By Beth Guzzetta
Fall has arrived and with it the scent of apple pies and pumpkin spice lattes. However, the apples and pumpkins that we are craving were not self-reliant during their early months of formation. No, not at all! In order to pollinate, they relied heavily on the numerous insects that started buzzing around actively in the spring. Allendale Columbia School students, too, began buzzing in activities to support the bees and, in the process, learn about life cycles, environmental impacts, and bees’ role in our food systems.
During that spring, flowers were blossoming, and you were probably thinking, “Go away you irritating bug; I want to enjoy the beautiful flowers.” But you probably were not thinking about the fact that those irritating insects were spreading pollen so the flowers can continue with their life cycle. Without those marvelous yet occasionally annoying creatures, we wouldn’t have as many delicious fresh fruits and vegetables at our AC lunches. The salivating scents of apple delicacies certainly would not have become as abundant or a tradition that we so look forward to as the leaves begin to change colors.
If you’re still reading and have not left to find a warm piece of apple pie yet, I’d like to tell you about an amazing project that I started at AC during The Buds and The Bees May Term class last spring due to the gracious donation and support of the Pinkowski family. For one and a half weeks, Middle and Upper School students joined together to create an apiary on campus for everyone to enjoy.
Students split into areas of interest during this time, working to develop the foundation of this project. They had much to accomplish in a short period of time, but their high motivation and interested was like a continuously fueled fire that kept them energized and engaged. Prior to the actual start of May Term, students had to prepare the hive by weatherproofing it with many layers of polyurethane and/or tung oil.
Once May Term began, students worked diligently with Gabe Costanzo to prepare the school garden by weeding a plot of land and choosing flowers that honeybees prefer. They visited Lucas Greenhouses to gather more information from the very friendly botanists and to pick out their chosen flowers that Lucas Greenhouses generously donated. They planted their flowers in the prepared plot.
Other students created a sturdy stand to hold the hive and keep it from tilting or falling over, especially during periods of high winds. They designed, sawed, drilled, and assembled the stand, and then leveled an area and set pavers for the stand to rest on. Other students needed to “seed” the bars and tack down the bars in the hive boxes so the honey bees would quickly start building honeycomb across them. Another group researched aspects of honey bees and honey, then wrote a book that even included some recipes that contain honey. Once the garden and hive were ready, we introduced our honeybees.
We purchased our bees from Wolf Creek Farms in Tennessee because they have very healthy and docile honeybees that are a mix of Russian, Italian, and Carniolin genetics and have never been treated with chemicals. Michael VanEdwards, a local beekeeper who is educating me as I teach my students about beekeeping, picked up our six pounds of bees and drove them to AC so that they arrived healthy, happy, and hungry. With his help, the students introduced the thousands of bees to their new home. Needless to say, they stuck around due to the yummy homemade nectar that included amino acids and essential oil that we fed them in the first few days, making honeycomb right from the start.
Through the summer and fall, Michael, AC students, and I have been checking on the hive and all of its activity, especially for mites and beetles that can be devastating to honeybee colonies. Luckily the hive is healthy and happy! Naturally, the bees swarmed a bit late and stole some of the honey, so the students began a feeding schedule in September to boost the bees’ honey production so they are able to maintain their colony through the cold winter months that are quickly arriving. Students have been actively learning about their colony and honey bees in general and visiting the hive daily in full beekeeper regalia. They have also been monitoring our swarm in the hope that they too survive the winter and possible come back to a second hive that we plan on installing in the spring.
In the fall and winter, the Middle School students will continue their honeybee research in Seventh Grade Science and Sixth and Eighth Grade Math. They will install BroodMinder bluetooth connected monitors that will allow them to monitor the hive weight and temperature so they can measure their hive’s health and share their data with other beekeepers. Data analysis on our hive, as well as the data entered by other beekeepers nationwide, will help them stay connected and engaged with the dynamics of their honeybee activity. They will also team up with Lower School students to teach them about the honeybees, possibly collaborating cross-divisionally to write the first AC Honeybee book.
Through their involvement this project, students are connecting more with nature and beginning to notice and wonder about other types of beneficial insects that abound in nature. They are paying closer attention to other environmental phenomena, such as weather patterns, plant life cycles, chemicals such as pesticides and their impact on honey bees and other pollinators, food sources, and so much more. Through this increased awareness and engagement, they are being transformed and inspired to make positive sustainable life changes. They are inspiring others to do the same by acting as nature’s stewards.
So if you see a group of large walking marshmallows on campus, stop and say hello and ask them about the sweet work that they are doing. I am sure that they would be happy to engage with you and educate you about their flying community members that live across the creek.
Elizabeth GuzzettaBeth, AC's Lucius and Marie Gordon Chair in Science and NY State Finalist for the 2016-17 Presidential Awards for Excellence In Science Teaching, has taught mathematics, science, and computer courses at the middle school, high school, and college levels in addition to private tutoring for 29 years. She has also coached Varsity boys and girls soccer and Modified softball and basketball. Beth has coached Odyssey of the Minds, helping one team receive second in the world, and enjoys bringing students on domestic and international academic and cultural experiences. She holds a bachelor's degree in Mathematics from St. John Fisher College as well as a master's degree in Education from Curry College, and brings experience from an international exchange program in Wales.
Posted in: Authentic Learning, Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Highlights, Invent, Middle School, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade