Beekeeping: the secret talent of Hamilton faculty and staff


What do Dean Thompson and Campus Safety Officer Joseph Plado Constante have in common besides both working at Hamilton? Both keep bees. In fact, about half a dozen members of the Hamilton College community keep bees.
Dean Thompson began keeping bees with the assistance of her brother who is a beekeeper. Along with Elizabeth Tantillo, wife of Dick Tantillo, vice president of Communications and Development, Thompson raises bees near the community farm on campus. The bees pollinate the plants in the garden and receive their nutrients, but the garden also benefits from having bees in such close proximity. Thompson says it can be difficult sometimes, but “the bees do all the really hard work.” Thompson collects the honey from the bees every year and gives it to friends and family as well as keeps some for herself beeswax foundation roller.

Honey extraction is a relatively simple process. Thompson usually extracts honey during the day, when the majority of the bees are not in the hive and are less likely to be bothered. She then scrapes off the honey comb covering and uses a centrifuge-like device to spin the honey out of the comb. The honey is then filtered and collected.
However, Thompson noted that it is very important to leave some honey behind for the bees in the winter, a point  Officer Plado also mentioned. Contrary to what many people think, the bees do not sleep during the winter. Rather, all of the male drone bees are forced to leave the hive, and the remaining bees huddle together and quiver to produce heat in the hive.

Despite her best efforts and the mild winter, Thompson lost her hive this winter. Her brother was able to provide her with  a queen and a starter nest. Recently, with the help of Physical Plant, Thompson was able to get another nest from 100 College Road. This may seem like a dangerous task, but Thompson notes the only times she has been stung were times when she was being careless.

Thompson recalls raising her children and trying to get them into beekeeping: “I was trying to inject a little science into their lives early,” she said. She also recalls bringing some beekeeping gear to the Clinton Early Learning Center this past summer. Whenever the children reach the letter “B” learning the alphabet, she usually gets a call.
An important point that Thompson emphasizes is the complexity of the bee society. There are many different types of bees in one nest and every bee has a duty. In an average beehive, there can be anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000 bees. They are all governed by one queen. When a hive gets too large, however, part of the hive will leave and form a new hive.

Officer Plado also emphasized the complexity of a bee society. He notes that bees can anticipate the demise of a queen. “If the other bees sense the queen is ill or not producing, they will produce queen cells, usually five or six; the first one to hatch is the new queen, and she kills the other cells,” he said.
Officer Plado has been keeping bees for about 30 years. He has about 36 nests in several locations. Plado began beekeeping with the help of a family friend. Plado recalls  spending time at his friend’s house helping with various beekeeping tasks. His friend suggested that Plado should begin beekeeping.

“At first, I was skeptical. I mean, why would I want to do the work when I was already getting free honey?” Plado chuckled.

Regardless, Plado began keeping bees and making honey. Unlike Thompson, Plado has never really been a fan of beekeeping gloves or any other protective gear, a choice that has led him to some fairly serious bee stings. He was recently stung above his right eye which caused his eye to swell shut. However, Plado says this hasn’t deterred him from beekeeping.

Plado keeps his hives in various locations, like near his garden or as far away as Marcy. He notes that bees may travel up to seven miles to get pollen. He also emphasized how important bees are for food production.
“I’d say about 90 to 95 percent of food has been pollinated by bees,” said Plado.

Plado often gets his hives by removing them from people’s houses. He recently removed one from 40 College Hill Road. He is slightly concerned about the hive for the winter as it seems rather small, and he is not sure if there will be enough honey for them for the winter. A typical hive produces 175 to 200 pounds of honey. Plado says he tries to leave about 120 to 150 pounds in the hive for the winter as the bees do not leave the hive once the outdoor temperature drops below 50 degrees. During this time, the bees huddle together for warmth, and the hive can reach upwards of 80 degrees.

Plado notes that he doesn’t use medicine or chemicals on the bees. “I wouldn’t want to eat that,” he said.
Bees are prone to numerous diseases including mites. However, a big problem with bees is Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. In CCD, an entire colony of bees can become sick and die. Plado does his best to treat bees naturally and regularly checks on the bees to make sure none of them are sick.

He notes that honey from the store is all sugar and artificial organically produced honey is far superior. Plado extracts honey from the hives twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. He sells the honey each season and says he really enjoys the process, a sentiment that Dean Thompson also shares.

Both Thompson and Plado find beekeeping a stress relieving activity that can help them clear their minds and get away from the stress of life.

“It’s just so different from everything” said Thompson.

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