Murray State student gets “buzzy” with bees

By Sydni Anderson, Staff writer

A Murray State student is bringing the buzz to Pullen Farm. MacKenzie Jones, sophomore majoring in agriculture science and agriculture education from Frankfort, Kentucky, is building a bee farm, or apiary, on Murray State’s 40-acre facility dedicated to student learning. A Murray State video showed Jones and her family building a fence to wrap around the farm.

Brian Parr, department head of agriculture science, also helped in the construction of Jones’s bee farm. He said he had a great time working with Jones’s family.

“MacKenzie’s dad, uncle, grandfather, brother and mother all came to help her,” Parr said. “I helped with digging holes and putting up posts for the fence.”

The fence, made of lumber from Jones’s uncle’s farm, is three-fourths of the way completed. However, the apiary will also need equipment, smokers, hive stands, gravel and jackets for anyone who goes inside.

Jones said the apiary will benefit the community by pollinating Pullen Farm and educating the community.

“It’ll put a spotlight on the Hutson School of Agriculture because bees are such a hot topic right now,” Jones said. “Especially with the bumble bee being put on the endangered species list, the attention’s kind of been brought back to the bees.”

In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the rusty patched bumblebee as an endangered species. According to a report released in February by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, more than 40 percent of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, face global extinction.

Jones said she wants to show people Murray State is doing its part to save the bees. One way, she said, is by creating more Varroa mite-tolerant bees. Varroa mites are a type of parasite for bees.

“If a tick was a dinner plate on us, that’s the comparison of Varroa mites for a bee,” Jones said. “We’re wanting to breed bees that have good grooming characteristics so that they’re not wanting Varroa mites on them. Varroa mites are the main reason bees are dying. Not because of the bite, but because of the diseases they carry on them.”

Ten nucs, or nuclear hives, have been purchased for the apiary. Jones said she plans on growing the hives throughout the summer and catching at least 10 swarms of bees. She estimates having 20-25 hives.

Despite her traction with the apiary, Jones hasn’t always been a bee expert. She said it was a summer internship with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture that spurred her interest in bees. Jones was placed in the animal health division where she worked at stockyards and with Tammy Horn Potter, the state apiarist.

“She took me out and made me handle bees,” Jones said. “She didn’t really tell me ‘Here’s some gloves. You should definitely wear these!’ or ‘Oh, you know they sting. Be careful!’ She was just like, ‘Here’s your jacket. Have fun.’”

As a Murray State Presidential Fellowship recipient, Jones is required to participate in a research project. She said she had talked to Potter about finding a new project for the Presidential Fellowship because she wasn’t enjoying the one she was doing.

“I like more hands-on things,” Jones said. “It [the talk with Potter] started a conversation about bees and Murray State. We wanted to see if we could start an apiary here.”

Jones met with Tony Brannon, dean of Hutson School of Agriculture, and Parr, who is also Jones’s research advisor. Jones said they were both onboard with the project.

“MacKenzie is an amazing student,” Parr said. “And this project has allowed her to be involved from everything from planning, funding, designing and construction. She has and will carry this project from conception to creation. That is great real-world preparation.”