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FFA Honeybee Hive Is A Sweet Treasure

The school was recently approved for the Sponsor-A-Hive partnership with The Honeybee Conservancy.

Kutztown High School students who are concerned about honeybees finally have their chance to work with them, thanks to a nonprofit group dedicated to helping the pollinators.

Honeybees are essential for human survival. One in every three bites of food would be unavailable without them, said Guillermo Fernandez, director of the Honeybee Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping bees. Honeybees pollinate the plants responsible for healthy foods, including almonds, strawberries, apples and broccoli.

Because of the pressure on bees, Kutztown’s FFA applied for the Sponsor-A-Hive partnership with the Honeybee Conservancy. Finally, after applying three times, this year the FFA’s application was accepted, and the honeybees arrived in May, said Celeste Ball, Kutztown FFA adviser and agricultural teacher at Kutztown High School.

Her students are ecstatic.

The hive will be used as a teaching aid for agriculture science and horticulture classes, and an educational tool for the middle and elementary schools.

“I had several students who have been interested in honeybees and in the pollination of different agricultural crops,” Ball said in an email interview. “They were also greatly concerned with the decline of the bees due to diseases, pollution and parasites.”

“Populations of bees around the world are declining, and viruses are known to contribute to these declines,” said David Galbraith, research scientist at Bristol Myers Squibb and a recent Penn State graduate. “Despite the importance of bees as pollinators of flowering plants in agricultural and natural landscapes and the importance of viruses to bee health, our understanding of bee viruses is surprisingly limited.”

When bees suffer, the entire food chain suffers, from herbivores to omnivores. When bees pollinate fruits and vegetables, not only does the quantity of the food increase but also the quality, appearance and taste, according to the conservancy.

Honey is the only food that includes all substances necessary to sustain life, including vitamins, minerals and water. Honey is a natural sweetener for recipes, has benefits for nausea and indigestion, and is known as an exfoliator to treat acne, the conservancy stated.

Without honeybees, there will be no honey, and bees face many threats, including loss of habitat, global warming and invasive pests, such as the varroa mite, which can destroy entire colonies if left untreated. Pesticides are a great danger to honeybees as well, considering that 80 percent of bees live in the ground.

Honeybees are not on the endangered list and make up one of 4,000 bee species; however, one in three bee species are headed toward extinction, Fernandez said.

The Honeybee Conservancy sent all necessary equipment for Kutztown’s FFA members to successfully care for the hive. FFA students checked on the hive throughout the summer and will have to prepare the hive for winter when the bees become inactive.

As of mid-September, the bees were doing well. Students will harvest honey until next year, since the honey the bees collect this year will be used to sustain the hive throughout the winter, Ball said.

Many hives suffer from colony collapse disorder in the winter, and the reason it occurs is often unclear. In colony collapse disorder, the majority of worker bees in a colony suddenly disappears, leaving behind the queen bee and breaking up the colony, according to the conservancy.

Ball hopes the hive will survive the winter.

“The hive and the study of bees are great educational tools that provide some much-needed hands-on opportunities for students to learn about insects, pollination and other related topics,” she said.

To help save the honeybee population, Fernandez recommends buying food and products sold by local beekeepers and avoiding the use of pesticides or herbicides, because they cause plants to become toxic to pollinators.

“We encourage people to leave a section of their garden untended or put out a bee bath,” he said.

For a bee-friendly garden, plant perennials, plants that come back year after year, for bees and other pollinators to feed on. It’s important to select flowers that bloom in spring, summer and fall so they always have food.

Like humans, bees need to stay hydrated, which is where the bee bath comes in. Bee baths can be simple or elaborate. Fill a dish with colored marbles — or rocks, twigs or sea glass — that are higher than the water so the bees can drink without drowning.

Honeybees won’t thrive without human help, and we won’t be able to enjoy the food we love without them

Contact Kellie Dietrich: country@readingeagle.com.