Peter Skene Odgen student Junaya Nielsen has been a school beekeeper since 2019.
She and her sister, Jasfia Nielsen, decided to help out their teachers, Tai St. Pierre and Ray Kline, who were the ones who gave them the opportunity through the Environmental Club. It has since taken off.
“We were like, that sounds really cool,” Nielsen said, “and then we just kind of got the funding and everything for it, and we just started putting everything together, and it worked out and then we have honey. It’s pretty cool.”
Nielsen said they started with two non-aggressive hives, but sadly, those bees died from mites over the winter of 2019-20. The teachers then got new bees at the beginning of the COVID lockdown and were moved to the school this spring. The new bees were a bit more aggressive but have since calmed down. Nielsen said the bees are “doing pretty good.”
She and the other beekeepers follow the typical steps to keep their bees safe and healthy, such as looking out for mold as well as infestations in the forms of microorganisms, such as mites, which can cause a lot of diseases for the bees.
Before looking into a hive, the beekeepers also do “fresh pair of eyes,” as Nielsen calls it; where you check to make sure there are no holes in your bee suit as the bees have a tendency to sneak into small places where they’re probably going to sting. They also tend to not stand in front of the bees because it is their pathway out.
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“It’s almost like an airport where you don’t stand on where the airplanes are coming. Yep, they’re really cool,” she said. “If you’re lucky enough you can actually see them land on your suit and they stick their little tongues out and start licking honey and stuff off you. They’re pretty cute.”
The beekeepers also have to take many safety precautions once they lift the lid.
“We open the hive and we want to do it as gently as possible,” said Nielsen because the commotion and frantic movements can cause the hive to react.
Once looking inside the hive, the beekeepers make sure that there is enough honey for the bees and if not, they feed them special sugar patties to provide them enough food.
“Usually a lack of honey tells us that there’s not enough resources or flowers around for the bees to actually create the honey,” Nielsen said. They also check to make sure the queen is still there because sometimes they will die, leave the colony, or half the colony will leave the hive – this is called swarming – to create a new one when it gets too overcrowded.
“We have to basically just look to make sure that everything seems alright,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen, who is now part of the Justice Club, a combination of both Environmental Club and Social Justice Club, says they also collect honey from the bees, which is available for $10 a jar from her teachers at the school. For more info, check out the school’s Instagram at pso_justice_club.
There are about 11 students in the club, who take turns looking after the bees. “It is really cool because that means that other people get to work with them and see just what it’s like to be in the bee suit,” Nielsen said, adding “if any other students in our school want to get involved in bees, then I would encourage them to join Justice Club. It’s a really fun club.”
Lauren Keller is a Grade 12 student at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary