Beekeeping Club meet every Tuesday after school to learn about honey bees and their role in the world. We are very busy and have lots of fun while we learn.
There are key rules to follow while at Beekeeping Club including, listening to instructions carefully and always wearing the correct safety clothing. Our beekeepers are very well behaved and have remained nice and calm every session.
Well done team!
The bees arrived at school at the beginning of July. We set them up in the corner of the forest school in a fenced area to keep them safe. When they first arrived we had around 15,000 bees in the hive and they lived on 4 of the 12 frames in the hive.
Before the summer holidays the children in year 3 came along and learnt a little bit about different types of bees and how to do a hive inspection. They asked lots of great questions and behaved really nicely around the hive.
We ran a competition for the children to name our Queen bee and a panel of judges decided on the winner. Our Royal Highness is now called Queen Brenda!
As the bees need inspecting every week Mrs Smith came to see them over the summer holidays. Lots happened and she even had to feed them a couple of times. As the summer was not as hot as we would have liked the bees could not go out and forage for themselves. Another reason they may have needed feeding is that lots of them may not have been mature enough to go out and forage for nectar and pollen. It takes 3 weeks for a bee egg to hatch and emerge and a further 3 weeks for the bee to be old enough to go out foraging, so although some of them will have been able to go collecting it probably wasn't enough to feed the 40-50,000 bees the colony now had. After a couple of feeds the bees began to make honey for themselves, you can see it in some of the pictures - it's the light coloured cells.
To feed the bees Mrs Smith just had to make sugar syrup and leave it on top of the hive for them to eat when they need it. This food is not available to the Queen as the worker bees (all girls) will take food down to her and make sure she is well fed and strong enough to carry out all her duties.
Once we returned to school in September Beekeeping Club began every Tuesday after school.
In session one the children learnt how to put on the bee suits and give each other safety checks. It is important the children know how to wear and check their own suits and they took great care making sure everything was OK. There are rules we need to follow around Bee Corner to ensure the safety of the children and the bees. It is important that no body runs near the bees, or disturbs the hive in any way, they must be dressed appropriately and respect the fact it is the bees home. Children must listen and follow instructions at all times to make sure we can all have a safe, informative and fun time at the hive.
Once the children were in their suits and wellies and had checked each other (with the help of Mrs Smith and Mrs Rogers) they went to the fence of Bee Corner and watched the entrance to the hive. Every time they saw a bee fly out of the hive they would shout "There's one" or "Look! Look!".
It was a useful and enjoyable first session. Well done everybody!
During our second session the beekeepers were able to put on their suits and safety check each other without much assistance which was great! We then talked about the three types of honey bee we would find in our hive. Firstly there is the Queen, of which there is only one. Then we have the boy bees which are called drones, there is probably around 100 of them in our colony. A drones only purpose in life is to mate with the Queen and some may not manage to do this. Finally there are the worker bees. Worker bees are female and carry out all the duties of the hive, including nursing new eggs, feeding the Queen, cleaning the hive, foraging and carrying out the dead bees from the hive amongst other jobs. The colony is largely made up of worker bees, our colony probably has around 45-50,000 worker bees keeping the hive going.
Every week the hive needs inspecting. We learnt that we look for brood (babies), stores (honey) and the Queen. It is important to see the Queen every time so we know she is alive and looked after in the hive. If the Queen was to leave or die, the whole colony would collapse.
Mrs Smith opened the hive and let the children stand by her as she inspected every frame. The children waited nicely for their turn and remained calm once the bees began flying around them. They were able to help Mrs Smith look for brood and stores and keep count of everything they saw. It is vital we keep a record of our findings every week so we know how healthy the hive is. Sadly, the children didn't see the Queen this time as it was time to get dressed and head back to school, however, Mrs Smith continued to look as the children changed out of their suits and she saw her - so we know she is still in the hive - phew!
After inspecting the bees Mrs Smith felt it was time to feed them again before closing the hive for the season. She made some sugar syrup and left it on top of the crown board for the bees to eat if they need to. Bees will only eat the sugar syrup if they cannot go out and forage for food.
Another little job that needed doing before Autumn was to take the Queen excluder out (the green mesh board). This board prevents the Queen from making her way up through the hive but now she is no longer laying eggs it is safe to take the board off.
Another really important part of beekeeping is to make sure the bees are free of disease. The most common disease that hives suffer from is called Varroa Mite. These are small mites that bury themselves into the bees when they are still eggs, they can cause deformed wings, poor eyesight and if left untreated can kill off an entire colony.
