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UCR Bees and Beekeeping - Part 1

A topside view of three beehive frames with a few bees and wax creations in view. In the center, a honey bee is drinking honey.

Intern reporter Allison Wang interviews Professor Boris Baer and PhD student Genesis Chong about UCR's Bees and Beekeeping course

Allison Wang: With 91.9 KVCR News, I'm Allison Wang. Currently, I'm a sophomore at UC Riverside and this spring quarter, I'm taking a fascinating hands on course called Bees and Beekeeping, where we get to take care of our very own hives for 10 weeks while learning about bees and their importance in the ecosystem. Right now, I'm in the entomology building, minutes from the UCR apiary with my professor Boris Baer, and my TA Genesis Chong, thank you so much for being here with me today.

Boris Baer: Thanks for having us. My name is Boris Baer and I'm part of the Center of Integrative Bee Research and I'm teaching the class Bees and Beekeeping.

Genesis Chong: My name is Genesis Chong, I'm an international student in CIBER Lab. I'm a PhD candidate working with honeybees and I'm the TA of beekeeping course.

Allison Wang: What made you want to teach a beekeeping course at UCR?

Boris Baer: Oh, that's a good question. Well, first of all, I'm excited to teach this beekeeping class because it allows me to train a new generation of students to learn beekeeping and to enjoy bees. Because I love bees, I have done research on bees for a very long time, and I'm very concerned about their wellbeing. So seeing students getting fired up and becoming passionate about bees is something that is really rewarding for me.

Genesis Chong: It's really nice because most of them are afraid and they are so scared about the bees, to get stung or anything. But then, when they learn how to deal with the bees and how to treat them, they get like a certain respect of the bees, and then that fear is just, like vanish away.

Allison Wang: How and when were you first interested in bees?

Boris Baer: I was first interested in bees when I was really young boy. Because I grew up in the house of my grandmother, I'm a country boy. So she had a house in the countryside, and that was in Switzerland, and and it was cold and miserable. And I hate winter. And so my grandmother had this garden with all these plants, cherry trees, and apricots, and pears and apples. And so every spring, all of these trees went into bloom, and you could smell the trees, but you could hear the bees. And afterwards we had bumblebee nests in the garden, and I could look after them. So from a very early age onwards, it was a sign of spring and of the end of misery.

Genesis Chong: I really love nature and then in my work environment, I met Boris Baer and he was the one that introduced me to this amazing bee world. So it's just amazing how like these little creatures can just like get your heart. Yeah.

Allison Wang: What would you say is the greatest challenge facing bees and beekeeping these days?

Boris Baer: Well, we know that the bees are not really healthy any longer, we kind of have a good idea of why the bees are unhappy, and I call them the four evil. The four evil are pesticides that the bees are exposed to in urban areas, but also in agricultural landscapes. They don't kill the bees, but it has what we call sublethal effects. So the bees cannot learn and communicate any longer. Parasites, we have unusually high numbers of parasites now in honeybees, and we have very little to actually kind of control them so far. So Genesis is one of the PhD students that actually is looking for what could we do better to help those bees. The third thing is what I call environmental change and has two aspects, it's the loss of habitat for bees that they can recover, in combination with climate change because as climate change, the bees are exposed to extremely hot weather. So the last thing is like I think is how we treat bees, and how we keep bees. Today we have commercial beekeeping, it's 80,000 hives, we transport them around on highways over tens and thousands of miles. Bees are not really made for that. So that's the four- I call it my four evils. So at this point, the beekeepers in the US report that they lose about 40% of their hives per year.

Allison Wang: Wow.

Boris Baer: That is just, that's about double of what we can really afford to lose each year. And if you look at the US when the US came out of the Second World War, they had about, I think, something over 6 million hives and we are now at I think down at 2.8 or something like that.

Allison Wang: Yeah, and their decline is like really harmful for the environment.

Genesis Chong: Since bees got domesticated they have become like a really important and crucial part of pollination. They helped to pollinate almost like 80% of the thing that we eat.

Boris Baer: If you look at what is happening in most of the food gets more expensive, a lot of people now google how to make honey. There is a increase in interest to keep bees again. And so I think we want to promote is what we refer to as responsible beekeeping, right? If you have a beehive you have a responsibility for these animals. It is complex, you have to really learn and you have to really look out for that animal. Basically what this beekeeping class as well as like, what is responsible beekeeping and that people are able to do that.

Allison Wang: Yeah, it's such an important class. For anyone interested in this class, I'm happy to remind you that it's open to all UCR undergraduate students as a general education course. Check it out for KVCR news, I'm Allison Wang.

This is the first part of a two-part story. For part 2 or the full length interview, see "Related Content" below.

Allison Wang is an honors student at UC Riverside, double majoring in political science and public policy. She began working at KVCR during the Spring 2023 quarter through the UCR political science internship course, POSC198G - Field Work.
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