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Bee education a top priority at Lake Manassas apiary

After spending a quarter studying ecology and reading and writing on the novel “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd, about 20 students in CLEAR classes for middle and high homeschooled students visited an apiary at Lake Manassas.

They learned about bee behavior and were able to get a close look at the lives of bees.

Louise Edsall is a beekeeper and an educator with Sweet Virginia Foundation. The organization provides hands-on experiences to educate students on the importance of bees in our lives and/ or livelihood as well as encourage more people to engage in the art and science of beekeeping.

It would amaze many people who live on Linton Hall and Vint Hill Roads just how many hives are located in our area in an effort to keep honeybees pollinating in our growing urbanized area.

Edsall spends time with the Hive Alive program, which is outreach to local classrooms. She takes a mobile version to classrooms so that students in public and private school classrooms can observe bees through an observation hive, learn about the honeybees’ role in pollination, discuss their modes of communication, learn about their life cycle, learn the anatomy of flowers and make crafts to help with the honeybee population.

Throughout the unit and during their visit to the apiary, the students from CLEAR classes learned the importance of bees to their lives and to their ability to eat healthy foods.

The apiary is located on a peninsula in Lake Manassas. Through some discussion and hands on activities, the students learned even more about the nature of bees.

Edsall engaged them as the high school students put on bee glasses to demonstrate the role of drones as they discussed the hierarchy of the hive and how a hive splits by selecting a new queen and sending the old queen and part of the hive out to build a new home.

There is a field of flowers for the apiary’s honeybees to forage. The flowers are donated to hospices and churches to help lift people’s spirits. Last year, 32,000 flowers were donated.

Edsall learned about bees when she was just a child. As an adult, she again became interested in bees while in Australia.

Currently, she is part of Prince William Regional Beekeepers, which has a bee school where people can learn beekeeping and receive bees upon graduation.

The organization launched the program at the apiary in late fall, hoping to reach the next generation of people to be more educated about the importance of the role bees play in our ecology and in our world. She told the students that with every third bite that we take, we can thank a honeybee for that food.

Discussions included various types of pollinators, including honeybees, bats, butterflies, ants and wasps.
Edsall told the students that “insects rule the world” and that they should “be kind to them” instead of trying to get rid of them.

As many gardeners know, those insects are important. This time of year, flowers are blooming and many of them need those pesky insects. For example, we wouldn’t see those beautiful peony blooms without those ants crawling on them.

Edsall discussed the queen who gets served by the other bees and fed royal jelly and that the beehive is truly a woman’s world, to which a student insisted that she wanted to be a queen bee.

However, Edsall reminded the students that the queen’s sole purpose is to lay eggs, up to 1500 a day. The males in the hives are drones that have short lives and get dragged out of the hive after their duties are done.

The students also learned that the current hive keeping system was developed in the 1880s and facts about the amazing mathematical and scientific things bee do by instinct.

For example, there are 10 million hexagons in a hive and built so that the honey does not spill out.

Edsall shared facts of personal interest such as baby bees are cute and fuzzy and a “raindrop is like a bomb” for bees as they can’t fly in rain.

Students played a game with pollination and made seed balls to take home and plant to invite bees to forage. They demonstrated the waggle and round dances and learned how bees communicate how far away forged material is from the hive.

When attacked, bees gather together and vibrate to raise their body temperatures to kill their predators. Bees can live up to 118 degrees. Edsall discussed wasps in Japan that attack honeybees, but the wasps can only live up to 116 degrees. Therefore, bees raise their body temperatures to protect themselves.

Edsall also mentioned colony collapse disorder, which the students had discussed in class. Colony collapse reduces the number of honeybees as well as mites that are destroying hives and the lack of forage plants in urbanized areas.
Probably everyone’s favorite part of the day was when students put on beekeeping suits and visited hives to see what bees really do.

Bees are busy this time of year and really didn’t care that the students were around.

Edsall pulled out bees, and they flew around the students as the students looked inside the hive and watched the bees at work. Many students loved having the bees climb on their fingers as they wore their protective clothing; many expressed interest in becoming beekeepers and attending bee school.

A student who is very afraid of bees even had an opportunity to see a demonstration hive up close and alleviate her fear of bees a bit.

While visiting the apiary, students had lunch on the grounds, and Edsall invited them to see a swarm in one of the trees. The number of bees in the swarm in the high tree was amazing, but the students were not afraid of being stung as they knew honeybees had better things to do.

For Edsall, beekeeping is definitely art and science. She enjoys and is amazed by the abilities of the honeybee and its contribution to life on Earth. However, she admits that it becomes a very spiritual act as she connects with the bees.

The apiary is only open for education purposes but not for individual visits; however, groups wishing to learn more about bees are welcomed. Edsall enjoys visiting classrooms and can bring her mobile unit that meets many SOLs. This spring, she was very busy attending classrooms and local events in many counties.

More information is available at or emailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to set up an education event.

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