On Friday night Awbury Arboretum’s Francis Cope House glowed from strings of lights and candles. The historic house was transformed into the setting for an old-fashioned summer social. Friends and neighbors gathered at dusk on the spacious wrap-around porch to groove to The Hot Club of Philadelphia’s jazz as the arboretum held its first Waggle Dance.
The dance was held both to benefit and celebrate Awbury’s Green Sanctuary Community Apiary, built in partnership with Green Sanctuary Earth Institute (GSEIPA). The apiary features four hives which house about 200,000 honey bees, and serves as an educational tool to help people understand more about bees’ ecological importance. The waggle dance is what entomologists call the figure-eight dance honey bees use to share information with colony members.
Beekeeper, Anaiis Salles, explained that the hives are a way to “hold the line for bees” while a solution is being found for the problem of colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon which leads to the death of a hive. Salles said Pennsylvania has been earmarked as a state with massive die-off of its honey bees. Commercial beekeepers are still losing around 30 percent of their hives each year. Colony collapse disorder is thought to be caused by several factors, including pesticides and genetically modified crops.
Awbury Arboretum is an urban sanctuary for bees. Salles noted that these days honey bees fare better in urban areas because they are not dealing with toxic loads as high as they might typically encounter in rural areas, such as dust from corn and soy fields. Awbury’s pesticide-free 55 acre tract provides plenty on which honey bees can forage including a linden (or basswood) tree that is over 100 years old. The tree’s small, nectar-filled blossoms are very important in honey production. “The bees love it,” Salle exclaimed.
Near neighbor, Rev. Chester H. Williams, founder and president of the Chew and Belfield Neighbors Club remarked that he has seen an increase in bee activity around his property and a better harvest from his garden as a result of Awbury’s community apiary. Rev. Williams and his wife came out to support the longtime partnership between the arboretum and the neighborhood association. “I don’t know what a waggle is,” he admitted, curious to learn more.
Organizers hope that events like the Waggle Dance are helping to boost the visibility of the arboretum as a public gathering space. Rev. Williams said that many in the neighborhood had long believed the grounds to be private property. He credited Awbury Arboretum’s current outreach programming in changing this perception.
The arboretum began hosting urban beekeeping courses earlier this year.