Hyack honeybees educate and pollinate

Biology teacher and beekeeper Axel Krause at work in NWSS's rooftop apiary. Photo cred: NWSS environment club

New Westminster Secondary School is a hive of activity these days, and not only because students are buzzing about the hallways, gearing up for second semester.

Four years ago this month, at the urging of his students, biology teacher Axel Krause approached the school board with a plan to build an apiary on the roof of the Pearson wing.

The plan was approved, and NWSS is now home to two beehives, with another shipment of bees on its way.

“It’s a unique kind of thing to our school,” said environment club president Isabel Sadowski, 17. “Not a lot of schools have beehives.”

The bees are part of an International Baccalaureate unit Krause teaches on social biology, and students are encouraged to get involved as beekeepers, honey collectors and candle makers through the environment club.

The club sells the handmade candles and pots of ‘Hyack honey’ at parent nights and Christmas fairs as a fundraiser.

“A hard part of being part of environment club is that sometimes your actions don’t really produce a lot,” said Sadowski. “You can raise awareness, you can change your own habits, but it’s hard to see the effect that you’re having. With the beehives, you can actually see the work you’ve been doing is creating something.”

But for Krause and Sadowski, bees are so much more important than the substances they produce.

“Every third mouthful of food you eat has had a bee involved,” said Krause, explaining that even dairy cows depend on bees to pollinate the alfalfa they eat. “It’s amazing how much food we eat that’s pollinated by bees. And the bees are dying.”

This month in California, one million beehives will arrive from all over the United States to pollinate over 700,000 acres of almonds. In the summer, many of those bees will be shipped to the Fraser Valley to pollinate blueberry crops, then to Alberta for canola.

Krause believes this practice may be a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder – the sudden loss of entire hives of bees that has plagued beekeepers since it was first documented in 2006.

“Do you like bananas?” asked Krause. “Do you want to eat bananas for two weeks straight? No. But that’s what we’re doing to our bees. We’re putting them into the almonds, and for two weeks all they get is almond pollen.”

Steady diets of a single kind of pollen, pesticides and viruses have contributed to the deaths of billions of bees in recent years, but Krause believes urban beekeeping is one solution.

Like many municipalities in the Lower Mainland, New Westminster has a pesticide bylaw that prohibits the use of toxic chemicals in gardens. Bees therefore have a much cleaner, more diverse area to pollinate.

“People get our honey and they say, ‘the honey is just so good, what’s in it?’ and I say, ‘I don’t know, whatever the people around the school have in their gardens,” said Krause. “This is garden variety honey.”

Since the beehives arrived in 2008, several other teachers at the school have taken up beekeeping in their own backyards. With Krause set to retire in June, Sadowski (who is graduating this year) said she hopes one of them will take command of the rooftop apiary.

“It really is Mr. Krause’s project. He makes the honey, prepares the wax for the candles, so I just hope that the beehives still continue … It will be upsetting if it doesn’t continue in the way that it has in the past.”

But given the strong interest and support of the community, Sadowski said the beehives will likely be there long after she and Krause are gone.

“We have such a big school, it’s nice that we have some kind of project that is a little more unique and really beneficial.”