The Voice: Summer 2003

The Voice

Enthusiastic beekeepers get their way

Dr. Duane Bajema helps his students get their shipment of bees into the hives

By: Sally Jongsma

A group of persistent students got through to Dr. Duane Bajema this semester. They’d been asking him for almost a year to offer a course on beekeeping. But because offering special topics courses has been put on temporary hold due to the need to staff a new First-Term Seminar, the course was not approved. A little more nudging—maybe even nagging—convinced Bajema that these students were so interested in learning that he’d make time to work with them through an independent study—or even just as interested participants. He’s getting help from Career Develoment Director Ron Rynders, who also keeps bees.

Seventeen bee hives are now set up at the Agriculture Stewardship Center, painted and labeled with the name of each beekeeper.

“I was surprised at the response,” says Bajema, who put a note in the campus newsletter to alert the campus community to the new course offering.

Participants in the beekeeping course represent a variety of majors. Some are taking the class as an individual study; some are simply there to learn. Some of them aren’t even students. Two alums and two faculty members are also learning the ropes of beekeeping and looking forward to a pot of honey this fall.

Anastasha Kamps is one of the people who kept “pestering” Bajema about a beekeeping class.

“I wanted to explore an area of creation that seems so down-to-earth but also so allusive,” she says. “Dordt doesn't normally offer a course on apiculture but I had heard both Dr. Bajema and Ron Rynders talk about their bees. I didn't know when I’d ever have such an opportune time to learn from such good teachers about a subject they are both very obviously intrigued by and experienced in.”
Nick and Sam Lantinga stock the Lantinga family hive.

Dr. Sherri Lantinga and her husband, Nick, an adjunct professor at Dordt, say they’re taking the beekeeping class for a couple of reasons.

“I’ve been trying to find ways to help my kids better understand where our food comes from; we looked into keeping chickens, but that’s hard to do in town with the noise and smells. This beekeeping opportunity not only allows us to learn where honey comes from but will help us teach the boys about responsibility for caring for God’s world. We’re also doing this because my husband grew up with bees in Michigan; Nick’s now-deceased grandpa taught his dad how to raise them, and Nick associates beekeeping with his good memories of his grandpa.”

Bajema, who knows the abc’s as well as the challenges of beekeeping, tries to be realistic with the “students” about what’s involved. In addition to requiring that each of them get stung (so they know exactly what they’re in for and that it’s not so bad after all—and to make sure no one is violently allergic to the stings), he stresses the responsibility they have taken on in caring for these creatures of God’s world. Like the child who gets excited about a new pet but whose interest languishes, they need to accept the bees as an ongoing responsibility. He has also asked them to pay their way. He figures it will cost about $60 to stock and care for each hive for the season. That makes students think before they sign on.

“I’ve been surprised by the amount of things that go into this process: the different kinds of equipment, the necessary understanding of bee life, and the things that can go wrong (skunks stealing honey, mice eating the wax cell foundations, foulbrood disease, etc.). I’m looking forward to learning more about how they raise their young, collect pollen, and produce enough honey for themselves and for us,” says Lantinga.

Kamps agrees. “I am looking forward to watching my hive grow and develop honey. I am looking forward to searching for the queen bee, to being stung (I’ve never been stung before), and expending lots of energy to finally produce a full honeypot (I hope!).”

The group meets on Friday afternoons, after the week’s classes are over for them and for Bajema. And even though he says it makes him busy—and will keep him busy over the summer while he cares for the hives of students who will be gone—he admits that it’s lots of fun.

“They’re so curious about learning. And it’s made them think about many related things—from figuring out the costs for the undertaking to when the trees and flowers begin producing the nectar their bees need,” Bajema says.