Bees at SAMI

Behind the portables at Camp Six in Point Defiance Park, there sits a small, roofless, wooden shed. Inside of this shed is where SAMi’s newest neighbors are hard at work: Three individual hives are home to a grand total of around 150,000 bees, each playing their part in contributing the hives’ success.

Ralph Harrison, Co-Director at SAMI. Showing off the new apiary.

Ralph Harrison, Co-Director at SAMI. Showing off the new apiary.

This apiary began as the senior project of Max Mayo, a graduate from the class of 2016. SAMi teacher Lauren Anderson lent a hand in the development of Max’s project by leading a spring A&A course on beekeeping, where students helped to construct the hives and to introduce its inhabitants. The bees have been going strong ever since. Thousands of bees swarm around their shed at all times of the day, looking and sounding more imposing than they actually are. Stinging incidents are rare: There have only been about a handful, each without disaster. If you plan to get up close and personal with the bees, there are hoods to wear as an added precaution. Worst case scenario, students who took the beekeeping A&A have been trained to use an epipen. Those who still fear the bees opt to stay far enough away by heeding the warning signs posted around the apiary.                                           

With the beehives comes a wonderful business opportunity. SAMi’s brand new Beekeeping Club is working to sell products from the hives, such as honey and beeswax. In late August of this year, beekeepers collected their very first honey harvest. The honey’s dark color has earned this batch the name “Obsidian Gold”. They will be packaged in small hexagonal jars, which will sport labels designed by SAMi’s Scientific Illustration students. Selling along with the Gold will be soaps made of beeswax. If the hives produce enough wax, beekeepers may go on to craft candles of the stuff in addition to soap.

Aspects of the bees have even worked their way into the curriculum of some SAMi classes. Anderson’s chemistry class has integrated the apiary in many ways by applying hive observations to both coursework and to class seating charts. Students sit in tables by the bee “jobs” they wish to accomplish in the class (e.g. “nurse bees” check up on those who may need assistance, “temperature controllers” make sure that everyone has a coat when leaving the classroom for outside observations). In order to incorporate bees into the subject of chemistry, Anderson directed an involved lab on making bee food, which doubled as a lesson on concentration gradients and chemical solutions. Just last week, chemistry students made honey batter pancakes for the whole school in order to raise money for the apiary.

What’s next for the hive? The business will continue to grow and develop its products, which are going to be sold straight out of Point Defiance. Anderson says that, as long as someone is around to manage it, the bees will stay where they are: Behind the portables at Camp Six, working hard to pollinate the park and produce honey for all to enjoy.