Beekeeping Field Trip with Tolcott Elementary 2nd Grade Class


Typically, I’m used to presenting to clients in the design industry, pitching ideas, and preparing to field questions around consumer needs, brand relevance, cost, and manufacturing. Today I spoke about beekeeping to a 2nd grade class from Tolcott Elementary School in Ukranian Village here in Chicago.


As I was heading over to meet them at the Met West Community Garden, where I keep two hives, the thought crossed my mind that I should be prepared to speak about beekeeping to 2nd graders, not adult professionals who have business goals in mind. I thought “Ok, so these are 7-8 year old kids, I need to get them engaged. I’ll start by asking them questions about honeybees to see what they know and get them interested.” I was prepared with props like a hive body with 10 frames of built out wax, burrcomb, some capped honey, a couple hive tools, a couple pairs of gloves, and a couple bee veils and helmets for them to try on.


I discussed with the teacher to be there at 9:30am to speak on beekeeping. When I arrived, the students were calmly sitting on the brick patio listening to a fellow gardener speak about gardening. As I approached I could hear a couple students shout “Look it’s the beekeeper!” As I respectfully stayed towards the back of the group to let the speaker finish, one student came up to me asked “Are you Mr. Kyle?” I laughed and said “I sure am.” A few students started flooding me with beekeeping questions when the teacher finally said, “Ok, a few more questions with the gardener before we get to the beekeeper. Let’s listen up. Any more questions about gardening?” He calls on a student “Yes-“ The student asks, “Why do you use smoker for the honeybees?” The students were pretty anxious to hear about beekeeping.


Time to see what these kids knew about honeybees. I asked them “What do honeybees do?” A few hands shoot up. Trying hard not to call on the student waving his arms in my face, I call on a girl towards the back. “They make honey!” “Good, what else do they do?”
Another student says, “They collect nectar”
“Very good, and where do they collect that nectar from?”
A few students shout “Flowers!” But I still call on a patient student who says “Umm, flowers”.


I go on to talk about who is in the hive, the queen, “the girls” (who are the worker bees), and “the boys” (the drones). “THE DRONES!! ARGGH” grumble a couple of the boys and then laughing. “They don’t do anything!” one of them shouts. While that was not entirely true, I was impressed.


Then I took questions while I started the smoker. I was just amazed at their interest and their very specific questions. They asked me about how there could be two queens in one hive, what is killing the bees, why do bees buzz, and other very inquisitive and informed questions. Apparently, they have been reading about bees and had spoke to a beekeeper last week over Skype or something. As I continued to take questions, the teacher finally said “They could ask you questions for the rest of the day, let’s just take a couple final questions.”


We finished off by passing around my tools and gear, which the kids loved trying on. Of course there was that one student who kept asking to wear the beesuit I was wearing, who grabbed my hot lit smoker, and was running around with my sharp hive tool, but other that the kids were delightful. A couple students even said “I want to be a beekeeper!”


Next week I think we have 1st graders coming through.

Rooftop Bee Package Installation

holding packages

I am very pleased to write that the bees are finally in! Last Friday night I picked up three packages of bees with Mike from another beekeepers house. We ordered these packages with a group of beekeepers in Chicago. A few individuals were willing to take a van up to Waterton, WI on Friday to pick up all the packages from Lee Heine. By the time we got home with the bees, it was too late and very cold and windy- definitely not spring weather yet.

Here is my installation. Explanation and photos are below.

Bee package

We didn’t want to keep them pent up in the package for too long though. They stayed over night in Mike’s basement were it was much warmer than outside. Midday Saturday we had three packages to install (one of mine on the roof, one of Mike’s on my roof, and my other one in the community garden).

mike and kyle

We started with Mike’s hive. I decided to take pictures of Mike’s installation and then have Becky shoot a video of my installation. We got some great shots and everything went pretty smoothly.

queen cage

The queen was found alive and well in her queen cage. The bees seemed to have already taken to her pheromones quite well. In my opinion, they appeared to be trying to reach the queen to take care of her. Mike wasn’t so sure about that. He thought there was a chance they still might not have accepted the queen. To be cautious, we didn’t directly release the queen into the hive. At the base of the queen cage there was a cork. Once we got the cork out, we plugged the hole with a marshmallow, which theoretically would be eaten through by the worker bees and then released.


Once we plugged the queen cage we placed it in between two frames in the hive.

bee package

The bees already started building some burr comb strangely around the can of sugar syrup.

Bee package

They were pretty calm, not aggressive- just curious.

pour bees

To make sure the rest of the bees knew were to find her, we dumped about 70% of the bees on the queen cage and in between the frames. It’s time for them to get to know their new home.

rooftop installation-9

Because it was still chilly out and there was some cold weather in the forecast, we put the package with the remaining bees in the super in place of 4 frames. This is a temporary setup. After a day, the bees left the package and crawled about throughout the hive. We took the package out and stored it away.


