Northwestern Students Learn from Bee Stingz

By Chris Fischer
Posted 4/24/24

On Wednesday, April 17th, Northwestern Biology students donned beekeeping suits, hats, and gloves. It was time to check on their bee colonies after the winter. Phil Breed, a beekeeping technician …

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Northwestern Students Learn from Bee Stingz


On Wednesday, April 17th, Northwestern Biology students donned beekeeping suits, hats, and gloves. It was time to check on their bee colonies after the winter.
Phil Breed, a beekeeping technician with Dordt University in Sioux Center, IA, led the group. He was involved as a part of Bee Stingz, a program funded by the USDA. The aim of the program was to get Gen Z students interested in honeybees and pollination.
The focus was on involving Northwestern’s freshmen, as they’d still be around the school for a few years. They could oversee the colonies’ growth. Science teacher Denise Clemens said that a couple of 8th graders had helped to set things up for the day. Also, a bee club at the highschool was available for anyone to join.
Clemens noted that she’d seen some bees around the last time that she’d come by. But that had been before the last cold spell. It was difficult to say whether the colonies had survived their first winter.
She explained that the school had been able to get some more beekeeping suits, so more students could participate hands-on. Last fall, the school had received some bees with help of Spencer Cody at Edmunds Central. They received 2 hives, colonies, and equipment. A quiet spot in Northville was found for the bee boxes.
About 6 students at a time entered the bee area, with Breed and Clemens. Breed had the students take turns with tasks such as holding the smoker, moving boxes, and checking hives. Halfway through, the students switched, and a new set of students donned the beekeeper suits.
Throughout, the students were engaged in the process. They seemed to really be learning from Breed. Meanwhile, other students milled about the area, clearing out large tree limbs, or making plans.

The students are expected to come up with plans for a pollinator garden. Space for a large garden has been cleared near the bee boxes. The garden will be for the benefit of bees and other pollinators. Plants will be selected to support pollination in all seasons.
According to Smithsonian Gardens, pollinators include bees, hummingbirds, beetles, butterflies, flies, moths, and even the wind. Bats may also be pollinators. A pollinator basically acts as a go-between. They help to spread pollen from one plant to another, which enables certain plants to reproduce.
Pollinators need habitat. Human activity, among other things, can disrupt this. That is one reason for the focus on building up habitat for the pollinators.
Exactly what is needed varies according to the type and species.
Clemens said that last year they had two colonies, and 1 did well. They were able to taste honey made from clover. One student said that it was “delicious,” and like gum. Clemens likened it to wax candy.
Breed, guiding the students in checking on the bees, reminded them “Don’t let the queen in the honey box.” She might lay eggs in the honey – which would cause all sorts of trouble. Queen bees get fed their own special food; they don’t eat small bits of honey like the other bees do.
No bees were found in the top layers. Breed explained that a strong, healthy colony could survive a cold winter, as long as they were left enough food. This would have been 100-120 lbs of honey. The bees could generate warmth: they would cluster around their queen, and vibrate their wing muscles to create heat. The temperature would be 62 degrees in the hive in winter. In summer, it would get to 95 degrees, which would encourage the queen to start laying eggs. Breed noted that if there wasn’t enough food, or if there weren’t enough surviving bees to create the needed heat, the colony wouldn’t make it. Also, if the colony was not healthy, it wouldn’t be able to generate the needed heat.
The students checked each box and hive. Breed held a special scraper tool, which he used to lift separate boxes, and to scrape off wax. He showed the students a video of himself with his own bees. He wasn’t wearing a veil or gloves. He explained that bees only attack if they feel threatened. Because the bees would not be used to the students yet, a bee smoker was used. Breed explained that the smoke masked bee pheromones, and helped to keep bees calm.
So, how did the hive fare?
Not so well. Clemens said that they will get more bees. (These come via mail. A “nuke” contains a queen and 5 frames of bees.) She said that she is “learning to be a bee person.” She planned to keep on doing this.
Clemens got the idea for the school to have bees after she attended a workshop. She said that she thought it was “a good idea to try.” After harvesting honey last fall, she thought the school could “dive in” and make the activity bigger. They could have honey, and also emphasize the importance of pollinators.
Breed said that in a healthy box of bees, when you take off the lid, the top should be full of bees, “boiling.” He explained that the hive is the bees’ home. “They want to be there.”
He said that South Dakota is the 2nd leading producer of honey in the United States. The top producer is North Dakota.
“Without pollinators, there’d be a third less of our food source.” he said. “You like tacos? With no pollinators, you’d be left with a cornshell, maybe a tablespoon of meat, and a little shredded cheese. Do you like pizza? Fruits and vegetables, you could kiss goodbye!” he added.