Bees thriving with Ledyard High club

Ledyard — After a rocky start last year, the newest animal residents of Ledyard High School are thriving — all several thousand of them.

The campus is now home to five honeybee hives, thanks to the LHS Beekeeping Club. Adviser and environmental science teacher Jim Wisniewski said he got into beekeeping four years ago, when a neighbor going away to college gave him his equipment.

But efforts to bring it to the school didn’t take off until Student Congress took up pollinator health as a social awareness campaign last year.

“Because bees are an issue, with their hugely dwindling numbers, they wanted to raise awareness about taking care of bees,” Wisniewski said.

Student Congress received a $500 grant from Rotary to start two hives on campus, and they raised additional money to purchase more suits, smokers and equipment so students from outside Student Congress could join the new club. Students in the agri-science department also chipped in by building some of the hive boxes.

Unfortunately, the hives didn’t survive the winter but the club has had enough interest and support this year to establish five new hives. Wisniewski said a lot of the students were interested in beekeeping but didn’t have the money or space to start their own colony at home.

Originally the hives were located behind the greenhouse, where they were protected from the wind and had easy access to the school FFA’s charity vegetable garden. Last month, they were moved to behind the corrals and barn to avoid bee-sting concerns but they’ve been doing a lot better in the new location, which also is closer to the orchard next door.

Roughly once a week, members of the club check on the hives to make sure the bees are healthy and free of mites and other parasites.

The June 14 checkup included the installation of new mouse guards and a supplemental feeding of sugar water to help the new hives get established, though they had been doing so well that Wisniewski and recent graduates Jennifer Watrous and Isabella Uttley-Rosado had to install new hive body boxes on some of the hives to give them more room to expand. Wisniewski talked to the bees as they opened the hives, affectionately referring to them as “ladies” as they flew in and out.

Watrous, who wants to be a florist, said she started researching honeybees after writing a thesis paper sophomore year about colony collapse disorder. She wanted to start her own hive but her parents wouldn’t let her, so she joined the club as soon as she found out about it.

“I’m really hopeful this year that we get some juniors and underclassmen to get involved so they can continue the bee club,” she said. “We’ve definitely been more successful this year, like I can tell by how much honey the hives are producing how much comb there has been.”

Watrous said she got Uttley-Rosado into the club.

“It’s just fun,” Uttley-Rosado said. “They’re cute.”

Even if the honey harvest doesn’t come to fruition, the hives will help pollinate the FFA garden to boost the vegetable harvest. Wisniewski said the new state science curriculum also may include beekeeping as part of the population study lessons, which would be a great way to teach the students.

And if none of that works out, they’re still a fun conversation piece.

“I think we’re going to have a successful year with these ladies,” Wisniewski said.


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