Penn Beekeeping Club co–presidents Abhi Motgi (W ‘20) and Joost Vanderborgh (C ‘21) are passionate about bees. But as of late, they're leading a beekeeping club that has no bees.

Last winter, the club’s entire hive of 70,000 bees died because of the widespread varroa mite epidemic, which is responsible for killing over killing over 60% of Pennsylvania’s bee population in the last year, according to Abhi and Joost. 

“I think what happens is they infect the bees, the bees get sick, and to avoid infecting the other bees they either fly away or they’re killed by the varroa mites," said Abhi. “The varroa mites also weaken their immune systems. It’s cold outside, so they’re more likely to die.”

Neither Abhi or Joost had previous experience with beekeeping before coming to Penn. Joost was first intrigued by the idea when he encountered two of the three of the club’s co–founders, Rebecca Composto (C ‘18) and Lucas Bolno (C ‘18).

“When I first got here I went to the activities fair, and Rebecca and Lucas were there and they had a honey tasting,” Joost said. “I was under the impression that it was their honey; it was store–bought honey, but I still thought ‘wow, this is what you can do with bees.’”

Abhi, on the other hand, had friends in high school who were a part of their beekeeping club. He always felt like he was missing out on the action, so he joined the board of the Penn Beekeeping Club as treasurer. He expresses how beekeeping is such a “niche topic” but “people are all fascinated by it.” 

DP File Photo

“People want to come to our events to learn about what it is,” Abhi said. “The idea of sustainability and keeping bees in an urban environment is pretty cool.”

Abhi added that they would love to someday harvest the first Penn honey, which they haven’t been able to do in the past.

Even without bees, Abhi and Joost are not giving up on the dream. They are in contact with the university through a variety of channels to receive funding. They have also reached out to the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild to see if they could act as mentors to their club. 

Abhi and Joost are hoping to have bees by the time spring rolls around. Their lack of funding is the biggest buzzkill this duo are currently facing. The average bee sting does not faze Abhi and Joost.

“If you do beekeep, you will get stung at least once,” said Joost. “But it’s worth it. If you can harvest five pounds of honey, I think one sting is worth it.”

Abhi and Joost explain the process they’ll have to go through to set up their new hive, and it’s quite the complex matter. The hive must be contained within a wooden, house–like frame with only a small hole at the bottom for the bees to fly out of. This hole must be very small so that mice and other rodents can’t entire the hive. 

Joost jokes that they wouldn’t want Winnie the Pooh coming in to steal their honey. 

They also will need to purchase a nuc, which is a sugar cube that the bees eat in order to unleash the queen, whose larva contains the “royal jelly.” The rest of the hive are composed of drone bees, the male bees, and female worker bees, who compose 90% of the hive’s population.

“Once they become their full form of a bee, they know what to do, and they do that task,” Joost said. “They inherently know it.” 

While they are still in the process of acquiring new bees, Abhi and Joost are holding monthly events to keep the student body engaged. Two weeks ago they held an event for potting plants on College Green, and they said to look out for an upcoming screening of the Bee Movie and bee trivia. 

To stay tuned with the Penn Beekeeping Club, Abhi and Joost encourage everyone to email with your name, year, and email address.  They’re hoping other Penn students will get as buzzed about bees as they are.


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