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Benedictine Sisters expand on beekeeping knowledge

Benedictine Sisters expand on beekeeping knowledge - (13-06-2017)

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PHOTO: Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration Ruth Elaine Starman, OSB, is one of two Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who have spent the past year learning about beekeeping. 

After one year of embarking on the new adventure of beekeeping, two Benedictine Sisters have learned quite a bit about the process.

“We had three hives going into the winter but lost one in the early spring,” Sister Ruth Elaine Starman, OSB said. “Unfortunately, it happens. Our loss was similar to the rate experienced by many beekeepers in the region. The reasons can vary: starvation, varroa mite infestation or pesticide use.”

Amateur beekeeping helps in the effort to rebuild the world’s catastrophic dwindling bee population. However, the practice poses certain challenges. For Sister Ruth Elaine, one of those challenges is a very personal one.

“The most challenging thing for me is not to constantly worry if the honeybees are going to survive,” she said, leaning over to one of the hive boxes and putting her ear up to the side in order to hear any activity from the bees. Then she straightened back up to add, “I’m worrying about an insect, for crying out loud! But it’s only natural since we spend so much time caring for them, feeding them, making sure they have a good home, praying for them. Obviously we’re personally invested.”

In April, Sister Ruth Elaine joined Sister Nancy Rose Gucwa, OSB, on a trek to the home of a fellow beekeeper to learn the process of splitting hives.

“When hives get too large, often the honeybees will leave to start a new hive elsewhere,” Sister Nancy Rose said.

It is one of the must-have skills every beekeeper should have in her arsenal since it’s cheaper than ordering a queen through the mail (yes, there is such a service!)

“Keith Dougan does beekeeping on a grand scale, so we were grateful for the hands-on opportunity to learn about splitting hives,” Sister Ruth Elaine said.

“If you identify the queen, then you can split the hive yourself and keep them close to home,” Sister Nancy Rose said. “The hive can produce a new queen as long as it has eggs, food and lots of bees to care for the queen and drones for her to reproduce with.”

Because nature often provides what is needed, the “only difference between a queen and a worker bee is the diet provided by the nurse bees during the first days of its life,” according to cookevillebeekeepers.com.

So Sister Ruth Elaine and Sister Nancy Rose are feeling a bit more confident in their abilities to identify a queen honeybee in order to split a hive safely and successfully but understand they still have a lot more to learn.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Sister Nancy Rose said. “It’s also an important process because helping to bolster the honeybee population throughout the world. So much depends on it.”

Another way to build up one’s hive count affordably is to construct a swarm box or trap. These boxes are placed in trees in the hopes a hive will naturally set up residence. The Sisters set one up in late spring and have since netted a new hive.

In the meantime, the Sisters will continue to take care of the honeybees in their apiary.

“My favorite thing to do is just sit by the side of the hive and watch what’s happening at the entrance,” Sister Ruth Elaine said. “It’s awesome to see foragers come in with pollen on their back legs. It’s also a spectacle to watch the bees launch themselves off from the hive entrance when they have their sights set on something. It gives literal meaning to ‘making a bee-line.’”