Imagine waking up at the crack of dawn during summer vacation to tend to a bunch of bees. Most kids would rather snooze another hour in their comfy beds than don a bee suit and head out to check their beehives. You’d have to be crazy to sacrifice any part of summer vacation for a hive full of buzzing insects, right?
Surprise! Plenty of kids and their parents are involved in beekeeping here in Tidewater. According to Hodgie Holgersen, president of the Tidewater Beekeepers Association, some kids involved in local beekeeping are up working in their beehives the moment the sun is out.
“It’s good to get into the beehive as soon as it’s warm,” Hodgie explained. “If it’s too hot, it may be too oppressive for you and the bees.”
Beekeeping teaches kids a variety of skills. Not only do they develop an appreciation for the role honeybees play in nature, but they can also develop entrepreneurial skills. Most importantly, they can have fun learning about one of nature’s most valuable creatures.
Joining a 4H beekeeping club is an entertaining and educational way for kids to learn more about nature. For example, kids learn about pollination and why honeybees are so important to many foods we enjoy—like apples, buckwheat, cucumbers, and pumpkins.
When honeybees leave the hive, they search for flowers to collect nectar to bring back to the hive so they can process it into honey. At the same time, they are pollinating our fruits and vegetables. Being directly involved in this natural process can be very exciting for kids.
Just ask Cheryl Brown, a leader of the Chesapeake 4H Honey Bee Club. “It’s fun learning with the kids and watching them absorb so much science,” she explained. “They learn how the honeybees pollinate flowers, collect nectar, collect pollen with static electricity, and, perhaps their favorite, how bees make honey through ‘bee barf!’”
For families wanting their own hives at home, Cheryl stressed the importance of mentorship. “Seek out a beekeeping group or a mentor,” she said. “There are some beekeeping clubs throughout the area. Certainly folks can find one that suits their needs.”
Jason and Melissa Mosher, who have been involved with beekeeping for a couple years, also believe education is the most important benefit from a 4H organization. In fact, their son, Mason, is president of the Foragers 4H Honey Bee Club.
“The goal of the organization is to educate the kids,” Jason said. “The kids should be able to produce sort of a science project at the end of the year. We want them to know and appreciate everything about beekeeping because they could be the next generation of beekeepers and farmers.”
Mason, 11, says the biggest lesson from beekeeping is appreciating all that bees contribute to nature. “They are very intelligent,” he said. He also added that honeybees just know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it when it comes to making honey.
The Foragers 4H Honey Bee Club requires the members to immerse themselves in their beekeeping projects. The kids are required to give presentations, attend meetings, participate in community events, and partake in fundraisers before they receive their own hives.
“They learn so much about nature, but kids are most interested in getting into the hive and handling the bees,” Hodgie said. “Getting up close and personal with the bees is the most important part in beekeeping, and kids enjoy it.”
He added that reading books recommended by the club is helpful, but hands-on education is crucial. “They can listen to lectures and watch YouTube videos, but most of the education comes from getting elbow deep in a hive inspection, for example, and observing them up close.”
In fact, Hodgie believes any kids who are terrified of bees won’t be once they suit up and get to work in an actual hive. “Just putting on a suit or veil is a turning point for the kids because if they weren’t fascinated, they are the moment they zip up!” he said.
Beekeeping responsibilities are many. The bees have to be fed just like any other animal. Honeybees are most active when it’s warm outside and flowers are blooming. But what about in seasons when the flowers are not blooming?
Since winter can be a struggle for the bees to get and bring nectar back to their hives, beekeepers have to supplement their food supply to survive. One beekeeping winter activity involves the kids mixing a pound of sugar with hot water, allowing it to cool and harden, and placing it on top of the bee frames. This makes for an inexpensive way to provide some food for bees during winter.
Besides feeding the bees, other basic beekeeping duties involve conducting hive inspections to ensure the bees are active and healthy and to remove other unwelcome pests from the hive. Common pests include hive beetles, varroa mites, wax moths, and mice, and it’s important to check the hives routinely to ensure foreign objects and critters are not destroying the hive.
There are a few expenses involved in beekeeping, Hodgie explained. “A hive container, smoker [a device that releases smoke to calm the bees in order to actually get in the hive], suit and veil, and the bees may costs around $300 at minimum. You can purchase a hive that is already put together, but it’s cheaper and more rewarding for the kids to assemble it themselves. The great thing about being a member of the 4-H Honey Bee Club is that once all their requirements are met, they will be awarded their very own hive for free.”
One of the most exciting beekeeping activities for kids involves the extraction of that beautiful liquid gold! Hodgie explained that special events are held yearly called “extractaganzas.” Kids have the chance to show others how the honey is removed from beehives.
“The bee frames are placed in extractors which spin automatically or manually,” Hodgie said. “They can see the honey ooze from beneath the extractor into a separate container. They’re always excited to see the end product of hard work from bees and themselves. From the extractors, the ‘liquid gold’ [goes] into special filters that clean the honey for retail or consumption.”
Honey extracting is a big deal for any beekeeper because it doesn’t happen often. “Honey harvests occur by the end of May in the Tidewater area,” Hodgie said. “Sometimes, a second honey harvest occurs in the fall in this area.”
Even more interesting, kids in beekeeping clubs learn about different types of honey and why they are different. Spring honey tends to be lighter and milder whereas fall honey is darker and has a more robust honey flavor, says Hodgie. “This is dependent on the type of flowers in bloom for the season,” he explained. “In the club, kids learn about different flowers and the effects they have on honey.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
If you’re still unsure about the many benefits of beekeeping for kids, just ask Kal Habr and his family, who have been caring for honeybees for over 8 years.
“It’s a huge importance in keeping the bee population healthy,” Kal said, who got interested in beekeeping as a young boy. “We have a tendency to be reactive as humans instead of being proactive. It will be a disaster if the bees disappear.”
When Kal decided to start beekeeping in his backyard, his daughters, Callie and Noor, wanted to help. “I explained to them the importance of bees and made it a fun project by building everything from scratch,” Kal said.
Callie and Noor love working with the bees and extracting honey, which they sell at the Old Beach Farmers Market. Beekeeping has taught them to work as a team and to be more organized.
In fact, beekeeping as a hobby or a business is a serious venture, the girls stressed. “It’s a long-term commitment, so don’t start a beekeeping hobby or business if you don’t think you can do it for a long time,” Noor said.
“But it can still be really fun and rewarding,” Callie added.
Find out for yourself what the buzz is all about!
For more information on 4H and beekeeping clubs, visit:
• Tidewaters Beekeepers Association: www.tidewaterbeekeepers.net
• Hodgie Holgersen - Club President: firstname.lastname@example.org
• 4-H Foragers Honey Bee Club of Hampton Roads: www.vbgov.com/government/departments/agriculture/4-H/Pages/4H-Clubs.aspx
• Beekeepers Guild of Southeast Virginia: beekeepersguild.org.
Monica Leftwich is a freelance writer living in Hampton Roads. She has a B.A. in communications from ODU and has been featured in local and national publications. You can reach her on Twitter at @Moleftwich.