Before graduating this past June, Emilie McCann was awarded the Wilton Garden Club’s Mary Beth Wheeler Scholarship Award for her dedication, hard work and excellent performance in the areas of biology and beekeeping during Wilton High School’s Academic Awards Ceremony on May 31.

Emilie said she’s been interested in beekeeping for as long as she can remember, but it was only recently that she became “serious” about it.

“In the spring of 2016, my mom and I began looking into what beekeeping entails, and we tried to set up our first hive,” she told The Bulletin. “Unfortunately, we did not order our bees until after the deadline, so we were unable to get bees for our hive until the spring of 2017.”

The McCanns have roughly 10,000 bees in their hive, which Emilie finds to be “fascinating” creatures.

“I am astounded by how much information is conveyed through their waggle dance,” she said, “and I love watching their communications.”

One thing people may not know about bees, said Emilie, is that each one only produces about one-twelfth a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime — “but since there are so many bees with such short lifespans, one hive can produce up to 60 pounds of honey in a year.”

Emilie said beekeeping isn’t as hard as one might think.

“In some ways, bees take care of themselves. However, if you are looking for them to produce honey that can be harvested, they take a lot more care than they otherwise would,” she said.


Challenges


Although she and her mother only have to check in on their bees about once a week, Emilie said, beekeeping isn’t always smooth sailing.

The type of bees the McCanns keep are Apis mellifera. Also known as western honey bees or European honey bees, these bees are “notorious for starving during the winter months,” said Emilie, so she and her mother have been “checking on them to ensure  they are building comb and producing honey.”

Emilie said one of the main challenges of beekeeping is figuring out what’s wrong when something isn’t right in a beehive.

“Certain issues could cause drastic changes in the hive,” she said. “It may take days or weeks to figure out what the problem is.”

For example, Emilie said, she and her mother encountered “bearding” — when a mass of bees clusters outside the entrance to a beehive, forming a ‘beard’ — for the first time this spring.

“At first, we believed that it was due to the hot weather, and that all we could do is wait,” she said. “Then one morning, I saw the bees bearding when it was only 61 degrees Fahrenheit, which meant that the heat was not the only factor causing this to happen.

Emilie said they soon realized that their hive’s highest super — used for collecting honey — wasn’t open to the bees, so they opened it.

“Within days, the bees had stopped bearding,” she said, “but it took us a very long time to figure out what the problem was after recognizing that there was something wrong.”

Importance


Honey bees are one of the most important creatures on Earth. They pollinate more than 80% of all flowering plants, according to OneGreenPlanet.org , and their pollination contributes significantly to global food production. According to the American Beekeeping Federation , approximately 30% of all food Americans eat derives from honey bee pollination.

Not only do honey bees play a vital role in food production, but they also produce products like honey, pollen, wax and propolis.

Unfortunately, Emilie said, commercial beehives have struggled with colony collapse disorder — when worker bees abandon their queen and hive — over the past few years.

“Some of the main reasons for this include an increased use of pesticides and herbicides, as well as changes in their habitats that lead to a lack of nutrition,” she said.

Because of this, she said, programs like the Pollinator Pathway are “extremely important” because “they provide honeybees with more sources of food that can help prevent both colony collapse disorder and starvation during the winter.”

Emilie will be attending Tulane University in New Orleans in the fall, where she plans to study biology.