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Students learn about Bee-Haviors

By Staff | Oct 25, 2019

-Farm News photo by Karen Schwaller MARLENE BOERNSEN of Boernsen Bees near Ocheyedan manages the bee hive at Sacred Heart School in Spencer. Here, she talks about the ‘pecking order’ of the hive as she talks about how a queen bee comes to reign,and how worker bees get the job done.



SPENCER-Students at Sacred Heart School in Spencer are learning all about bees firsthand this year, with the acquisition of an observation bee hive located within the school.

Kay Rose, former cook at the school, found out about a grant from the Bee Cause Project and brought it to officials at the school. They took it and ran with it once they applied for and received some of that grant money.

The Bee Cause Project partners with the Whole Foods Foundation. They granted Sacred Heart School $200 to purchase a beekeeper’s suit, starter equipment, a beekeeper’s kit and interactive posters. In exchange, older school students will care for the environmental and nutritional needs of the bees under the guidance of beekeeper and mentor, Marlene Boernsen of Boernsen Bees near Ocheyedan.

Boernsen installed four frames of bees at the school on May 30, along with four extra frames installed with Queen bees.

“I’m hoping this becomes an important educational tool for all of the students,” said Sheriffa Jones, director of stewardship and development for Sacred Heart School and Parish. “We currently have children as young as two years old through sixth grade on our campus, so it’s an important way to educate them about the importance of nature, being respectful to nature, not being afraid of bees and understanding the importance that bees and other pollinators have.”

Jones said the Bee Cause Project has online curriculum that relates to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, which she said makes it easy for teachers to use the information in their classrooms.

Boernsen makes herself available to work with the bees and teach about them.

The hives, which look like large glass-sided rectangular frames hanging from the wall, plainly show the bees networking with other bees, making the combs and flying in and out of the hive through a pipe that was bored into the brick wall of the school, leading outside. They can fly in and out without disturbing anyone.

Science behind bees

“I’ll watch and see how they’re building their comb,” said Boernsen. “If they get too much honey they’ll probably swarm, so I would come and remove some of the honey and put in new frames of combs so she (Queen bee) can just keep laying…if they get too crowded they rear a new Queen in the colony.”

Boernsen said a percentage of new Queens don’t succeed because they have to take their mating flight out; if they get eaten by a dragonfly or a Barn Swallow, it’s over. She said once the bee colony rears a new Queen they can’t rear another one because there are no eggs with which to work.

She said Queen bees are reared out of one-day-old worker bee larvae that has been ‘fed’ lots of ‘royal jelly’ – a gel-like substance bees produce that is high in nutrition. A Queen bee emerges after 16 days. Typically, Boernsen said bees will produce six to 12 Queen bee possibilities, but the first one to emerge is usually the Queen. The rest of the ‘Queen possibilities will be killed within the hive.

Boernsen said flower nectar goes into a special ‘bee stomach,’ mixes with an enzyme they have, and when they get to the hive they pass it to a receiving bee, which puts it into the ‘cell.’

“Nectar is runny, so, if there was all nectar in the frame you could shake it and it would drip out,” she said, adding that the bees ‘fan’ it and dry it down to 18 percent moisture, then cap it with a wax-like substance, and it keeps forever-it never spoils. The honey they make is used for their own nutrition.

“God created them to make more than they can use, so we get some,” she said, adding that the ‘honey flow’ – or the time bees have to gather the nectar they need to make their honey-lasts only about six weeks in these parts, finishing in early August. Fall flowers are left for bees to live off of throughout the winter.

Importance of bees

Clay County Naturalist Bree Blom teaches environmental education, and said this is another piece to that education for the students at Sacred Heart. She teaches different things to different age groups, including team building, adaptations of bees, importance of bees, etc.

“In first grade they talk about where their food comes from and the bee’s role in our food production,” said Blom. “We can go see the hive and talk about that-I can tell them that bees help make watermelon.”

Boernsen added that a third of food consumed by humans needs a pollinator.

“Of that one-third, 80 percent needs honey bees,” said Boernsen, adding that other pollinators include butterflies, bats, bumble bees, dragonflies, etc. She said a bee’s favorite colors are yellow, purple and white, and the prefer very small flowers. Local bees travel two to three miles to find flowers.

She said a bee shortage has existed for 10 years since it has been identified.

Blom said she and the team of teachers at Sacred Heart are teaching kids not to be afraid if they see a bee.

“We want them to develop their sense of curiosity and wonder about bees, rather than just swatting them away,” said Blom. “For example, we have a natural fear of snakes-but do we really hate them, or do they just startle us? Kids learn from adults-and their attitudes come from how we as adults interact. Kids here will see the bees every day.”

Blom said she has received interest from public schools about this bee program. Sacred Heart School had more than 100 children seeing them and learning about them throughout the summer as part of the school’s summer daycare program.

The notion of an observation hive is unusual, with the only other similar hives being located in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, St. Louis, Mo., western Nebraska and South Dakota. Jones said the Bee Cause Project is observed in all 50 states.

Blom said they hope to help students understand the life cycle of bees and give them a healthy respect for what they do.

“We want to help kids (people) start to show appreciation for them and have a little bit of love for bees instead of fear,” she said. “We want people to respect them and what they do for our food production in terms of their pollination abilities. We need bees-they are part of our culture and our world. Without bees, our lives would not be too great.”

Boernsen said things like pumpkin pie, avocados, cocoa beans and chocolate would not be part of life if not for bees. Their bees move to California every winter from November until March, to pollinate almond groves.

Jones said the students and very young children at Sacred Heart are “over the moon” about the bee project, and that they have high hopes for this unusual component of education.

More about the Bee Cause Project can be found online at ‘thebeecauseproject.org.’

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