Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Honeybees are in the news a lot these days, and it seems like everyone wants to know more about beekeeping. Recently, I was approached by an acquaintance about the possibility of bringing a friend and their children out to visit the beeyard.
My husband and I are both teachers, and love the idea of sharing what we know about beekeeping with others. But it also takes some planning to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable visit. The goal is to educate people about honey bees, and to make sure they have a good experience. We wanted our visitors to leave our beeyard excited about bees and beekeeping. Because children were visiting, there were a few additional things we thought we should keep in mind. It is good to keep explanations and information short and simple, because if you talk too long, young minds will wander. Making it as hands on as possible is also a good idea - if there is anything that the kids can help you with, let them!
The first thing we decided we needed were veils for everyone. We have 18 beehives in our beeyard, which means lots of bee traffic. Even thought it wasn’t likely, we didn’t want anyone to have a bad experience because of a bee sting. We were able to repair a few old veils, and borrow some “bug shirts” that have a built in screened hood. I also let our guests know ahead of time to wear long pants and long sleeved shirts.
The next step was to plan what activities, and which hives we would like to show our guests. The grouchy hive near the back? Probably not the best choice to introduce people to beekeeping with! We decided that we would do an inspection of a hive that we started this year. The hive is gentle, short enough that children could look into it, and close to the fence. It is also not directly in the “flight path” that most of the bees take when leaving the yard to fly out over the neighboring field. If anyone was nervous about walking into the beeyard itself they could still stand near the fence so we could show them some of the frames. We also decided to remove a super of honey from another hive so they could see how we actually get honey from the hive. We put an escape board on that hive the day before the scheduled visit.
The morning of the visit, we brought everything we needed out to the beeyard, so we wouldn’t be making trips back and forth to the house. We also made sure to disconnect the electric fence around the yard!
When our guest arrived, they were very excited to see the beehives. We took them out near the beeyard, and spent just a couple of minutes giving them some background information such as how long we had been beekeeping, how many hives we have, where we get our bees, etc.
We then asked them who would like to go look inside the hive. All five children and one adult said they would like to. The other adults were happy to stand just outside the fence to take pictures. We helped everyone to get veils on, and explained that while honeybees are very gentle, and really don’t want to sting you, the veils are “just in case”.
Then it was time to light the smoker. Kids LOVE this part! We did the lighting, but let the kids take turns “puffing” it. While we were doing this, we explained why we use a smoker when going into a beehive.
Before we went into the beeyard, we told everyone that they needed to know a little bit about “bee etiquette”. We explained that you never wave your arms or swat at the bees, because it makes them nervous. We also explained that it’s ok to stand to the side or back of the beehive, but that you should never stand right in front of it – that it’s sort of like someone standing right in front of your door when you are trying to walk in or out. Not very polite! The kids seemed to really get it when we told them that in a beeyard, you should move like you are underwater – slow and steady.
We smoked the entrance of our gentle hive, and got everyone gathered around the back and sides of the hive. We took off the outer and inner covers, and had everyone look in the top. We pointed out how the gentle the bees are, and how they weren’t even bothered by us opening them up. The top super was mostly full of honey, so they were able to see what that looked like. We also pointed out the drones and worker bees, including some that were bringing in pollen.
The next super down had a lot of brood. We pulled some frames, and showed them the eggs, larvae, and capped brood. Everyone was very interested, and asked a lot of good questions about what they were seeing. We then closed up that hive, and moved on to the hive that we were removing honey from. Because we had previously placed an escape board under the super, there were almost no bees up top. We had the kids help by handing them frames of honey to place in an empty super after we had brushed any remaining bees off of them.
When we were finished with the beeyard, we moved into the house to show them how we get the honey out of the frames. They got to see the uncapping plane, uncapping tank, and extractor. We knew it wouldn’t be a visit to the beeyard without tasting some honey, so we made sure we had some honey sticks on hand for everyone. We thought that would be the least messy way for the kids to enjoy a sweet treat!
From what we could see, the kids had a great time in the beeyard. They seemed interested, engaged, and asked many great questions. We got a nice thank you card from them a few days later. We really enjoyed having them visit, and would be happy to have visitors of all ages again!
Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband Keith.
Photo by Thomas Ford