Getting a Hive!
Hooray! We’re glad you’re thinking about installing an observation hive and inspiring others to learn about honey bees and other pollinators. Below are suggested steps for hive planning, building, and installation, as well as advice and example documents. If you need more 1:1 coaching than you find here, please Contact Us as we often provide consulting services for a small fee. If you are in the Boston area we also have premade hives available for sale and beekeeping services available for hire to maintain the hive.
SUGGESTED ORDER OF STEPS:
1. Have clarity of purpose.
- Be able to describe the educational benefits of the hive and how it will be used. Have specific curriculum units in mind.
- Plan to promote an open and ongoing invitation for all to learn from the hive (e.g. beekeeping club, “Meet the Queen”, honey tasting, wax crafting: candles, chapstick, soap, firepit starters, etc.) so that students, staff, parents, and community can feel that they have a voice and a relationship with the hive.
2. Have a plan for beehive maintenance.
- Read our OBSERVATION HIVE CONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE MANUAL and plan who will be in charge of and how the hive will be installed/removed/maintained safely
- Late summer is the easiest time to install a hive in a school, but making it a springtime classroom event is great too. During school vacations, the hive can stay in the school as long as there is ample sugar water for the bees in the winter. Over the summer you can take the hive on a vacation! It can be removed and installed in someone’s home that is willing to host it for the summer. This is an easy move, and provides an interesting exhibit for the host. If the hive is small enough, you can also leave it on site and monitor every few weeks.
- Minor work: The observation hive also needs a quick daily check lasting a minute or two. Honestly, it's a nice calming way to end the day! This task could even be performed by students as part of learning about honey bees.
- Major work: Plan to install, maintain, and remove the hive in the evening, wearing appropriate beekeeping gear, in a closed room (and maybe a mosquito net over the hive as a secondary precaution), and extreme care taken to only open frame boxes outdoors, never inside. These tasks can take several hours. Again, use our observation hive construction and maintenance manual as a guide.
- If you are new to beekeeping, then reach out to your local county beekeeping association to make sure a mentor is available to supervise (just search for it online) all major work. Direct them to this site- veteran beekeepers know a lot about bee biology and traditional beekeeping, but typically very little about observation hives. If you are in the Boston area, our nonprofit also has beekeeping services available for hire.
3. Put together an initial installation plan: location, maintenance, safety protocols, and budget.
- Recognizing that there are real dangers with bees does not mean they will inevitably occur. We have a decades-long history of safely keeping observation hives in classrooms. With careful planning, management, and adherence to our recommended safety procedures and instructions, everyone can enjoy this wonderful exhibit.
- Bring your initial plan to all stakeholders- supervisors, facilities managers, building nurses, etc. Save the people who may say no for last so you can go to them with the most robust plan and support network possible. You want to make it clear you know what you are doing and care about their input. (See the advice from educators for talking to cautious types.)
- Location: The observation hive should be in a highly visible but monitored and controlled space so people can see and enjoy the exhibit safely. The side of a classroom or library works well, especially when there is a distinct viewing area set up with a platform or anchored table. The hive should be securely attached to the building or a structure with a solid immovable/heavy base, in case of accidental heavy touching of the hive. Screens should be placed on building windows near the hive so that bees will not accidentally fly in. The hive can face any direction of the compass, but care should be taken not to expose them to direct sunlight, as they can easily overheat. An observation hive can be visible all the time (not kept in a dark environment). If the hive is located on the ground floor then an obstacle such as an enclosing fence should be erected a few feet away from the entrance of the hive so that the bees are obliged to fly up above human traffic and the beeline does not interfere with pedestrians.
- Budget: Determine what hive, hive stand, and beekeeping services you need. The price of installing an observation hive can vary, depending on the setting and labor costs (up to a several hundred). Annual maintenance can also vary greatly, depending on unavoidable bee health issues and labor costs (a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars). If knowledgeable volunteers cannot be found, you will also need to hire a carpenter and beekeeper. You may also want to purchase insurance. Range of possible cost (estimates, updated 9/1/17): Google Sheets. Coordinate as many monetary and in-kind donations of supplies and labor as possible. Local beekeeping associations, gardening clubs, home/garden stores, and PTOs are often interested in helping. Also consider grant writing to agriculture nonprofits. (Our nonprofit does not have grants available, but hope to someday!)
- Hive safety and integration plan. Example: Google Doc. The following is advised for schools:
- An annual letter home to all families. If possible, also individually notify parents of students with known bee allergies prior to mailing the letter. Explain the presence of the hive, as well as its design, safety features, and educational benefits. Template for new hive: Google Doc, Template for returning hive: Google Doc
- Posted notices about the hive’s presence in the school’s main office, outside the room, and near the exit to the hive outdoors if at ground level. Template for main office: Google Doc, Template for room: Google Doc
- Posted rules for observing the hive and plans to explain them to students. Template: Google Doc
- Epipens readily available for bee allergic students in the nurse’s office and location with hive (and the child’s backpack if needed) and EpiPen training for all staff in the room with the hive. Given that the more likely use for an Epipen is food allergies, which are increasingly common, we feel that Epipen training for as many staff and students as possible is always a good idea!
4. Once approved, install and enjoy the hive according to your plans!
- Contact Us to let us know if you would like to be added to our Locations map!
ADVICE FOR TALKING TO VERY CAUTIOUS PEOPLE:
- Direct people to this site. Use it to show people what an observation hive looks like and how our design allows for modular units, making maintenance easier and safer.
- Demonstrate precedent. Find other (especially local!) schools with either observation hives or full, traditional hives and contact them for references. Here is a map for ones we know of in Massachusetts.
- Involve everyone in the most courteous, professional, and proactive way possible. Make it clear that you understand the risks of honey bees in a classroom and that you are being thorough in eliminating these risks. Don’t be dismissive or slipshod in your efforts to understand the hive’s design or bees. We strongly suggest that during the planning phase you include the beekeeping community (local beekeepers and/or beekeeping association can help you learn about traditional hives and bees), school nurses, maintenance/facilities staff, department chair, principal/dean, superintendent, parents, and students. This sounds like a lot, and it is, especially when you also need to coordinate funding, hive assembly, sourcing the bees, and hive maintenance volunteers! However, it is important to make sure the administration, teaching staff, and community feel like their concerns are heard and properly addressed.
- Thank people for voicing their concerns and desire to make the hive a safe and positive experience for students. Then use the concerns as talking points to emphasize educational benefits and to make sure people are correctly informed about risk levels and the hive’s design. Many people will need to be talked down from imaging worst case scenarios. Many also just don’t understand the hive’s design well, or do not know the difference between wasp and bee behavior. Root out fears and gaps in understanding and address them with facts and solutions in a positive, not dismissive way. (“Oh wow, yeah, Mr. Jones, those bugs that stung your niece last summer do sound aggressive. That must have been a scary experience. The exposed paper nest and territorial behavior is common to wasps, which unlike bees…etc, etc.”) Brainstorm concerns ahead of time and have prepared information and solutions (explore our website and ask friends for help brainstorming).