And so bee-come yourself

pwswcd-logoThis past Thursday found me at the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District (PWSWCD) (link) Farm Field Days 2016. The annual event at our county fairgrounds brings fourth graders from across Prince William County (where I live!) to learn about agriculture and conservation. It is mostly volunteer supported, and I was happy to participate.

The event runs for two days, this was the second day. The students, teachers, and parents learn about soil erosion, raising cattle, breeding rabbits, pollination, and honey bees, to name a few topics. My local club, the Prince William Regional Beekeepers Association, runs the barn on bees and pollinators. We have four tables, two for pollination and two for bees, so we can handle two classes at once. Each class splits into two groups and spends 10 minutes at the pollinator table and 10 minutes at the bee table.

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Fourth grade students looking at an observation hive. © Erik Brown

I spent my time at the bees table. My company, Molina Healthcare, Inc., provides up to 16 hours of Volunteer Time Off (VTO) each year, in addition to our normal vacation time. It is a nice benefit that can only be used for volunteering. So I used some of my “VTO hours” to get paid to share my knowledge of bees. It was a great day of work.

Beekeeper Bruce Louchen organizes the tables and volunteers for our club, and ran interference with the incoming and exiting groups for our four tables. The bee tables both had an observation hive with a marked queen.

The kids tend to be a mix of eager and wary. I like to start by asking them what these are. “Bees!” they yell. Then I ask what kind of bees. “Honey Bees!” Then we talk about other kinds of bees; they usually come up with bumble bees. The parents are surprised when I say there are over 400  species of bees in Virginia, which there are.

The kids come non-stop for about three hours, so the other guy at my table (Chris) and I shared the speaking role back and forth. I find the students are much more interested if you ask them questions rather than tell them facts. Here are some of the questions I used throughout the day:

  • How many bees are in my hive? (about 2000 to 3000)
  • Are these boy bees or girl bees? (they are all girls, which they find surprising)
  • How long do you think a summer bee lives? (about 6-8 weeks)
  • How long do you think a winter bee lives? (up to 6 months)
  • How many eggs do you think a queen can lay in one day? (up to 2000)
  • and so forth.

Most kids are engaged, a few even ask questions about what they see. Everyone loves to find the queen once we tell them she is the one with the blue dot. Hopefully they leave knowing a bit more about the life of a honey bee colony.

[Teach Your Children] And so become yourself

When I was thinking about this post, the 1970 Crosby, Stills, and Nash song Teach Your Children (video link) came to mind. Perhaps I am dating myself, I just think it has such a beautiful flowing melody and is rather apropos for the topic at hand. According to the site Song Facts, Graham Nash wrote this song about the often difficult relationship he had with his father, who spent time in prison.

The song touches on parents dealing with children, children dealing with parents, and our hopes and dreams. The first few lines could apply to most hobbies, especially beekeeping:

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.

 

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