In Spring 2016, the Kenyon Farm was struggling to find someone to revive their beekeeping program. Though Juno Fullerton ’19 was only a first year , she decided to give it a shot.
“I didn’t know anything about bees,” she said. “But I said, ‘Okay, I’ll learn.’”
Before the semester was over, Fullerton had taken a course on beekeeping hosted by the Knox County Beekeepers’ Association (KCBA) — an “organization for those interested in bees and beekeeping” according to the association’s website. There she met Jeff Gabric, the association’s president. He helped students unpack and set up the three hives.
Then, disaster struck: When Fullerton went home for the summer, the hives died. The reasons are still unclear, but the project was put on permanent hold until Fullerton returned from a semester abroad last May.
The Farm ordered new hives, and Fullerton collaborated with Gabric and her co-workers to install them. The hives survived and by August they had produced 35 jars of honey. Now, that honey is sold along with other farm produce along Middle Path.
The bees are healthy for the moment, but the Ohio winter can destroy an unprepared hive, so Fullerton and others have started to ready the hives by clearing honey from all but the central chamber of the hive and packing the now empty exterior compartments with pine shavings.
Once the hives are winterized, the bees will need to survive on the resources they’ve built up. “We’re not going to open the hives until May, or April maybe, when it defrosts,” Fullerton said.
There are a number of ways to winterize hives, and Gabric has continued to advise Fullerton throughout the winterization process. Fullerton remarks on how useful it is to have a thriving local community of beekeepers: “People here who keep bees know what it’s like to keep bees in Knox County and that’s not information you could get on the internet,” Fullerton said. “They could give you general beekeeping knowledge, but there’s just things you couldn’t know about this particular climate.”
Along with weather advice, the KCBA offers help for newcomers in beekeeping and updates on region-specific threats. Recently, they warned of an indirect threat to the hives — a surge of goldenrod, a wildflower that grows from Ontario to Texas. Although the high number of blooms will mean bees produce quickly, goldenrod honey is strange-tasting and poor-selling — so the KCBA advised beekeepers to harvest quickly and clear out the bad honey before the bees fill up.
This is what sustainability should look like, according to Fullerton. “Self-sustaining is a funny term,” Fullerton said. “It doesn’t mean that you do something without the help of anybody else. It kind of means the opposite. It means you’re finding out how to do stuff, through your community.”
With that in mind, Fullerton looks forward. “I’m graduating this year,” she said. “Anna Deryck ‘20 is taking over for me. She’s a junior. They’ll find someone to take over when she’s gone. Hopefully we can keep the bees going at the farm and there’ll just be a student who takes over when another graduates.”
Honey production looks like a promising addition to the Farm. Expanding options to the products sold on Middle Path is not only another chance to reconnect the work of students like Fullerton and Deryck to campus, but also serves as a step forward toward a sustainable Kenyon.