Highburton CE (VC) First School

Bee Diary 2018

September - November

Bee Club meet every Tuesday after school to learn about the lives of bees. We explore what they need to live, how they survive and how they make honey.

The children get to work with the bees ask questions and do all sorts of things to help the bees survive.

 Part 1

As the majority of the new beekeepers had never been to club before we spent the first session going over safety rules and how we behave around the hive. We also practised putting our suits on and giving each other safety checks. It is important to make sure the zips are closed properly and the velcro is secured. The children were very excited and behaved extremely well in the area. They listened carefully to the expectations and all took the suit safety check seriously. 

Well done new Bee Keepers!

Part 2

 This week we went to Bee Corner, discussed the rules and decided it was time to meet the bees! The children worked nicely getting their suits on and remembered all the safety rules. We then went to the fence surrounding the hive. Mrs Smith reiterated how the children should behave around the colony. They were told how important it is to stand to the side or the back of the hive, making sure they do not block the bees doorway to the hive. They are expected to listen at all times, wait patiently and to walk calmly in the surrounding area. 

Once the rules had been explained Mrs Smith allowed a couple of children into Bee Corner with her as she opened the hive. Before the lid was taken off the children guessed how many bees they thought might be in the hive, some guesses were 150, 700, 1500 and the largest number being 2000. The children were shocked when they realised that at the height of summer an average hive will have around 50,000 bees in it! As it is now September we expect the hive to have a little less, but not by too much. When the children saw all the bees moving around they were quite shocked! "It's so loud!" some of them said.

Mrs Smith explained that the hive has 11 frames in it, each of which will have cells (eggs), brood (babies) or honey on them. If the children were feeling brave enough they were able to hold the frames. Each frame has hundreds of bees on it all moving around. Many fly off to fly around or land on the children's suits. They all behaved extremely calmly - even if some felt a little nervous. 

A very successful first trip!

Part 3

This week was an extra special week. We had a visit from an experienced beekeeper called Saeed who helped us harvest all the honey from last season. 

Saeed kindly brought his equipment with him, explained to the children what needed doing and they had a go at every stage.

Last years frames had been wrapped in cling film and stored in a freezer since August. Mrs Smith had taken the frames out of the freezer a couple of days before Bee Club so they could defrost ready for extracting.

The first thing we had to do was remove the cling film from the full frames, we then used a honey knife to carefully remove the caps off the honey. The children worked in pairs to remove the caps, one child held the frame while the other slowly and carefully ran the knife over the top layer of wax. The wax was then put into a tub to be collected and strained for any excess honey.

Once all the frames had been scraped and the wax had been removed from both sides they were put into the extractor machine. This is a large tumbler style drum with a handle on the outside for turning. The drum can hold up to 4 frames and as the handle is turned the frames spin around and the honey flies off to the side of the drum. 

The wax was then placed in a top compartment of the drum which had a sieve allowing any honey to slowly drip through to the main part of the drum. We left the honey in the drum for a week before releasing the plug and allowing it to drain into the container.

It was wonderful to watch the process and we were all shocked at just how much honey we had!

Part 4

This week we did our first inspection of the hive. It was very exciting to introduce the children to the different types of bee and let them have a closer look at our colony.

Every hive has one queen, thousands of workers (girls) and under 200 drones (boys). Once you know the difference between each type it is easy to spot the difference and by the end of the first session the children were eagerly pointing out workers and drones. Worker bees are the smallest in the hive and drones are much larger. Drones are hairy and fatter than worker bees so stand out quite clearly. The queen bee is much larger than all other bees with a long body and a pointy end. As there is only one queen amongst thousands of others she can be quiet hard to see so beekeepers put a coloured spot on her back. This not only makes her easier to find it also makes it easy for beekeepers to identify which year she was born. This information is useful to age the queen as well as reassuring the beekeeper it is the same queen as before.

It is important to inspect the hive weekly to make sure we can find the queen as without her the hive would not survive. The other things we need to check for every week are brood and stores. Brood is babies and stores is honey. Both of these things are stored in the frames so we need to mark down how many frames have brood and stores on. We record this every week to keep track of their progress. The children did a great job of behaving, listening and spotting everything we needed to. It was a very successful inspection and it was especially exciting for the children to see the queen!

 Not only did we inspect the hive but we added some varroa fondant to try and keep the bees safe from the vermin varroa mite. 

After the inspection we went back to school to sample some of the yummy honey we had extracted last week. We all enjoyed some on toast! Thank you bees!

Part 5

This week we went across to inspect the bees and just like last week the children all behaved extremely well, asking fabulous questions and treating the bees with respect. 

As we put the varroa fondant on last week we had to check if we had collected any varroa. Varroa is a mite that infests hives and can destroy whole colonies. It is a tiny mite that buries itself inside the egg of a bee, as it grows in the cell the bee either comes out deformed or dies. We placed a yellow board underneath the hive last week to collect any mite that fall from the hive. We took the board back to school after the inspection to take a closer look. Using magnifying glasses the children spotted a few varroa mite as well as other creatures which had fallen or climbed onto the board. It is fine to find a few varroa in the hive but important not to become overrun with them.

You can see a picture of varroa on a bee larva below.

Part 6

As the weather is getting worse Mrs Smith did the inspection one sunny lunch time and at bee club we were able to have a go at building frames in preparation for next season. This is quite a tricky job with lots of stages but the children worked nicely together and managed to make a frame per pair.

There are multiple steps to make the frames which include hammering nails, cutting the foundation and piecing the wood together. Foundation is the thin wax sheet that the bees can 'draw out' and build their cells on to store brood, pollen, nectar and honey. Once the frames were built the tricky part was 'posting' the foundation into place. As it is made of wax it moulds with heat and tears easily so the children had to be really careful when putting the sheets between the wood sides.

It was great to work as a team and do something nobody had done before - great job!


Part 7

This week we began preparing for selling the honey. We had been collecting jars for a while, Mrs Smith had washed them so it was time to remove the labels and design  our own label for Highburton Honey.

Each child worked hard to design a label they were happy with. Once they had finished Mrs Smith put the designs in the staff room for the staff to pick a favourite - which would become the label for Highburton Honey.


Well Done Gracie Town!!

Part 8

The final stage of preparing the jars of honey was to actually put the honey in the jar! The honey we had extracted at the beginning of the season had been carefully stored in a sterilised container and had solidified. This meant we had to spoon portions into a glass jug and heat it up so we could pour it carefully into the jars.

This was quite a long process and the children had to work as a team to hold the jar, pour the honey, wipe the jar and quickly put another jar under the flow of honey. We also spent time weighing the jars to work out how much honey will be in them and how much to sell them for. We looked at prices of other brands for the same weight and decided on our own prices. The children showed great maths skill working out an average and reaching their own conclusion.

Once we had filled all the jars and they had cooled we added the labels and they were ready for selling!

Well done Bee Keepers, this was our first adventure selling produce from the bees and it was a great success!