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Braving the swarm

Dr. Evan Sugden brushes bees off a piece of natural honeycomb to integrate them into one of the colonies managed at The UW. Photo by Kristian Randall

With as much nonchalance as one picking a crumb up off the table, Dr. Evan Sugden reached down onto the beehive frame and picked up a live bee to show the class. He explained the bee’s anatomy while the students around him observed the creature in his fingers. Then he dropped it back onto the bee-covered hive.

Sugden was teaching the UW course Biology 399: Native Bees, Honey Bees, Pollination, and Practical Beekeeping. Twice a week, this class of 14 students meets for three hours to learn about bees. Each class, students take in a one-hour lecture and then head out to the UW’s hives for two hours of hands-on experience with bees.

This is only the second time the course has been offered — the first time was last summer — and the small class was capped at 15 students. Sugden’s efforts brought the beehives to the UW in 2007 and this course to the university in the summer of 2011.

“This was a request on my part to find some way to teach a beekeeping course which would be both practical and intellectual regarding biology,” Sugden said. “The [biology] department decided somewhat benevolently to allow me do it as part of the internship program.”

With the help of outside funding and support from the UW Farm, Sugden was able to set up the hives, maintain them throughout the years, and now teach a course in hopes of sharing this sustainable practice with others.

“I expect that students who are really interested in participating in the class by, say, next spring, should be able to get their own bees and carry on from there,” Sugden said. “They won’t know everything, but they’ll know enough to get started.”

That is good news for senior Robyn Turner, who plans to own a farm once she graduates. Turner said she wanted to learn beekeeping so she can keep bees on her farm.

Though Turner said she joined the class mostly for that reason, many of the other students signed up mainly to try something new.

Students had to do more than merely sign up for this class, however. After passing the preliminary round of obtaining one of the 15 spots in the class, students still had to complete the course’s induction: a forced bee sting.

Bee stings were necessary to test for allergies and prepare students for the potential consequences that could come with working with bees. One student had to drop out of the course after receiving an adverse reaction to the sting.

For senior Megan Chiang, it was the first time being stung.

“It was pretty bad,” she said. “[We had to] just grab a bee, and just put it on you. … For me, the sensation was akin to a thick needle puncture.”

Luckily for Chiang, she has not been stung again since.

Sugden said that, while this course has been successful thus far, he wishes more people could come learn about beekeeping, especially since the course offering was met with a lot of interest.

“I would love to have 30, 50 [students], you know … but you can only fit so many people around a hive,” he said. “It’s just hard to work with more than that in a practical class.”

Nevertheless, he is happy with the positive response to the course.

“I hope that [the students] will satisfy their curiosity, that they’ll be stimulated to learn more, and that those who have a serious interest in beekeeping will be able to answer for themselves whether it’s something they should get involved in,” he said.

Reach reporter Shirley Qiu at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @callmeshirleyq

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