Most have us have been stung by a wasp or bee at some point in our lives, and many of us have an innate fear of flying insects with stingers. Personally, I was stung almost every year of my life between about the ages of 5 and 18. It never swayed me from spending all my free time outside, but I did cower at the familiar buzzing sound of nearby wasps.
At Fiddleheads Forest School we are lucky enough to be a short walking distance from an apiary located in the UW Botanic Gardens’ pollination garden. We inquired with the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association (PSBA), who manages and maintains the apiary, if they’d be able to come teach us about the bees. On May 29th & 30th Elaina Jorgensen from the PSBA taught both Fiddleheads Forest School classes all about bees. She affectionately became known as “The Bee Lady” and her enthusiasm was contagious. As we settled down on the grass in front of the garden Elaina put her hand in her shirt pocket and said, “Can you guess what I have in here?” as she slowly pulled out a small jar with a queen bee inside! She showed the bee around and told us that this bee was just a few hours old, it had just been born. Then she reached into her other pocket and pulled out another queen bee and this one was only a few minutes old!
When we asked what their favorite part of the bee lesson was, the kids responded with:
- Holding the boy bee (drone bee)
- Seeing the queen bees
- Watching baby bees hatch in the observation hive
- Learning about bee predators
My favorite part of the experience? Seeing all the kids dress up as little beekeepers:
These lessons immediately inspired dramatic play involving all the kids and the teachers too. As we were walking away from the pollination garden to the nearby vegetable garden to wait for parents, kids were choosing their roles in the hive. Once we got to the vegetable garden some kids curled up as larva bees, other kids took on the role of nurse bees to care for the larva and another set of kids took off as worker bees to collect pollen and nectar for the hive. The queen bees established themselves in different areas (for different hives) and the nurse bees brought them food too. This imaginative hive scene has returned day after day back at the Forest Grove. Now, larva bees change and grow into nurse bees, the nurse bees change into worker bees and so on. Comb structures have been built for the baby bees to be in and also to make honey in.
The kids asked Elania if bees have any predators because we’ve been experiencing a lot of predator/prey relationships with our owl family feeding their 4(!) new babies and observing our praying mantises hunt (all for a future blog post). The Bee Lady told us about bears, wasps, and birds. Guess what stuck with the kids? BEARS! So now some kids choose to be bears that raid the hives of honey every once in a while. The kid-bees know that bees only sting once and then they die so they do a lot of buzzing and chasing of the bear, but very little stinging. This is an aspect of the bee-play that feels heavily informed by the bee lesson because pre-bee lesson all the kids could talk about was how bees sting.
One of the big take-a-ways for all of us is that the girl bees (nurses, workers, and queen bees) are the ones with stingers. The daddy bees (drones) do not have stingers. During the lesson we got to hold a daddy bee and for those of us with some bee-fear this was quite exhilarating! The kids have been teaching everyone they can what they learned, but this key fact – that there are bees without stingers – is most often shared.
The UW Botanic Gardens’ Pollination Garden is located at the Washington Park Arboretum just behind the greenhouses south of the Graham Visitor Center. The hives are maintained and managed by the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association. We’re lucky to have such hard working pollinators on site and an incredibly valuable educational resource.
Puget Sound Beekeepers Association (PSBA) was founded in 1948 and exists to promote common interest and general welfare of beekeeping, to protect honey bees, to educate beekeepers, encourage good bee management practices, and to encourage good relations between beekeepers and the public. If you’re interested in learning more about what they’re all about check out their website.
Thank you Elaina (aka The Bee Lady) for taking the time to teach us all about BEES!