Project Title: The Power of Bees
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The Power of Bees

By: IACP Kids

 [image] power of bees

IACP Kids and the talented bee explorers at Washington D.C.'s School Without Walls teamed up with the D.C Beekeepers Alliance to explore the mystery of the disappearing honeybees.

 

We learned that honeybees came to American with European colonists, who brought the industrious insects to pollinate the plants that settlers would be cultivating on their farms. But over the past decade, honeybees have been disappearing fast.

 

[image] tasting honey

 

Scientists don't know why it's happening—it could be anything from especially cold winters to pesticides or a scarcity of clean water.

 

To help figure out how to solve the mystery and bring back our bees, we started out by trying out to figure what bees do and why it's important. The kids called out a chorus of answers: "Bees make honey. They collect pollen. They visit flowers and pollinate them. And they sting you."


 [image] holding honeycomb

 

We found out that all those things are true. But the most important things honeybees do for our food supply is act as efficient pollinators.

 

It turns out that the US relies on the domesticated European honeybees to pollinate up to one-third of our total food supply, including some of the foods the said they love most: apples, peaches, almonds, lettuce, squash, blueberries—and lots more.

 

We passed around frames from a honeycomb so we could understand what happens inside the hive—and beyond. As we examined samples of pollen, nectar, honey and beeswax, we talked about the lives and life-missions of honeybees.


[image] touching honeycomb

We found out that honeybees are social bees, with up to 100,000 bees living in a single hive.

 

They use waxy secretions from their bodies to build nests and containers for storing food and raising young bees. Unlike some other bees, honeybees are perennial and can live through long winters.

 

Bee colonies are comprised of a queen and her daughters, who use wax from the wax glands on their abdomens to build a nest that lasts them for generations.

 

If the hive gets overcrowded or the queen becomes too old, the female worker bees will learn this because they'll stop receiving a special pheromone called queen substance. They'll then choose and raise a new queen by making royal jelly and feeding it to her.

 [image] hold a honeycomb

 

All this talk of feeding led the kids to ask about honey: how do bees make it?

 

Honey starts out as nectar that bees collect from flowers, then carry back to their hive in tiny, 40-milligram loads. Nectar is a sugary fluid includes the fragrant oils that give flowers their sweet aroma.

 

Inside the hive, bees transform the nectar into honey by getting rid of the extra water in the nectar. This creates honey that's rich, thick and very sweet. The flavor and color depend on the flowers that provided the nectar—for example, lavender honey tastes a bit like lavender and orange blossom honey has a subtle orange taste and aroma.

 

[image] beekeeping suit

The honey is harvested by beekeepers who use a smoker to calm the bees—and wear specialized gear to make sure they can remove the honey without being stung.

 

Honey is as delicious to people as it is to bees—and the pollination honeybees provide affects our food supply in some very significant ways.

 

To help us understand what breakfast would be like without honey, the beekeepers showed us two posters. It became clear that so many of the foods we love are dependent on honeybees.


[image] life without bees

So we come back to our first question: what can we do to help honeybees? It turns out that a big part of the problem could be alleviated by urban beekeeping.

 

[image] kinds of honey

Here are the DC Beekeepers Top 10 Ways To Help (these are for adults, but kids can help too):

 

1. Speak up for Bees at Home: Every day community covenants and condo associations make decision to eliminate bee habitat and restrict green activities, including beekeeping. Put in a good word for bees in your community!

 

2. Resist Restrictions on Urban Beekeeping: Even though some of America's large cities have legalized beekeeping, local governments can restrict it. Bees have been great neighbors for thousands of years, so let your local leaders know you'd like to have honeybees nearby.

 

3. Plant Pollinator Friendly Plants: It turns out that bees love a lot of the same plants that humans do, including herbs, fruit trees and lots of veggies. Check out regional gardening guides at pollinator.org/guides.htm

 

4. Garden Organically: Make smart choices for you and your local bees by keeping your garden simple and safe—please don't use harsh chemicals!

 

5. Support Green Construction Standards: Eco-friendly buildings can create urban bee habitat and lessen the effects of CO2 on habitat change.

 

6. Encourage Your Community to Plant Trees: In many city ecosystems, trees are the major contributors to pollen forage. A single tree can have tens of thousands of flowers—and provide habitat, clean the air, filter groundwater and help cool down hot summer days.

 

7. Learn About Beekeeping: The bees depend on what your local plants do, so the best way to learn about beekeeping is to talk to other beekeepers in your area. Check out beeculture.com

 

8. Write a Letter Supporting Pollinator Research: Labs that research bees are often underfunded—write your congressperson to support bee research!

 

9. Look for Local Honey at Farmers Markets: A lot of the honey you'll find at supermarkets is imported. To support a healthy bee population in your area, please buy your honey from local beekeepers.

 

10. Take a Moment to See the Bees: You won't see all the beautiful, busy bees unless you stop to smell the flowers. Next time you pass an urban garden (or any garden), please take a minute to stop and appreciate the magic of bees in action!

 

For more info, please visit the DC Beekeepers Alliance at www.dcbeekeepers.org

 

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