Learning about bees

Louisa County High School student Alexis Fickes, at left, helps Chef Ben Howell combine two beehives in the school’s apiary into one as they search for the queen bee.

Students at Louisa County High School are getting hands-on lessons in beekeeping at their apiary.

Located behind the school, the apiary is home to 11 hives and around 300,000 honeybees. Culinary Arts teacher Ben Howell is using the bees to teach lessons on a variety of different topics, from biology to social structures to the importance of pollinators like honeybees.

The most important lesson Howell is teaching, though, is that honeybees aren’t scary.

“A lot of people, when they think of bees, they think of yellow jackets or hornets or wasps, but those aren’t even bees,” he said. “They’re in their own family. Honeybees are in the same family as bumblebees and they’re really docile.”

It’s the kind of lesson that Howell has found is best taught in a hands-on way.

“When [students] see me down here and I grab a handful of bees, or I pick up a drone, which doesn’t sting, and put it in someone’s hand, you see their hand shaking, but all of a sudden the intrigue takes over and their hand stops shaking. That’s the coolest takeaway,” he said.

“If I can get a bee in their hands and not have them swatting and flailing, then they’re much more eager to come here and experience what we’re doing.”

It’s an approach that has worked with several students, including Abigail Pierce, who went into the apiary for the first time last week.

“I thought I was going to get stung a million times, but if you just let them do their thing, you have nothing to worry about,” she said.

Some honey has been harvested from the hives and used in Howell’s culinary arts classes, but Howell says his main concern is the health of the bees and the impact they’ll have on the ecosystem around the school. The bees fly as far away as three miles to find food, pollinating a variety of plants along the way. The bees will help farmers and gardeners in that area.

Howell hopes to expand the apiary to as many as 20 hives, including an observation hive to allow students who aren’t comfortable getting close to bees to still be able to see what’s going on inside.

“I’d like to get to a point where we’re self-sufficient and making our own bees,” Howell said.

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