URI is Abuzz

Visitors to the University of Rhode Island this Spring will notice all the usual buzzing-about for commencement preparations. But, this year some of that buzz is coming from the honeybees housed in Quinn Hall.

If you happened to walk by Quinn Hall in the last few weeks, you may have noticed a sizeable crack in the historic facade of the Hall. That crack is the threshold to a llarge hive of honeybees found earlier this year. When they discovered the hive, facilities managers at URI called Debug Pest Control.

Enter Bill Horgan from Debug Pest Control. (Sure, he usually gets rid of bugs. But he knows the good guys from the bad; when he gets the chance, he likes to save the good guys.)

Bill from Debug arrived and saw that the honeybee hive was active. Bill recalled that certain types of bees had recently been placed on the endangered species list and wanted to try to do everything he could to save the hive. His first task was to convince URI to allow him to remove the hive humanely and save the honeybees.

Facilities management at URI was on-board with saving the hive from the onset. (URI has progressive and forward-thinking programs around honeybees and their protection, so this act was perfectly aligned with some of their recent educational endeavors like the new beekeeper program at URI and the popular environmental outreach program “Birds, Bees, and Apple Trees,” offered during April school vacation.

There were definitely going to be some challenges, though.

The good news was that the weather was cold. This meant that the people inside Quinn Hall would not be opening their windows. So, the possibility of honeybees entering the Hall was not going to be an issue. The cold weather also meant that the honeybees would be in semi-hibernation; they would be calm and quiet. 

The challenging news was that Quinn Hall’s facade is historic; the wooden millwork dates back to the 1830’s. Extracting a large hive of honeybees and not causing irreparable damage to the 200 year old woodwork was going to take some finesse.

Bill from Debug was fairly certain he knew the man for the job.

Enter Jeff Mello. (Jeff’s last name is literally the Portuguese word for honey.) (Oh yeah, and he’s allergic to bees.)

Jeff Mello is a beekeeper. Most people on Aquidneck Island know him as “Jeff the Beekeeper,” and that’s fine with Jeff, who will aptly retort with a pun like “I live the sweet life” (and he does). Jeff manages over one thousand hives throughout Rhode Island. Some beekeepers buy hives; Jeff’s hives started as wild hives that he has rescued from homes and businesses all over Rhode Island. You may have seen his honey at local farmer’s markets or in local foodie stops like Simone’s in Warren, Brick Alley Pub in Newport, and the Garden Grille in Pawtucket.

When Bill from Debug and Jeff arrived at URI last week, they noticed that the hive was unusually quiet. Jeff mentioned that the rain and cool weather will often make the honey bees huddle down deeper into their hives for warmth. He donned his protective bee suit and climbed into the lift that raised him up to the hive.

Within a few minutes, Jeff had removed a small piece of the millwork and started to collect pieces of the honeycomb. Some areas of the honeycomb were lighter in color and looked empty; according to Jeff, these were new sections of honeycomb that had recently been constructed. This was a sign, he said that the hive is healthy and growing. As the early afternoon became evening, Jeff’s Nuc (pronounced nuke, and short for Nucleus) was filled to the brim with old and new honeycomb.

Jeff removed a larger portion of the millwork and the honey bees exited their hive and gathered into a tight ball. Jeff said the bees were in distress (for obvious reasons), but that they would quickly become calm once they were safely in the Nuc. Jeff proceeded to calmly and confidently place the honey bees inside the Nuc. He descended from the lift all smiles.

“I’m just happy knowing they weren’t destroyed, and that there are pest control companies like Debug that will call me and try to save the honeybees. Ten years ago, I never received a phone call to remove a hive. Now, I make 300 calls a year to remove a hive. The growth in awareness is incredible.”

-Jeff Mello, Aquidneck Honey

Jeff said these honey bees will be placed in a hive alongside his other honey bees. He assured us that these bees, like all of his others, will thrive in their new home. 

Whistling, Jeff took the pieces of honeycomb and his Nuc humming with his new tenants and started packing them into his van. Bill from Debug asked what Jeff was going to do with the empty honeycomb. Jeff smiled and said “I’m going to feed it to my bees tonight. They absolutely love this stuff. They’re going to be loving me.”

Debug, Aquidneck Honey, and URI making honey bees happy.  We’re loving the sound of that.

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