April 22, 2021 — “We’re all working together to maintain this ecosystem that is our campus,” said Mike Greene ’21, as he took a break from pounding nails into pieces of wood. He was building a bee box, a home for honey bees on the NMH farm.
Greene was one of about 10 students in the Science of Farming class who built and painted several bee boxes this week as part of the school’s effort to establish an apple orchard on campus. The students also helped plant some of the new trees for the orchard. The hope is that, in just a few years, the orchard, with help from the pollinators, will produce enough fruit to make NMH cider from apples right on the farm.
And for the students, the work is part of a lesson on the connection between pollinators and the plants that rely on them to produce fruit. “The bee hives will be essential in the success of our farm orchard,” said Science Department Chair Mary Hefner, who teaches the class, which focuses on the science involved in practices at the NMH farm and the foods that are produced there.
The bee box project is a collaboration between Hefner’s students, the farm, and Jim Overton, a local apiarist (bee keeper) and NMH Dining Services manager. This weekend, Overton will deliver the bees to their new homes on campus — the student-built bee boxes.
Earlier this week, he instructed them on how to assemble the boxes using wood glue and nails. “Don’t worry if you don’t use enough glue. Once the bees get in there, they’ll make their own glue — it’s called propolis — to fill in the spaces,” he told students. Propolis, or “bee glue,” is a resin that honey bees produce by mixing their saliva and beeswax with substances they gather from plants. “Propolis is stronger than this glue.”
Students also painted the bee boxes — using the NMH school colors of blue and dark red, as well as white — to help preserve them over the long term. Then they worked with Jacob Morrow, NMH’s farm program director, to plant several young apple trees. The plan is to use about an acre of farmland to establish an organic orchard, and, if all goes well, the trees will produce fruit in three to five years, Morrow said. And, Overton added, in a year or two, the bees may produce enough honey to be harvested on the farm.
Students worked in pairs to build the bee boxes. Ashlin Spitzer ’21 glued the walls of a box together while Alexandra Long ’21 hammered in nails to reinforce it. Alexandra spends each morning on the farm as a workjob student, and says, “This class is the perfect continuation to what we’ve been doing on the farm. I love being on the farm and being outside.”
When he finished his first bee box, Greene took a quick break to explain why he decided to take the Science of Farming class. “It’s a cool opportunity,” he said. “It’s hands-on learning that I haven’t gotten to do anywhere else.”
See photos of the class here.