May 25, 2010
Freie Universität Berlin has its own apiary: At the Institute of Biology, scientists and master beekeepers study and tend to colonies of bees and produce honey. They also offer courses and training for student groups and teachers and for beekeeping hobbyists and professionals.
“Springtime is high summer for bees,” says Benedikt Polaczek, a master beekeeper with a doctorate in apiary studies at Freie Universität Berlin. This year’s rainy weather means that the bees have their work cut out for them: Instead of nectar, the combs are filled with water, and the bees’ “fall,” the season when honey is harvested, starts as early as the end of June. But how much honey will there be this season? Master beekeeper Polaczek and his colleagues tell us about beekeeping and making honey.
Most people are aware of how important bees are to the continued existence of flora, and consequently also of fauna: Many plants reproduce through pollination, which in turn ensures the variety of species that keeps the natural world in balance. Without bees, however, pollination cannot occur, and plants die out. Thus it is all the more alarming to learn that the number of bee colonies has fallen by nearly half in the past 15 years.
One of the major reasons behind this development is that the number of new beekeepers has been declining steadily for some years now. Only beekeepers can protect colonies from pests such as mites that feed off of the blood of larvae and pupae. Bee researcher Polaczek has taken on the job of saving the bees: He educates professional beekeepers at Freie Universität, trains amateur beekeepers, and holds courses for children and young people in cooperation with NatLab, the lab at Freie Universität that works specifically with elementary and secondary school students. Polaczek works to link German beekeeping associations and groups together, and is a fixture at every International Green Week exhibition held in Berlin. He is also involved in a German/Polish initiative that promotes cooperation among beekeepers and is responsible for ensuring that the bees will continue to hum for audiences during the Long Night of the Sciences on June 5 as well.
About 30 bee colonies are currently swarming through the lushly blooming gardens around the Institute of Biology at Freie Universität. Polaczek is able to approach his peaceful bees without the typical beekeeper’s hat and protective netting, and to reach into the hives where his charges are with his bare hands without being stung once.
The situation is similar for Lea, a secondary school student who is finishing a three-week internship at NatLab and is a guest among the master beekeepers. She bravely takes a bee in her hand. Incidentally, most of the honey collected at the university’s apiary stays on campus: The university’s dining halls use about a ton of campus-grown honey every year. And that means baked goods – thanks to the bees! – are twice as nice.
Dr. Benedikt Polaczek
Institute of Biology
Tel.: +49 (0)30 838-539 45 or 838-53919