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.

Farm Visit: Good Earth Food Alliance

Last month I took some time off from work to visit my stepbrother on the farm he is working on for the summer. My goal was simply to get away from the fast-paced city life and get a chance to work with my hands, reconnect with the earth, and enjoy some time outdoors with my stepbrother.

I was working alongside my stepbrother Tyler, a couple teenage boys, a female classmate of Tyler’s, and their boss Lyndon.  Oh yea, and Lyndon’s two dogs.

Here you see Tyler picking some green beans.. which seemed to never end.  We picked a lot of green beans.

We filled the bed of the truck with tomatoes, including some heirlooms.  Everything on the farm is all Organic.  They grow practically EVERYTHING: tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, other squashes, watermelon, carrots, beets, heirloom beets (gold, white, candy, red), swiss chard, kohl rabi, leeks, potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, brussel sprouts, green beans, edamame, garlic, onions, strawberries, lettuces… I am probably missing a few things.

This is one of the hoop houses.  This one held a variety of heirloom tomatoes.  It was much hotter and humid in the hoop house.  I think the hoop houses help control moisture/temperature and possibly pests?

This was a massive eggplant we picked.  We picked more eggplants than they needed for the farmer’s market, so there were still plenty on the plants for next weeks harvest.

A post on my blog is not complete without some mention of bees.  Yes, they had a couple hives on the farm.  They were surrounded with more shrubbery than is what generally recommended, but the bees seemed to be doing just fine. The farmer does not harvest honey nor does he really maintain them.  He simply uses them as pollinators for his crops.  I am trying to convince Tyler to learn a bit about beekeeping and maintain and harvest some honey.  I bet it’s damn good.

We hopped in the back of the loaded truck and rode to Lyndon’s house for lunch, flying down the road hanging out of the back.  As thanks for giving my time helping them on the farm, Lyndon let me go through all the produce and take some home with me. It was all delicious!

Matilda Takes One on the Nose

Matilda finally got it. I was out on my deck getting my garden going and decided to let Matilda hang out with me out there. I knew there was a risk of her getting stung, but she has to learn sometime. While I was focused planting my nasturtium seeds, I heard Matilda snapping with jaw.  I look over at the hive and her face is right at the hive entrance!  Just earlier I had removed the entrance reducer in effort to get an airflow through the hive given the hot weather this week.  I rushed over to her and sure enough right as I got there she shook her head in reaction to a sudden sting.  I brought her straight inside to have a look and see if I could find the stinger.  Luckily, she was only stung once. I was not stung at all. I guess this is surprising because typically when there is one sting, there are others as the bees communicate to the colony through smell “Over her! Let’s get them!” Probably because of my swift action of going inside with her kept it limited.

Sure enough she was stung.  You can see in the image the stinger and part of the bee abdomen just to the right of her nostril.  I took my tweezers and pulled it out.  She showed no other reaction to it. There was no swelling, she was not acting funny. Just a good ol’ puppy girl.

A couple of weeks ago Matilda killed one that got into the apartment, so she was up 1-0.  Now I was going to say the score was even at 1-1, but then I realized that bee sacrificed her life to sting.. so Matilda 2, Bees 1. My girls are fighting over me 😉