MUSCATINE, Iowa–Since 2014, Muscatine High School’s agriculture students have had the opportunity to learn about pollinators first hand through a collection of six beehives at the Agricultural Learning Center set up with assistance from Jim Hagerty and the Kids First Fund. This year, students continued the tradition of raising bees and harvesting honey by releasing a new swarm of bees into one of the boxes April 9.
Because of prolonged cold temperatures last winter, many area bee keepers found that their colonies did not survive. When Muscatine High School Agriculture teachers Josh Day and Sam Paul first checked the Ag Center’s hives in the spring, they found no activity in five of them. To make matters worse, a rodent appeared to have gotten into some of the hives.
Though loosing so many bees always feels disappointing, Day and Paul knew they could use the empty hives as an opportunity for their Agriculture Two and Advanced Animal Science classes to learn about how to start a new bee colony and how to safely work with bees. They ordered two pounds of young Italian honey bees, which amounted to about 10,000 individual insects. To ensure the bees survived the shipping process, the teachers ordered them from a company in Georgia. Bees shipped from California often have a poorer survival rate.
After a day of practice, students in Advanced Animal Science assisted their teachers in releasing the new bee colony and their queen into the hive. Senior Audrey Seibel explained, “about seven of us were up close–the rest watched from a distance.”
During the bee release, students wore protective bee keeping clothing and used smoke to calm the bees, which prevented anyone from getting stung. They carefully shook the bees into the new hive, which they had already filled with special frames for the bees to begin laying eggs and making honey in. “They don’t have to start all over,” explained junior Napoleon Marquez. “They have a wax mold to use.”
The students also placed the colony’s new queen into the hive. In order to help the bees accept the queen gradually, she arrived packed in her own separate box with the opening blocked by a marshmallow. As the bees ate through the marshmallow, Audrey explained, they would become familiar with her scent and more readily accept her.
Within about a week, the students thought that the bees would have started settling in to their new hive. They will continue to tend them over the summer and then see how much honey they produced. “Hopefully, if it’s a good summer, we’ll be able to collect in the fall and the ag students will do that too,” remarked Day. To keep the colony thriving for years to come, students will leave honey in the lower portions of the hives to use in future winters.