The Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram holds a kid’s summer camp each year where kids learn about yoga arts and nature in a beautiful setting at the mouth of Eldorado Canyon. This year, I offered to do some sessions to teach kids about bees and other pollinators and the problems they are encountering these days. The camp agreed, so every other Monday, I’m giving 4 half hour presentations to groups of kids ages 5-10.
Once the camp said yes, then I had to figure out what I was going to do with the kids. Being a geeky engineer, I don’t always relate to young kids very well. Fortunately, I work with some talented people through the Longmont Coalition for People and Pollinators (LCPP), who do presentations to kids all the time. One of the members has an observation hive that she brings to many events. She recently bought a new one and at our last event at a local farm, she had the kids paint the outside of the hive.
I’ve always wanted an observation hive of my own. The commercially available observation hives are all set up for Langstroth equipment, and since I have mostly top bar hives, I would have to build my own if I went that route. There are plenty of plans on the internet, but I was worried about the stability of a top bar frame during transport. I’ve broken off enough combs in my hive – I felt it would disastrous if that happened in an observation hive and I crushed the queen! Since I do have one Langstroth hive, I decided to purchase the same hive as my LCPP friend from Mann Lake. I like this particular hive because it has good secure latches so the bees are less likely to escape.
The first week I went to camp, I brought my friend’s observation hive with her bees, since it was the day after the farm event and her hive was already loaded up. I also brought some frames in varying stages of development in one of my cardboard nucleus hives, so I could explain how bees make comb, raise new bees and make honey.
It’s fun to see how much the kids know about bees already. I always start out asking them what they know about bees. One little girl knew the three body parts (head, thorax, abdomen), others had teachers or neighbors that were beekeepers so knew a bit already. Most of them think that bees are out to sting you, but I explain that bees only sting as a last resort since they’ll die when they do. It’s the wasps that sting most people.
I explain to the kids why bees and other pollinators (butterflies, moths, birds, beetles, wasps and flies) are important. I also explain that they are having problems from people using too many pesticides which either kill the pollinators outright, weaken them so they are susceptible to disease, and kill off or poison the plants that the pollinators need for healthy forage. I brought a bowl of fruits and vegetables that we wouldn’t have if there were no pollinators, each with a little sticker showing what pollinates them.
I had the younger kids make bees and butterflies out of pipe cleaners and when their attention waned, we did the bee breath pranayama to calm them down. I also brought some of my honey and gave them each a taste. But the thing that kept their interest the most was the bees in the observation hive. They all wanted to know where the queen was and unfortunately on this day, she was pretty elusive.
After watching the kids paint the hive at the farm event, and since the kids camp is an arts camp where they do a lot of painting, I thought that maybe the kids at camp would want to paint my hive. The camp director is an amazing artist and I was hoping maybe she’d be able to do some painting also. So, I brought my newly acquired hive and asked if they’d paint it and she said yes. This turned out to be more of a chore than either of us planned on. The kids have their own projects that they can take home and painting this was something extra that there really wasn’t time for. I felt bad that I dumped this on them, but in the end, it all worked out. I’m sure it took a whole lot of “Om Namah Shivayas”. Between the camp director, the kids and some of the talented staff, they got the sides painted! One side has Ganesha, pollinators and flowers, the other side has Buddha and the bees.
This week, I took my newly painted hive down to camp. I filled it with bees from the Left Hand Hive this time. The tricky thing was finding the queen. Ideally, you’d like to have her in the observation window because everyone wants to see the queen. I went through all ten combs the first time and then found her again looking at them all a second time. She was on some new comb which had mostly eggs and new larva and a cap of honey across the top. In the bottom, I put 5 frames of brood, honey and pollen.
It’s tricky to take a picture of the bees in the hive due to the reflection of the glass, but I got a good shot with the reflection of my bee yard in the window.
This week, I talked a bit more about the types of honey bees (queen, workers, drones) and what they all do. I explained that the queen lays the eggs and talk about the different stages that they go through in their development (egg, larva, pupa, bee). I tell them that most of the bees are girls (workers) and that they do all the work. I tell them that the boys (drones) are typical males – lying around the house, eating all the honey – the girls all like that. They only have one purpose in life – to mate with the queen. I always struggle with explaining what “mate” means with the little ones, but one little girl came up with the idea that they “marry the queen”. So, I’m going to use that from now on.
The queen was out and about laying eggs and the kids had fun finding the her. When I put the frame in, there was only one capped cell, but the bees had capped some of the larva cells overnight, so we got to see all the stages of development. All in all, I was happy with my first foray with the observation hive.
I’m looking forward to my two more events in July. I feel it’s important to teach kids why pollinators are important, the dangers pesticide pose to pollinators and that we need to make sure they have enough flowers and trees to provide them food so they’ll thrive. Hopefully they will realize that a perfectly green lawn is a food desert for pollinators and that they will let the occasional weed, just bee. My truck sums this up well.
I’m grateful to Faith, Aloki, Kalidasi and the campers for getting the hive painted, to Rajani for helping me set things up for each session, to all the camp leaders for spending time with the kids, and the kids for their inquisitiveness.