Friday, July 28, 2006

When Honeybees Go Camp-y

youth garden kids!When MaryEllen and I asked to put bees out at the historic mill site, we were asked (in exchange!) if we would talk about bees to the summer campers and for some general information sessions during the rest of the year. Snickering to ourselves a bit, we said, "Sure!" It's not like public speaking is our favorite task, it's just that every time we do, the people who attend the sessions give us as much as we give them. It has probably been said here before, but the curiousity, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness which the bees seem to elicit from people really calms some of my worries about the human race.

That being said, this week is a challenge and a half!

The picture above is of the kids who absolutely won my heart today at the US National Arboretum Youth Garden program. The older kids aren't in the picture, but the group ranges in age from about 6 to 16 years. Yikes! The program teaches kids about food and nature by having them help run a vegetable and butterfly garden not far from here. I expected city kids to be especially afraid of bees, because in the absence of farms, most of the hymenopterae around here are yellowjackets, and even I give them a wide berth.

The best thing I did today was to catch a few bees that got out of the observation colony, and hold them in my hands. The bees are really lovely, and the ones that got out were very small young bees, still all fuzzy and not too good at flying. You can state, until you are blue in the face, that the bees are gentle, but there is nothing like sitting there for a half hour with a little girl exploring your fingers to calm and enchant everyone present.

Before long, kids that declared themselves enemies of bees had their faces pressed against the glass, and asked all sorts of questions about how bee families work and how people work with bees. They sniffed beeswax, ate some comb honey, tried on some bee gear and hefted some tools. We took some pictures, and made friends.
The bees in the observation colony came from Abby's crew up at the Monastery. I tried to catch Abigail, but could not find her in the short time I had. I also failed to grab any drones at all! Drat!

When returning the bees, however, I found Queen Abby, marked her (badly), and vowed to try harder tomorrow...because I am doing it all again for a family group then!
camp at the millAll of which follows our best-yet session at the Mill on Wednesday. MaryEllen took this picture of me waving my hands around with my eyes closed. I seriously thought of taking all 4 shots she got of me, and putting them in a little slide show, so you could see me with mouth open, hands all over the place, and eyes half shut! What a charmer!

Even so, the kids were truly with us this time. They were not jumping up and down with questions as before, but they paid attention, ate a bunch of honey, and had fun trying on bee hats before we took them up the hill to see the open hives. There was a group of girls of exactly the same age to sort of stick together, and watch each other for clues (rather than the bees), which made me a little sad. Even so, it's just a matter of time, I think, before their interest and energy gets the better of peer pressure and they come around to the world of wonder again.

As it stands, one of the non-clique-y girls asked me the best "gotcha" question of the day! She said "If honeybees can sting only once, how can an emerging queen sting her competitors and still survive herself?" I was so proud of that kid. (In case you want to know the answer, the Queen's stinger is not barbed like a worker's, and she can sting more than once. She is only stimulated to sting, however, by the presence — probably by the pheromone emissions — of another queen).

Sounds like she was paying attention alright! Those smart kids make my day: there was one little boy at the Arboretum who asked really good questions about the smoker. Count at least two more friends of bees.

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