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Calgary school’s busy bee program a hive of activity

They’re buzzing with excitement at a Calgary school, as their schoolyard hives are about to double.

The Phoenix Education Foundation, a non-profit Calgary independent school that specializes in the personalized education of its students, have two hives of New Zealand honeybees that have grown to the point where they need to be split.

Larry Leach, director with the Phoenix Foundation, said two years ago he’d found a grant for the bees and started asking the staff and parents at the school what they thought about housing the little buzzers at the school.

“They all got so excited,” he said.

“From the ecology side, from saving the world and we wanted to make sure that bees and pollinators are out there for us to have the foods we have and it’s a good way to educate the kids.”

Now, they’re the first K-12 school in Calgary to have bees on the grounds, joining two others in Alberta – Medicine Hat and Lacombe.

Leach said there’s “tens of thousands” of bees in each of the school’s hives and one big reason for the split is the potential of a swarm.

“They’ll get a little too busy in each hive and they’ll swarm somewhere else to try and find another home,” said Leach.

Thomas Schweizer is the president of the Calgary & District Beekeepers Association, and he mentors the program at Phoenix.

He’s been wanting to get bees into Calgary schools for some time, so when Phoenix approached him, he was thrilled to offer the support.

The school harvested 48 jars of honey last year – more than they expected. PHOTO SUBMITTED

“Just having exposure to the bees and seeing that the bees are not dangerous, is a good start,” he said, noting that a lot of the time city kids don’t know the difference between a pollinating honeybee and your typical wasp.

“I like the fact that the children get exposed to a little bit of agriculture and the botanical stuff.”

Schweizer provides support to the two volunteers who work with the bees during the year but likes to see them do a lot of the stuff on their own to learn hands on.

Leach said the bees are great helpers in their garden space, which has plum, pear, and cherry trees, along with their fenced vegetable area in the back. But, the best part is the honey – they harvested 48 jars of honey last year.

“That was big,” Leach said, adding you typically don’t expect honey when you first start a hive.”

“We’re expecting four to five times that this year.”

The school’s Grade 8 marketing class came up with the price, the concept and design of the label to help promote the delicious new product they had.

Eventually they’ll have to split the hives again, but they don’t have the capacity to house more at the Phoenix Foundation’s current location.

Leach said if that happens, they’ll likely get into the business of selling the queens and hives in the future.