Kaia Giffen, 10, uses cool smoke to calm honeybees before pulling out the honeycomb frames for inspection. Kaia raises bees but also shares her knowledge about the pollinators with other kids “so they won’t be afraid.” (Dara Ballow-Giffen)

‘Where have all the flowers, vegetables and fruits gone?” It’s a question we hope never to ask. For many of these plant products to exist, however, we need pollinators such as bees. For several years, bees have been threatened by pesticides, habitat loss and disease.

KidsPost talked to three kids working to help reverse that trend.


JP Mackey studies bee behavior in a community garden he tends with his mom. He also sells bee-themed bracelets, right, to raises funds that provide hives and training through Heifer International to help low-income small-scale farmers become more self-sufficient. (Ann Cameron Siegal)

(Ann Cameron Siegal)

Bee bling

Bees feed on nectar and protein-rich pollen from flowering plants, but attracting bees to his Reston home wasn’t an option for J.P. Mackey, 12. His dad is allergic to bee stings, so J.P. and his mom are growing native vegetables and flowers in a nearby community garden. Sitting on a tree stump, observing bees pollinating cucumber plants, J.P. said, “We wouldn’t have food without them.”

Since December, J.P. also has raised more than $2,700 for Heifer International by creating and selling “bee bracelets.” Heifer is a charity that helps low-income people become more self-sufficient. J.P.’s family pays for his craft expenses, so 100 percent of each $30 bracelet sold at BumbleBracelets.com provides a beehive and training for a small-scale farmer, allowing them to increase crop production and earn extra money from honey sales.

Although most native bees are solitary — nesting in ground tunnels or decaying wood instead of hives — working with honeybees allows kids to study bees up close, often sparking curiosity about other bees.

Tending a hive

Years ago, Maia Timm invented the term “bug-studyologist” when asked what she wanted to be. Now 12, Maia is raising honeybees in her Centreville backyard. Wearing protective clothing, she periodically opens hives, pulling out each frame to check on bee health and honey production. Each hive’s queen bee can be seen busily laying eggs in hexagon-shaped cells.


Inside Maia Timm’s honeybee hive, the queen (silver marking on thorax) lays eggs in hexagon-shaped cells. The tan coverings are beeswax caps placed over each larva cell as the pupa stage begins. (Ann Cameron Siegal)

As she works, Maia explains honeybee terms. “Royal jelly” is a protein secreted by young worker bees to feed developing bee larvae. The hive’s queen “bee bread” is protein-rich pollen mixed with honey and bee saliva and feeds the whole colony.

Maia recently donated a hive to the 4-H ECO club and science department at Liberty Middle School in nearby Clifton, where she is a rising eighth-grader. Club members will care for the hive and educate students about the vital role bees play in our ecosystem and food supply, said science teacher Donna Stebner.

Bee 'waggle dance'

For four years, Kaia Giffen, 10, helped with her family’s beehives in Darnestown, Maryland, frequently asking questions. Now she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others “so they won’t be afraid of bees.”

At a science, technology, engineering and math festival last year in nearby Gaithersburg, Kaia demonstrated honey extraction and explained the “waggle dance” — a language used by worker honeybees to tell other workers the distance to and direction of flowering plants.

Cornell University researchers found that honeybees will go to almost any host plant for pollen and nectar, while other bees can be highly specialized, visiting just a single plant species.

“If their preferred host plant disappears, these pollen-specialist bees will likely go extinct, as well,” says Bryan Danforth in a Cornell online article. Danforth is a wild-bee specialist and entomology professor.

Kids don’t need to raise bees to join the effort to stop this from happening. Do research, and create a diverse bee-friendly habitat with native flower-producing plants that bloom in different seasons. By helping bees, you also help everyone enjoy fruits and vegetables for years to come.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the caption for the close-up hive photo indicated that the queen had a white marking on her head. It’s a silver marking on her thorax. This story has been updated.

WHAT ABOUT STINGS?

Kaia, JP and Maia have advice for kids who are afraid to be near bees.

“Usually, bees aren’t aggressive unless they feel threatened. Most of the time they’re just curious,” said Kaia.

“Bees bump into you as a warning,” noted Maia.

“Stand still or slowly move away and they usually won’t bother you,” said JP.

LEARN MORE

If you don’t have a yard or community garden, make a
window box for bees: heifer.org/blog/windowsill-bee-garden.html.

Learn how to identify bees in the Washington area: dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Documents/CommonBees.pdf.

See the Waggle Dance youtube.com/watch?v=LU_KD1enR3Q.

Other ideas for helping bees:

blog.nwf.org/2018/04/six-ways-to-help-bees-and-beesponsible.