Keeping bees has students buzzing

On World Bee Day we visit the schools where queen bees rule.

20 May 2020
Students wearing beekeeping suits.
Image: Year 2 students at Hillston Central School suit up for their visit to the school hives.

There is always a buzz of excitement at Hillston Central School when students get to don their apiarist suits to visit the school’s beehive.

Last year Hillston Central introduced beehives into the school grounds and the local community can’t get enough of the honey the school has since produced.

“We’ve only had three harvests, but we can’t keep it on the shelf because it’s disappearing as fast as we bottle it,” said principal Sandy Ryan.

The school’s bee enterprise is also attracting high-profile interest with Governor-General David Hurley, a keen beekeeper himself, holding a virtual visit to the school last week to replace the students’ annual excursion to Canberra.

“The kids were having great chats to the Governor-General about their bees and there is talk he may even come to see our bees one day,” Ms Ryan said.

The upkeep of the bees is overseen by the school’s farm and general assistant Merv Bartholomew, who keeps his own bees.

The school invested in flow hives, an Australian invention that limits the use of smokers to pacify bees and drastically reduces the chances of being stung while harvesting honey.

More importantly for the school, flow hives have a clear plastic side so the bees and the honeycomb are visible to students.

Ms Ryan said the bees were a perfect teaching aid for a school in a farming region.

“Our primary students study the life cycle of the bee and get to see them up close,” she said. “They learn the importance of bees to our community and local agriculture.”

Ms Ryan said the students are dressed in beekeeping suits and taken to the hives in groups of five.

Interest in the bees is not limited to the primary students. Years 7 and 8 agriculture students helped prepare for the bees’ arrival by planting borage and other herbs for them to pollinate and Year 9 and 10 agriculture students study a honey enterprise unit.

Hillston Central is not the only school humming about the importance of bees.

At Gundagai High School, Year 12 student Daniel Creary is taking beekeeping to the next level as a HSC subject.

In 2018 NSW broke national ground when it offered secondary students the option of doing a school-based traineeship in beekeeping.

The program includes carpentry and woodworking skills, sourcing bees and housing them, learning bee diets, building a knowledge of flora, food safety and biosecurity requirements.

Daniel will finish high school with a Certificate III in beekeeping and is very keen to turn his qualification into a career.

“I have always liked bees and find them to be calming,” Daniel said. “I enjoy learning about them and the roles they play in the hive.”

However, he said study could be a pain, quite literally, when he is stung while tending the bees.

While Daniel said he did not get attached to the bees personally, he was certain bees had moods.

And his message on World Bee Day: “Everyone needs to know that bees are important and they need to acknowledge the high importance of their role in production of foods. Beekeeping itself is an under-rated profession that should be more appreciated.”

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