Normally on a sunny summer day the local bees would fly around collecting pollen to make honey.
But during a fine mist between rainstorms Monday morning, as students from the Blue Ridge Environmental Governor’s School gathered for a bee program on the grounds of the Shenandoah Valley Museum, the bees remained safe and au dry in their hives.
Bees don’t fly when the sun is out, said Rusty Foltz, a member of the North Shenandoah Valley Beekeepers.
“Which means everyone is home,” he said.
Dressed in beekeeping costumes, the group of about 20 students, mostly ninth graders, got a close look at the hundreds of bees that have taken up residence in hives near the MSV’s walking trails.
To make the bees a little softer so the students could interact with them, the beekeepers lit a pine smokehouse near the hives.
The bees, noticing the smoke, react by engorged with honey, which Foltz says makes them drowsy. The smoke also pushes the queen bee further into the hives for added protection.
A little smoke is OK, but he said beekeepers are careful not to create too much or the bees will get angry.
Another option is to spray a safe bee repellent on top of the hive, which pushes bees down, allowing beekeepers to collect honey from each frame.
Foltz said last year he harvested 145 pounds of honey this way.
“That’s the whole reason I got into it, is that honey is phenomenal,” he told the students.
Several students also tasted the honey straight from the honeycomb – which Shawn Fameni, 14, said was his favorite part of the program.
“It’s really cool,” said Fameni, who will be attending Millbrook High School in the fall.
Blue Ridge Environmental Governor’s School is a two-week program each summer for sixth through ninth graders that combines students attending various public, private, and home-school programs in the area.
Drawing inspiration from Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren, the program also relies on teachers from various other schools to lead the summer schools.
The program runs from June 20-30 at Signal Knob Middle School in Strasbourg, but teacher Paul Kraemer said students had field trips on six of the nine days.
Blue Ridge offers five lesson spheres with two teachers per sphere, all of which focus on the study of environmental science and its impact on the environment, Principal Sarah Stelzl said.
Monday’s program, led by Kraemer, was for the Globalsphere.
The other spheres are the Biosphere, Geosphere, Mediasphere and Sociosphere. Each year a student is in the program, they change their field of study.
To prepare for the program, Kraemer said the students built cardboard and paper bee sanctuaries with holes that allowed various varieties of solitary bees to enter.
Shrines are as permanent as they last, Kraemer said.
This year is the 400th anniversary of the bee in America, noted beekeeper Denise Vowell.
Bees as we know them were brought to America by European settlers to support the crops they brought with them that only bees pollinate, Vowell said.
Before that, she says, the native bees had disappeared.
Bees are social, which differentiates them from most native solitary bees.
“They evolved probably the most complex lifestyles in the insect kingdom,” Vowell said.
“Bees arrived in the United States in 1622 and they began to swarm.”