Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Every hive has a personality
June 6, 2017

You may know that honey bees can be “particularly sassy.”

But do you know why?

Jacqueline Oeschgar ’18 (Falls Church, Va.) does, and the answer is directly linked to the colony’s queen.

Oeschgar has been working with Culver Academies’ beehive, which is located across from Fleet Field near Queen Road, for over a year. She has extensive knowledge of honey bees after working with them in Germany while her father was stationed at the U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Baumholder.

(Top photo, left) Katie Derwin, Ali Kwiecien, and Jacqueline Oeschgar working on Culver Academies beehive.

(Top photo, from left) Katie Derwin, Ali Kwiecien, and Jacqueline Oeschgar. Here, the girls are working on Culver Academies beehive.

She went to a Walden-style school from the fourth through the sixth grade and her teacher was in charge of maintaining the school’s large bee hive. “It was the size of a wardrobe,” she said, “and it had two large doors. It was like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

The students learned how to maintain the hive, collect the honey, and work with the bees. And Oeschgar has been working with them ever since. She will oversee Culver’s colony as her senior service project next year.

Oeschgar had never been stung in her seven years of working with different hives until two weeks ago, when Culver’s “particularly sassy” colony took after her. She was stung a few times but was none the worse for wear. “At least I know now that I’m not allergic,” she laughed.

Each hive has a personality, she said, and that tone is set by the queen. The last group of bees to inhabit Culver’s hive was pretty mellow, but the wildly fluctuating temperatures this winter wiped out the colony.

“When it got so warm, the bees thought it was time to start leaving the hive,” she said, “but then the temperatures dropped the next week and they all died.”

That meant taking the hive apart, cleaning it out, rebuilding it and preparing it for a new colony. It also required ordering a box of approximately 1,200 bees. “You get a pound of bees,” she said, but you order the queen separately. Culver’s new queen is a “virgin queen,” Oeschgar explained, which means she has never been in charge of a hive.

Virgin queens have a reputation for not working very well with the worker bees, which are female. The male drones just eat and mate with the queen, she said, adding that in tough times, the males will be killed off by the females. Duly noted.

As the queen, who can have a lifespan of five years, matures, she will tend to mellow out and so does the hive. But, until then, Culver’s colony will continue to be “feisty,” she said.

Interestly, Oeschgar said, bees tend to focus on just one person when they get angry. Fortunately, it was her, and she knew what was happening. Accompanying her that day were first-timers Katie Derwin ’17 (Marco Island, Fla.) and Ali Kwiecien ’19 (Plainfield, Ill.).

Oeschgar inherited the hive from Michael Johnston ’16, who was constructing the hive as part of his senior service project. She came back to school last fall and soon began collecting the honey with the help of Maj. Bill Browne and Sustainability Director Chris Kline. They collected over 70 pounds of honey, which was bottled and sold through The Rubin Café.

Collecting the honey will be one of the first things Oeschgar will do when she returns this fall. She would like to add a second hive, complete with another queen, and expand the number of places the extra honey would be sold. She would also like to collect the wax from the hives.

Let’s just hope the next colony isn’t so sassy.

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