One prevention method is to lightly dust the bees with icing sugar. The bees will then eat the sugar off themselves and each other, knocking off some of the mites. Colonies need to undergo a full treatment too but as we need to feed our bees we will have to wait a few months to treat them chemically.
We put a varroa board(bright yellow) at the base of the hive to catch any mites that fall off, this lets the beekeepers know how big a problem they have in the hive.
During this session the children all had a go at dusting the frames with icing sugar, even though some of them were a little nervous to at first they did a great job! We watched the bees as the bees got stuck into the icing sugar straight away! They were grateful for the little treat.
The beekeepers also helped Mrs Smith count how many frames were used for brood and stores. There was a lot less brood this week but a little more stores which was great news. It is important the bees have enough food to eat to make sure they have energy to survive the colder weather.
Here are some pictures of the busy bees.
The bright yellow and orange you can see at the side of the bees is pollen they have collected. They carry the pollen in their pollen baskets just near their back legs.
This week was very windy so we decided not to take roof off the hive. The bees don't like to get too cold! However, we still had plenty to do.
The beekeepers are now experts at putting their suits on and only needed adult help to check they had zipped themselves up properly.
The first thing we needed to do was make the bees some more sugar syrup. The children helped make this and took it in turns to pour or stir until we had the right consistency. We then all looked at the syrup that had been left last week - this had all crystallised so we took it in turns to hit it with the hive tool to try and break it down. Once the old sugar had been removed we poured the new syrup into the feeder and added the lid. The hungry bees began eating straight away - and we even got a visit from a cheeky wasp. Now the bees have more food to eat and Mrs Smith will return in a couple of days to check if they need any more.
The next thing we had to do was remove the varroa board (bright yellow) to see how many varroa had fallen off the bees after coating them in icing sugar. The beekeepers had all remembered why we coated the bees last week and some could even remember the correct name for the mites and what they do to bees. Well done team!
The varroa board also collected wax and bee poo so we had to use magnifying glasses to see which were varroa mites. We also found quite a few earwigs living in the plastic board, this was very exciting back in the classroom when they began emerging and walking on tables! Mrs Smith collected them and put them outside. We were running out of time so we couldn't do a full inspection of the board but will look at it more next week.
Another productive and interesting week - well done everybody!
This week we checked the bees sugar syrup to see how much they had eaten - they had obviously been hungry as there wasn't much left. We have to make sure the bees have enough food so we added more hot water to the crystallised sugar making it syrup again. Once the roof was off some of the bees started eating the crystallised sugar on the crown board straight away. We watched them for a few minutes and the children enjoyed observing their natural behaviour.
The next important job we had to do was to block any holes in the hive. We did this to prevent the bees from getting too cold through the winter months. Bees can cope with some cold but it is important to try and minimise the wind and rain getting into the hive. We also had to close the size of the entrance to around 1cm. This is not only to prevent weather from interfering but also to make it harder for other animals to enter the hive. Mice like to take shelter in hives so we have to make this difficult for them as other animals may eat all the bees food. We just used sponge to block the holes so there is still ventilation but not howling gusts of wind and rain.
The children are now very calm around the hive and show the animals great respect, they ask super questions and can remember information from the weeks before, Mrs Smith is really impressed with them. Good job!
This week was the final week of Beekeeping Club as we break up for half term and it is time to put the bees to bed for winter. As it was our last time disrupting the hive we had lots of jobs to do.
The first thing we had to do was add more hot water to the crystallised sugar to make it syrup again. The bees are obviously enjoying eating the syrup and when Mrs Smith did an inspection at the weekend she found that they had 8 frames of stores (honey). This is super news as it means they will hopefully have enough food to see them through the winter. However, she will continue to visit them every month to check on their food supplies.
Once we had fed them we had to insulate the hive to protect it from the predictable wind, rain and possible freezing temperatures we will endure over the next few months. The children helped Mrs Smith measure the polystyrene around the hive as she cut it to size. Polystyrene is an excellent source of insulation as it is not only water proof but will keep the heat in as well. Bees keep themselves warm in the winter by huddling together in the middle of the hive and constantly wiggling and fanning their wings. The most important job of the hive is to keep the Queen alive, so she will always be at the centre of the cluster. However, a large portion of the colony will not survive the winter and this is something we need to be prepared for when we re-open the hive in spring.
We opened the hive one last time so the children could see some honey on the frames. We also scraped off a little bee wax for the children to handle and feel. Hopefully, next year we will be able to make candles out of the wax if we have enough.
Mrs Smith would like to say a big THANK YOU to all the beekeepers for their fantastic behaviour and interest in beekeeping. Hopefully they feel inspired to look after the bees and the environment as best they can.