plastic tubing. No one was ever stung, though some of the more timid and neurotic students complained about the hive incessantly… As will doubtlessly be the case at Swat.

    As for the cost issue, I have seen the proposal, and startup costs are under $1000 dollars, far less than Sharples pays for, say, one meal. Furthermore, keep in mind that Sharples has a FIXED BUDGET that is in no way impacted by SBC. Sharples is not funding the beekeeping project. You will still get all the gruel you can eat at your local slop tank.

    As for the benefit to gardeners, anyone who knows anything about the idea of urban agriculture understands that it is unreasonable to expect to feed oneself or one’s community with your crops alone. The idea is to supplement your diet and that of your friends and neighbors with nutritious vegetables often lacking in all the processed crap we eat every day. Granted, most people don’t care about eating well or cooking their own meals. A small portion of the more independent population segment at Swat lives off campus, and it is these people who have, so far, reaped the benefits of the garden.

    I fail to see the validity or logic in any of the preceding objections to the bee-keeping project. It seems like most people have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the very idea, or just a negative opinion of eating locally/gardening in general. I’m sorry that there are people who feel this way, but keep in mind that there are plenty of school-funded organizations whose ends you may not necessarily agree with. A good part of your tuition goes towards buying uniforms for sports teams, for example. Why make such a fuss over something that doesn’t affect you and makes other people happy?

  9. 0
    Jeff says:

    The idea that we will reduce costs through this is kind of ridiculous. Gardens around Swarthmore are NEVER EVER going to be near sufficient to feed even a tiny proportion of the 1000 or so students on the meal plan for more than a few meals. Thus I fail to see how buying a bunch of bees will help that. The herb garden? It’s what, 10x10ft max?

    As to the idea of spillover benefits, I am unaware of the surrounding area being a major agricultural center. Near as I can tell, it is suburbs and will see little benefit to getting honeybees. In fact, I’m sure the neighbors would be pretty angry about that idea.

    As to the “educational potential”, it might benefit one class one time during the entire year, unless there is some sort of beekeeping class that I’m unaware of. Of course, the article didn’t mention the costs of this project, but purchasing/caring for 100,000 bees throughout the year? That can’t come too cheap.

  10. 0
    Bob says:

    This project has educational potential. At the Liberty Science Museum (at the north end of the NJ TP, near the Statue of Liberty – hence the name) there is a bee hive thriving in a prepared space in the wall. The bees enter and exit from the outside and a glass portion of the wall on the inside allows observation of the bees as they go about their bizzzness inside the hive. Way cool.

  11. 0
    steve dean ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Regardless of talk about how bees won’t sting you as long as you don’t bother them, I feel that in most cases, even when I have no intention of bothering the bees, they insist upon bothering me. Just yesterday I was eating lunch outside of sharples, and a group of bees decided that they wanted to join in. They proceeded to surround my meal, thereby preventing me from eating it.

    If Swarthmore experiences a huge jump in its bee population, I think it will see a parallel jump in student complaints and a general sense of aversion to the outdoors, which is quite a pity, considering we live in a beautiful arboretum.

  12. 0
    Mattie says:

    I think this sounds awesome! I personally would love to have a beehive at swat! However, I’m not the only person who lives here, and a lot of Swatties are terrified and/or allergic. Also, having that many more bees at the science center would make hanging out outside a lot more, well, bee-full. I personally would be willing to put up with the inconvenience of an increased bee population, but I sincerely doubt that most people feel the same way. As cool an idea as this is, I don’t think it would particularly respectful of the feelings of the majority of Swatties.

  13. 0
    j says:

    God… of all the bad ideas, this is just… you don’t keep hives in such a population center! Also, the answer to the bee problem isn’t more hives, it’s finding the root cause, because who’s to say our bees won’t have this problem? Also, is the bee population problem in this area? I don’t believe it is. And demanding that all Swarthmore students deal with that scale of hassle/fear/potential fatality (bee allergies!)… just no. And these arguments about lowering Sharples prices? How ’bout just giving this money to Sharples to raise their budget? Or use it give another student financial aid. Hell, set the money on fire! I’d prefer it to having 100,00o more bees on campus, because that would be the END of studying outside. Ever. Think about that.

  14. 0
    Dan ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    For the people concerned about cost, please review this quote:

    “the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that bees pollinate $15 billion of crops annually including fruits, nuts, and vegetables.”

    After a few months of having honeybees around, it is entirely feasible that we will see the benefits of pollination should we simultaneously plant edible fruits, nuts, and veggies near the hives. This could be an indirect investment in reduction of meal costs at Sharples and Tarble.

    For those concerned about having so many bees around, it is very simple to prevent this: don’t try and run or kill them. If one immediately ran from most animals (or fellow human beings), the probable result is that they will chase you by instinct or for fun. Trying to kill them, however, results in the same behavior of most animals and humans too: they try to fight back. If one stands still for a few moments, the bees usually land, taste you, and decide you are not food and fly away.

    I do think that a fence around the hives is a good idea (since bees can traverse the boundary without hindrance). However, while I think it is a valid concern that students (including drunk ones) may damage the hives, it is also just as much a concern for any beekeeper.

    Having beehives at Swarthmore College would do more than just benefit the college, since bees travel 2-5 miles to find nectar, pollen, propolis (resin used as a honeycomb sealant) and water. It would enhance our local area as well. However, the arguments against having honeybees are equally valid. Some people are afraid a greater number of bees will lead to being stung, and some people see it as a cost with no valuable reward (which is true in the short run).

    For more information, I found the Natural Resources Defense Council’s website on bees was helpful (http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/animals/bees.asp?gclid=CMGXlejp9JUCFQEoGgod-1ghbQ).

  15. 0
    D says:

    I’m also curious about how they’d be held away from the rest of campus. Will they be contained, or are there just going to be thousands more bees roaming around campus? It’s unreasonable to say that they won’t sting if you approach them calmly, since calm is not something you feel when you’re afraid of bees…or allergic to them. I’m definitely not excited – and definitely think that we have better things to spend our money on!

  16. 0
    Jeff says:

    Does anyone else think that this seems like a waste of money? I mean, I know that bees are cool, but if we want to keep legitimately complaining about the meal plan costing so much, maybe we shouldn’t keep getting them to add on expensive things we don’t need (possibly separate topic, since I’m not sure if this is under SBC’s jurisdiction?).

  17. 0
    A little scared of bees says:

    I think this could be a great way to contribute to the current honeybee crisis, but is a college campus the right place to do it? What will stop a bunch of stupid drunk kids from goofing off and trying to mess with the hive, hurting themselves and your project in the process? Are you going to build a fence or something around the hive? I’m sure you’ve accommodated for these problems in your proposal, but I wish the article included them too! Good luck!

  18. 0
    Timothy Johnson III '07 says:

    Haha, that’s awesome! Good luck, Michael . . . hope your proposal gets approved and you can move forward with this new and exciting project! Does this mean that the College will produce honey on its’ own rather using an outside supplier, or will the bees’ primary purpose be to help pollinate the campus?

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