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Rowing, Academics, and Bees: Spending Time at the Hives

Sherman-Golembeski displays the top of the hive box.
April 18, 2017

STORRS, Conn. - It is barely five minutes away from campus by car, but the Mansfield Community Garden is a hidden sanctuary for senior rower Arielle Sherman-Golembeski and the other members of the UConn Beekeeping Club.

Drive up the dirt road, park in an empty field and walk behind the vegetable gardens to find active beehives in the springtime - a place of relaxation for a student-athlete and her demanding schedule.

It is one of the more unknown clubs at UConn and definitely one of the least understood, but for Sherman-Golembeski, the bees represent more than just the stereotypical stingers that many people encounter.

"I really didn't like bees when I was younger, like anyone else, but I didn't understand the beauty of what they actually do until I educated myself more," said Sherman-Golembeski, who is vice president of the club.

While attending Lyme-Old Lyme High School, Sherman-Golembeski was tasked with completing a senior project of her choosing. With her mom's friend serving as her mentor, she shadowed the art of beekeeping and had her project topic.

Since coming to UConn, a successful rowing and academic career has not stopped her from being an active member of the Beekeeping Club since her freshman year - which was also when the club was founded.

"We're definitely up and coming. We were founded in 2013 and when I heard UConn had this club, I knew it was something I wanted to do," said Sherman-Golembeski. "We have maybe like 10 kids, most without any prior knowledge of bees."

Mid-April was the first time Sherman-Golembeski had visited the hives since before the winter. During the colder months, the bees are eating their supply of honey and the hive boxes go untouched to keep the necessary warmth bottled inside.

Honeybees make up the larger portion of the hives, as the members of the club engage in hands-on and educational activities related to beekeeping. But how does it all work?

"This is how the hive is composed - you have males, females and then the queen bee. Only females go out and pollinate, so they are the ones people see roaming around outside," said Sherman-Golembeski. "The males stay in and tend to the queen bee, who just lays eggs and eats."

She added, "The real worker bees are the females, which is kind of cool because of gender stereotypes. Bees defy that kind of thinking."

Female bees (workers) bring pollen and nectar back to the hive, where they then produce honey. For some beekeepers, honey is produced in their hives at such a rapid rate that they are able to sell it. At UConn, the club leaves the honey for winter consumption.

The queen bee is the most crucial, as she is the only one who reproduces and therefore provides sustainability for the entire hive. The other bees follow her lead without question. The male bees (drones) have one main purpose life, which is to mate with the queen.

"We ordered some packages of bees. They come in smaller boxes and you have a separate cell with the queen in it," said Sherman-Golembeski. "When the queen moves, the bees move with her. If the queen stays in her cell, the others will stay too."

If there is no queen, the bees will swarm, meaning they leave the hive and find another place to live. Depending on the hive, that could mean the movement of hundreds or even thousands of bees.

The comb-design inside the hives allows the females, who will travel up to six miles away from the hive for pollen, to deposit the pollen - making it easier for the males to turn it into honey. The frame of the combs is usually made of plastic.

"We have meetings every other week, but since it's been cold, we haven't had much of a chance to come out here," said Sherman-Golembeski. "I'll come out here sometimes to check on them myself. You don't want to open the box too frequently; you just want to let them do their thing."

"It's an easier pet than a dog; you don't have to walk them or anything. You just maintain them," joked Sherman-Golembeski.

For such small creatures, the organizational structure of a hive is quite impressive. For the Husky rower, it allows her the chance to get away from class and practice to enjoy the beauty of nature.

"It provides a place to sit and relax with nothing around you except creatures who are doing good things for the environment," said Sherman-Golembeski. "With the stress of everything going on, I need a place to ground myself. It's nice to be around organic things, as opposed to books and weights."

With her four-year tenure at UConn ending, Sherman-Golembeski is already looking forward to coming back to the hives after graduation to see how her friends are doing - both in the club and in the hives.