To bee or not to bee

20 March 2015

Te Aro School has taken local environmental challenges into its own hands with a new project to reverse the decline of the bee population in Wellington.

Te Aro School student beekeeper looking at bees.

Te Aro School student looking at bees.

By keeping their very own beehives at the school, students and staff have had the opportunity to become beekeepers – even building the hives themselves.

The idea to keep bees came from teacher Claire’s class who learnt about the declining bee population and practice of beekeeping in New Zealand. Bees are vital to New Zealand’s ecosystem, pollinating a third of the country’s plants.

For the project to be a success, Claire’s class had to convince the school board why they should get bees, talk to neighbouring residents, research types of hives, find a suitable site, learn about safety, research what to do when a person is stung, and purchase the beekeeper’s suit.

Te Aro School has two kinds of hives – a top-bar hive and a langstroth hive. In a top bar hive, the bees have to make the entire honeycomb themselves, while in a langstroth hive a thin honeycomb is initially provided and then extended by the bees.

The seasonal nature of beekeeping means that the population of bees fluctuates, perhaps only a few thousand in the colder months and up to 60,000 per hive during summer. Caring for the bees includes checking them for the varroa mite, which attaches to bees and weakens them and in extreme cases when a hive becomes infested can wipe out the colony.

Claire’s hands-on approach to science encourages students to learn in an interesting way, experiencing and watching their own creation flourish. So far, they’ve harvested 16 kilograms of honey, which has been used for cooking and fundraising.

The project has been such a success that other schools have approached Te Aro School about doing similar projects, and talks of expanding the project beyond the bounds of the school are under way. Claire hopes to see more people looking for solutions to the problem of diminishing bee populations, and would love to see a beehive on public land in Te Aro that the public could engage with.

How you can help increase the number of bees in Wellington: