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A Personal Passion Blooms on Campus

Don Ziegler (pictured left) first became interested in bees and bee keeping in the 1970s and had hives of honey bees for several years.  In 1990 he started a group called The Backyard Fruit Growers and was looking for ways to better pollinate his fruit trees. At that time he was introduced to and received a gift of his first pollinator bees from Dr. Suzanne Batra at the USDA bee research lab in Beltsville, MD.

Over time, Don came to appreciate pollinator bees, which do not they produce honey, but prolifically pollinate  flowering vegetation of all kinds.  For 25 years, he has cultivated two varieties of the Osmia family of bees, thelignaria and the cornifrons

His interest grew into a passion as he and his wife Priscilla nurtured growing plants, fruit trees and flowers. Don is a photographer and has captured thousands of images of flowers, insects, plants and other parts of the natural world that he found in his own backyard and local environs.

When the Zieglers moved to campus in the summer of 2014, Don brought his passion with him.  In fact with Landis Homes having by this time established a rain garden, a restored floodplain and a bluebird walk, the pollinators he brought as cocoons fit in perfectly with this bucolic setting. – where these shy native pollinator bees already thrive on their own, but are seldom noticed.

Don quickly found others at Landis Homes who got involved in this hobby.  Two woodworkers, Warren Shenk and Leonard Brunk, helped by building bee nesting boxes and two retired biology teachers, Charles Longenecker and Roland Yoder, got involved in deciding where to place the boxes, including near their own homes and gardens. 

Warren Shenk making boxes.

This spring about 15 bee boxes were mounted on the rails and bridges along the waterways on south campus and in the rain garden area. This group effort is influenced by current and future plans to plant native Pennsylvania fruit trees like pawpaw and persimmon in the natural growth areas of the 114-acre campus. 

A question that comes up is, “Will these bees sting and is there toxic venom involved?”  The answer to these questions from Dr. Karen Strickler, is “not likely” and “no.”  Strickler, an adjunct instructor at the College of Western Idaho, supervised the pollination ecology program at University of Idaho from 1993-2000.  She writes, “I don’t know of any research on the safety of Osmia because so few people ever get stung.  As far as I know, there are no known cases of allergies. Lots of people work with these bees, and love them because they are so docile compared with [other varieties of] bees.”

According to Dr. Strickler, “You can stand close to the nest and they never attack.” That is one of the reasons why pollinator bees are growing in popularity with both growers and hobbyists across the country.

Don says he is happy to see the bees on campus, “Because I love the bees, and I could not abandon them when we moved. Also for the pure pleasure of seeing this aspect of God’s creation in its amazing beauty, for the good of our flowers, trees and environment, as a community project, to offer something unusual and exciting to learn and talk about.”

Chris Kennel, Charles Longenecker and Roland Yoder