Ball State now has its own beehive, housed in the new Nature Lab of the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse (ROGH) and Environmental Education Center.

Dean McCarthy with bees outside the Environmental Education Center

College of Sciences and Humanities Dean Maureen McCarthy with Erica Oliver at the outdoor entrance to the hive.

The observational hive was installed yesterday in a four-and-a-half-foot tall glass case, constructed by Ball State carpenters, and is attached to the wall by a clear pipe that allows the bees to travel out into the prairie and Christy Woods in search of nectar and pollen. The hive has ten frames upon which the 15,000-20,000 bees will build comb.

The hive is open to the public during the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse’s visiting hours.

A New Space to Learn

In June 2022, the ribbon was cut in the Nature Lab, a space that is utilized by children of all ages in education programs organized and taught by Erica Oliver, the environmental education program coordinator and Rinard Orchid Greenhouse assistant. Erica’s self-described job description is to “teach about everything, everywhere” at the Ball State Field Station. She regularly teaches elementary students about salamanders, orchids, and ecosystems; hosts school groups of all ages from all of Delaware County and beyond; and designs creative educational programs each month for the public.

Erica Oliver teaching in the Nature Lab.

Erica’s passion is nothing short of infectious. There is no topic in the realm of the greenhouse, plants, wildlife, ecosystems, or the environment that she is not enthusiastic about–and probably already planning an educational program for. A self-described “nature-junky,” Erica came to Ball State in 2018 and has been building the educational program of the Field Station and Environmental Education Center from the ground up.

Erica’s drive to educate and inspire children towards the environment manifests itself in her work. In the week prior to the ribbon-cutting, she had already booked three groups of students in the Environmental Education Center for the annual Delaware County Nature Play Days, a weeklong county-wide initiative to get kids out in nature. For the “Flowers, Ferns, and Dinosaurs, Oh My!” event, she borrowed dinosaur replicas and fossils from Ball State Library so the kids could access the resources Ball State has to offer. Even though they weren’t part of the Field Station’s collection, Erica knew they would inspire awe in the students and took the extra steps to procure them.

“The best way to experience nature is to see it up close and personal. My goal is to educate the public about our amazing natural resources, and develop an appreciation for the creatures we might take for granted, find scary, or just don’t know exist at all.”

Bringing Wildlife Inside

In 2021-2022, over 15,000 people visited the properties of the Ball State Field Station and Environmental Education Center. These visitors are split between Ball State students and PreK-12th grade students, community members, and the general public. Now that the Nature Lab is officially open on campus, all visitors will be immersed in representations of local wildlife and have access to some of the local wildlife itself, such as the honeybees.

Indoor photo of the Nature Lab classroom at the Environmental Education Center

The new Nature Lab, the classroom space attached to the Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse

“The hive will allow visitors and students of all ages to see an organism up close that many people are afraid of, but that we rely on for agriculture and for our natural resources worldwide,” Erica explains. “Honeybees are also facing a lot of human-made issues to their survival, so creating this hive will allow us to better educate our community on taking care of our buzzing friends.”

Beekeeper preparing beehive

Local beekeeper Stephen Hunter prepares the hive frames to be placed in their new home

The observational beehive is one of the focal points of the center. The Nature Lab’s beehive houses the western honeybee, known for its honey production. The bees for this hive have come from local beekeeper Stephen Hunter, ’03 MBA ’11, of Honey Rock Farms. Despite the ubiquity of the honeybee, it is actually not native to this continent.

“This species is actually native to Europe, western Asia, and Africa, but was introduced by humans throughout the world in the 17th century,” Erica describes. “This species has been present on our continent for so long that it has integrated into our native ecosystems, and does serve as a pollinator for many of our agricultural crops as well as native plant species.”

Bee Hive

A close-up of the observational beehive in the Nature Lab

Given the importance of bees to our ecosystem and the joy they spark in many children, many aspects of the center are bee-themed. Inside the room is a hexagon-shaped, beehive cubby hole wall for the kids to store their bags, and the new gender-neutral, family-friendly bathroom includes bee accents and decorations. The center will also be home to several tree frogs and a non-releasable eastern box turtle (named Beaker), adopted from the Department of Natural Resources and living in a custom tank constructed by Dr. Tim Carter, director of the Field Station.

The expanded Dr. Rinard Orchid Greenhouse and Environmental Education Center was funded by donations from Dr. Joe Rinard; American Electric Power Foundation; Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County; Ball State faculty, staff, and students; Friends of the Orchid Greenhouse; and numerous community members. The expansion furthers public accessibility and learning opportunities for everything the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse and Ball State Field Station offer.

An eastern box turtle

Meet Beaker, the eastern box turtle.

Come Visit the Environmental Education Center

All of the Orchid Greenhouse programs are free and open to the public. Come visit the expanded Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse and Environmental Education Center  Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.