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Hartselle Enquirer

A, Bees, C’s: Priceville students learning beekeeping in AgriScience class

Photos by Jeronimo Nisa

By Wes Tomlinson

For the Enquirer

With more than 90,000 bees in their care, students in the AgriScience class at Priceville High expect to harvest several gallons of golden honey in June.

Priceville High AgriScience teacher Nicole Fields started the project in her class in 2018 at the suggestion of the school’s administration.

“I had no experience with it before so I got in touch with some local beekeepers and beekeeping associations to learn all I could,” Fields said. “A local man had donated several hives, so all I had to do was order the bees. That year (2018), we produced 8 gallons of honey.”

Her classes have harvested at least that much every year since.

Freshman Adriana Gonzalez and her classmates, sophomore Hunter Fagan and junior Hayden Phillips, maintain the 90,000 Italian bees, which inhabit three different hives. The students installed the bees in the hives last Wednesday and have been feeding them sugar water.

There are 11 students in Fields’ class but Gonzalez, Fagan and Phillips are maintaining the bees as part of their Super Agricultural Experience that is required of all students in the class.

Fields said that each student’s Super Agricultural Experience project can be anything that is a hands-on agricultural learning experience.

“They have to get hands-on learning, maintain records, and see the good, the bad, and the ugly of agriculture in some fashion,” Fields said.

Gonzalez said they are fortunate because Italian bees have a more “calm demeanor” than Russian bees, which are more prone to sting. Both types of honeybees are commonly used by beekeepers in the United States.

Gonzalez said she had not realized that apicology — the study of bees — is so broad.

“In the beginning, I learned about the biology of the bee and the bee nature,” Gonzalez said. “Just all the things that go into making a hive and how they set everything up and how there’s queen bees, worker bees and drone bees — it was really neat. I didn’t know how intricate everything was.”

Fagan is also going through his first experience with beekeeping, installing bees in two of the hives last Wednesday. He said the fruits of their labor will produce some of Morgan County’s finest honey this summer.

“The bees will pollinate the nearby white clover, and that’s what gives the honey its clear color and makes it taste good,” Fagan said.

Gonzalez said their hives have managed to stay abundant this year, which makes a difference in the amount of honey the bees will ultimately produce.

“An active, or abundant, hive will have hardworking bees that are obedient to the queen,” Gonzalez said. “A lazy hive could definitely signify a lazy queen, and worker bees can actually get rid of the queen if she’s not doing enough work.”

Fields said students can earn more than a good grade on their Super Agricultural Experience project.

“They can win awards from the FFA,” Fields said, referring to the organization that used to be called Future Farmers of America. “I had a student place first prize one year and she won money along with that award.”

Despite the promise of awards, both students said some of the most important things to them are helping the ecosystem and one of its pollinators.

“Our honeybee population is low right now,” Gonzalez said. “We need to educate our children about them and I’m proud to be a part of the beekeeping process.”