If everything went smoothly we should see the queen laying eggs within a few days. Having reused the frames from our hives from last year, there was already built out comb and honey and pollen stores. This should give them a great head start on the season. Also, we are feeding them a 1:1 water/sugar syrup with a pollen patty to give them an extra boost and so they don’t starve in case plants in the region haven’t started producing nectar yet. We’ve certainly seen a lot of rain lately, so hopefully things start blooming soon.

fearful beekeepers

Finally, here are three fearless beekeepers in action!.. or something like that.

The Move: 3 hives, 3 stories down, 4 stories up

The dreaded hive move.  Last month I moved out of my apartment into my new condo about a mile away.  The bees would wait to be moved until last weekend, going from a 200 sq. ft deck to a 1100sq. ft rooftop.
Overall, it appears to have gone well, but not without a few hickups along the way.  We moved one hive from my old apt porch to my new rooftop.  We also moved two hives from my friend Mike’s porch to my new rooftop.  I am hosting his hives since he is moving out of his apartment into an apartment that has no outdoor space for hives.  All of the hives travelled roughly under a mile.  There’s a rule of thumb that you need to move a hive either 2 feet or 2 miles- anything in between and the bees may return to their original location. Each hive weighed anywhere from 100-180 lbs.


We moved the hives a night, ensuring that most, if not all the bees would have returned to the hive. My hive was first up. To prepare them for the move, I screwed thin planks of wood on 3 sides of the hive, to ensure no supers would shift during the move. There were a significant amount of bearding bees in the front of the hive.  Luckily, I was able to duct-tape screendoor material over all the bees and the front entrance.  Then I crisscrossed ratcheting straps across the top of the hive just to be sure nothing would shift.


They were all packed up and ready to be moved. I made one silly mistake.  Knowing that the bees were enclosed, I removed my gloves and veil. Then one bee stung me through the screen when I first lifted the hive.. oops.  But from there with that hive, it was smooth sailing.


Next was Mike’s two hives, one was in its 2nd year and the other was a split.  We packed his hives up the same we did mine.


Mike’s bees were bearding far less than mine was.  I think his entrance was much smaller than mine.


Things were going well, until we were bringing the first hive up the indoor 4 story stairwell of my condo building.  These bees were irritated and angry.  I would be too if someone picked up my home and shook me around in the back of a pickup truck. After about a 1/2 story up the stairs, we noticed some bees were escaping.  Then one landed in my hair and was buzzing away.  Of course I swatted it away, but it stuck in there for about 10 seconds.  Finally, I knocked it away and it fell on my neck and gave me a good sting.  At this point we were panicking.  It was about 12:30 in the morning and we were making all sorts of noise in the stairwell.  We tried moving up, and Mike took a couple stings on his leg.  We tried duct tape a sheet around the hive, but that didn’t help.  Finally, we just rushed it up the stairs to the rooftop.  At this point, there were at least 100 bees that were aggressively flying throughout the stairwell. We had no choice, but to start swatting them quietly and clean them up off the floor.


It didn’t appear that any of the neighbors took notice.  At the moment, the 3 hives are on my rooftop, still with the screen over the entrance, but the morning I cut about a 2 inch slit in each one.  We put branches and leaves in front of the hive.  This will cause exiting bees to orient themselves to the new location of their hive.  Mike has already noticed a few bees back at his apartment. One of his hives had bees flying around it, maybe reorienting themselves.  His other had bees sitting on the outside of the screen.  My hive was completely sealed until I cut open the screen, but then they appeared to be coming out slowly crawling through the branches and leaves.


Hopefully they will settle in nicely.

May 20th: 2nd Hive Inspection (VIDEO)

I was able to make it into my hive this past Sunday and have a thorough look through the hive.  This was my 2nd full hive inspection.  I was looking for signs of a healthy queen, including solid brood pattern, stored honey & pollen, and the queen herself should she decide to show herself.

This is sort of a lengthy video, but to make it easy for you if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, here are some spots where cool things happen:

02:40 – First frame of bees
05:00 – Densely populated frame with drone spotting
05:50 – Camera goes into the hive to examine some burr comb
11:25 – Capped brood and empty cells where bees have emerged
13:20 -Larvae exposed! Potentially queen cells? Or drone cells? They are at the top of the frame.
15:10 – The queen is found!
16:38 – Some weird burr comb is going on on the foundation… but also some nicely packed brood patterns.

You can see they were building some burr comb in between the supers.  When I lifted the frame out it separated, exposing the nectar/sugar syrup stored.

Here is a close-up of the bees and capped brood.