School abuzz over bees

Student Phoebe Colling with principal Rhonda Sheehan and other students helping Agriculture Department officers set up WA’s first-ever school beekeeping and disease monitoring station. Picture: Andrew Ritchie www.communitypix.com.au d410537
Student Phoebe Colling with principal Rhonda Sheehan and other students helping Agriculture Department officers set up WA’s first-ever school beekeeping and disease monitoring station. Picture: Andrew Ritchie www.communitypix.com.au d410537

‘We have the hives at the school because it’s close to the port, and it could take several years for pest bees to set up, swarm and be noticed in other places,’ Department of Agriculture bee researcher Rob Manning said, before setting up the first varroa test station at a WA school with senior students last week.

The varroa jacobsoni variety of the mite is currently in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. New Zealand is infected with the deadlier varroa destructor and the pest Asian honey bee is established in Queensland.

Mosman Park beekeeper Stewart Hawthorn will inspect the school’s hives for varroa and any other introduced species or disease about six times each year, in addition to other port monitoring at non-school sites near Fremantle.

The department approached the school when it heard about the project, before providing the hives and about 35,000 bees.

Fencing for the test site and the student protective clothing was funded by a $2200 grant from Mosman Park Council.

Dr Manning said the insects could fly up to 4km, as far away as Claremont, to collect nectar for their honey, about 20kg of which could be produced annually by each hive where the queen bees will have to be replaced each year.

‘But bees calculate their flights by comparing the energy required for the sugar that will be returned to the hive, so they’ll probably go closer,’ he said.

Students aged 13-15 at the school will be taught beekeeping and will eventually sell honey, adding commerce and business experience to their science and naturalist studies.

‘We decided to establish the hives as a project for the students to learn the science of bees and also how to keep bees,’ deputy principal Debbie McCarthy said.