For the The Outback Bee Project, the unofficial motto is “come when you can and leave when you must,” beekeeper and project leader Michael Jaross said. The Outback Farm is kicking off the start of bee season at its apiary on south campus with its first projected meeting scheduled for Saturday, March 19.
Students, faculty and members of the community gathered in Fairhaven College on Wednesday night, March 2, at the fourth-annual Spring Bee-In to learn more about the project. The event was led by Michael Jaross, the beekeeper at the Outback Farm. Jaross will be holding open meetings every Tuesday and Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Outback Apiary.
Jaross said those at the meetings can expect to start working with bees right away. The project is similar to the class and informal in its approach, Jaross said.
“It’s not like a class where you have to perform, take pop quizzes, do an exam and write papers. It’s not like that at all,” Jaross said. “It’s a real life kind of experience.”
Jaross said he raises honey bees in his backyard and he is using this space as a place to create a kind of honeybee that is adapted to Western Washington’s specific climate. He said he likes to give back to the community by offering the opportunity to learn about what goes into beekeeping.
“Beekeeping takes a lot of patience, methodical work, time and money. A lot of people can’t do that until they’re later on in their career,” Jaross said.
Jaross, who began beekeeping about 11 years ago, is a retired glass blower and had his own business in Seattle. He said he was contacted four years ago by Western students who were managing bees at the apiary which wasn’t very successful.
After a year and a half of involvement with the Outback Apiary, Jaross said they worked out a system where he would be in charge of maintaining the beehives and equipment.
From there, the Outback Bee Project developed, with Jaross opening up the apiary to anyone in the community who wants to come to get hands on experience with honeybees.
“It’s kind of a buzz. It’s like if someone lifted the roof off of your dormitory and started to fiddle with your furniture,” Jaross said. “If you’re gentle about it – quiet and focused – the bees don’t mind too much, so you can be a part of their community and they become a part of your community. I like that interaction.”
Junior Alexander McIntyre said he attended the workshop for information for his sustainability literacy class he is facilitating. He said he has been volunteering at the apiary for the past two weeks and has learned about the importance of saving bees and their significance to the human food system and environment.
“Commercial beekeeping, which is more of a larger scale, is not sustainable,” McIntyre said. “I think if we went on more of a small-scale and focused here on the apiary it would be good for students to learn about how important bees are,” McIntyre said.
Senior Alea Clymer has been working with the bees at the apiary since her freshman year. Clymer said she has been fascinated by honey bees for a long time and wants to eventually become a backyard beekeeper herself.
“Individually, [the honey bees] are fascinating but it’s also the larger organism of the hive where they all work together,” Clymer said. “It’s just fascinating the way they communicate and the way there’s 60,000 of them in there but they all have the same goal and different roles. It’s like a society.”
Clymer said the project is open to anyone and is primarily a learning environment where people can get a lot out of the experience.