Julia Pietruszka, ’20, knew she wanted to join the beekeeping club before she arrived at Lehigh.
Her grandfather was a beekeeper and served as her source of inspiration.
Pietruszka signed up at the club fair at the beginning of her freshman year and now serves as its president.
She said each year she looks forward to re-opening the hives after a long winter. But when the club opened its three hives on Mountaintop when the temperature reached about 60 degrees this year, members discovered all their bees had died.
The beehives are located on a cleared, grassy space on Mountaintop campus. Members tend to the bees during the start of the fall semester and the second half of spring semester.
In the winter, honeybees cluster together in their hive to keep their queen bee warm. The queen bee is kept in the center of the cluster while the other bees move around to create warmth.
The exact cause of the bees’ death is unknown. Andrew Januszak, a senior computing consultant at Lehigh and the adviser of the beekeeping club, suspected harsh winds and cold conditions played a large role.
“We don’t really know exactly what killed them,” Taitz said. “You never really know with beekeeping. It could be a combination of a bunch of different factors. All hives have their own genetics and are resistant to different things.”
Januszak said Mountaintop is not an ideal location to house the bees due to weather conditions.
“Right now, we have hives that are completely exposed to the sun up there,” he said. “They have no shade at all. It can be too much heat for them.”
In direct sunlight, bees have to work harder to keep their hive at a constant temperature. They do this by collecting water, taking it to the hive and fanning it with their wings so it evaporates and cools the area. If a hive becomes especially hot, bees are not able to keep it cool. The wax combs of the hive run the risk of overheating, melting and ultimately killing the bees.
Januszak said the club wants to build some shade for the bees as well as windbreak that will shield them from cold winds.
He said the club loses some bees every year, and it is not difficult to replace them. On April 22, the club installed new bees into the three empty hives.
The club purchased them from Meadow View Beekeeping Club in Kutztown for about $115.
Januszak said the packages are about three pounds, and he estimates that they hold around 10,000 bees.
The club also installed a camera system to live stream the hives.
Now, club members can watch the bees at all times to ensure their safety, and perhaps prevent the deaths of future hives.
“We’ve grown as a club, probably doubled in size these past couple of years,” Taitz said. “I didn’t think I would actually start to enjoy it, but then you get up there on Mountaintop and it’s really cool. You wouldn’t expect this at Lehigh.”
Editor’s note: A quotation was removed from this article because it inaccurately portrayed the severity of the situation.