Sunday, May 26, 2024

Busy bees

Azle 4-H adds second hive to Azle Community Garden.


AZLE — Two bee or not two bee? That was the question posed by Azle 4-H members during a recent Saturday meeting.

After a full hive inspection by four brave volunteers, the group discovered its presumedly failing old hive had more life than previously thought. The good news presented a challenge though, as the group had already purchased a new queen and three pounds of replacement workers — approximately 10,000 bees.

4‑H is America’s largest youth development organization. Through a variety of activities and programs it hopes to steer its nearly six million members toward giving back to the community, leading healthy lives and expanding their education and skillsets.

Before 2022, most ag-inclined families didn’t know Azle had a 4-H program. Under the guidance of new parent volunteers, the Azle chapter of the organization went from being under threat of dissolution to having nearly 100 youth participants by the end of the 2023 school year. It has only continued growing, including more families and activities since.

One of these new additions is the Azle 4-H bee program. The program began last year and was initially held in a parent volunteer’s home. It featured activities like honey tasting and lessons on bee anatomy and biology. Today, with the continued efforts of parents and 4-H youngsters, members can now suit up in bee-keeping duds to learn hands-on apiary skills and tricks of the trade at the two bee hives in Azle’s Community Garden. Bees often travel a mile radius around the hive but can go up to five miles, so if you spot a honeybee on Azle’s Main Street, there’s a good chance it belongs to one of 4-H’s hives.

The kids of Azle 4-H have learned lots to get where they are and there are a variety of reasons why Azle kids think this program is the bee's knees. 

“I like bugs,” fifth grader Gabriel Hutsell said, holding out a small handful of pill bugs. “Honestly, I just like being able to interact with the bees and see what’s going on in the hive because not a lot of people usually get to have this chance.”

Through the program, they’ve learned invaluable facts and lessons and have gained a newfound respect for nature. For these children, the bee program acts as a gateway to conservation, science and agriculture.

“When I was in second grade a wasp was on me and the wasp didn’t try and sting me at all,” third grader Camryn Dousay said. “If a bee lands on you, just stay still until someone moves by you and it will go away because that’s what happened with the wasp. If you panic the wasp is going to feel unsecure and stuff and sting you.”

Parents and 4-H kids met Saturday, April 6, not knowing they’d be adding a new hive to their collection that day. Noticing little growth and activity, worries of an unhealthy hive and queen were substantiated after doing a full check up on the original hive in February. After discussion and voting on the issue, the group decided they’d replace their presumably sick or dying queen with a healthier monarch by merging the existing hive with a new one. When two hives are introduced, the stronger healthier queen may take over and kill the old queen. Worker bees from both hives will then protect the new queen and care for her brood. During the meeting, one parent, Jennifer Dousay, unexpectedly volunteered to donate a new hive and queen for this purpose after learning it was ready for pickup at Texas Bee Supply in Blue Mound. Dousay has two daughters involved in the bee program.

The program’s first hive was donated by Danielle Barber and her husband Michael, who have not only been foundational to starting the bee program, but also Azle 4-H as a whole. During the April 6 checkup, 4-H members discovered that the Barber hive had begun to recover, and their queen had laid new brood. Instead of merging the hive, group members and leadership decided to instead establish the newly donated bees in their own separate bee box.

Nicole Proctor took over the bee program’s lead role at a great risk to herself this year. Proctor is severely allergic to bee stings. While other parents and students investigated the hive, Proctor remained a safe distance away, epi-pen at the ready. Proctor goes from coordinating activities and teaching her group about the insects on the weekends to solving crimes and cracking cold cases as a forensic DNA analyst during the week.

“Part of 4-H is teaching kids how to be leaders,” Proctor said. “They not only get to learn these valuable life skills, but they also get to try to turn around and teach other kids. That’s confidence inspiring. That’s another important life skill. I also really like the structure. For example, my son is homeschooled. If you’re talking about being able to get out and socialize with other kids, 4-H activities provide an additional opportunity for that . . . It’s really important that they learn where their food comes from, how they produce it, how to take care of themselves and how to keep that generational knowledge going.”

Another 4-H parent, Eric Baugh, agreed and expanded on how helpful the program had been for his child.

“It helps (Baugh’s daughter) get out and she’s made several friends from 4-H,” Baugh said. “It helps socialize her, fostering everything she enjoys and being able to learn more about it. The 4H kids, they’re actually friends. She looks forward to seeing them.”

Azle 4-H students have a chance to win cash prizes at state and national 4-H competitions revolving around bee husbandry, knowledge and photography. With the addition of the new Carniolan bees and the recovering health of the group’s old Golden Cordovans, Azle 4-H also hopes to reap sweet rewards and begin collecting honey this year.