Soldiers guard the entrance to the hideout. Inside is their leader, confidently trusting them to do their jobs.
Such is the scene at Historic Fort Reno. But in this case, the soldiers aren’t actors or even humans.
They are honeybees.
For the past two years, BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center at Fort Reno has been raising a population of bees. The STEM center prides itself on teaching students from several nearby schools about science and technology, and the bees are an example of a program that is growing beyond expectations.
It all started with BlueSTEM board member Phil Carson. An amateur beekeeper, he decided that raising a few hives would be good for the students of the AG program. Another beekeeper at the nearby USDA building, researcher Bryan Kindiger, helped out. From there, the program was handled by Kristy Ehlers, director of school partnerships for El Reno Public Schools, and Anne Marshall, educational director for BlueSTEM.
Ehlers said the program has taught students the importance of bees in our environment.
“This has been a real learning experience,” she said.
“Until you recognize how important bees are to humans, you just swat them away or try to avoid them. If all the bees died, research shows that the human population would be impacted dramatically. They pollinate everything, basically.”
The students put on beekeeper suits and enter the area, a small patch of dirt behind the BlueSTEM building.
There sits a tall white box containing hundreds of honeybees. A few yards away is a garden of milkweed planted specifically for the program.
Along with the many wildflowers on the grounds, these plants provide nectar so the insects may eat, make honey and pollinate other plants.
The project has featured three hives in total, but the other two didn’t survive. One was lost to a predator that decimates entire hives — the wax moth. Another hive failed to thrive due to a weak queen.
But today, the final hive is doing fine, producing delicious honey. The BlueSTEM beekeepers expected to get a couple of gallons from two harvests, but they ended up with 15.
This summer, they've produced 6 gallons.
As of now, the honey is not for sale, but that may change as the project grows. A grant was provided to the program by the Oklahoma Educators Credit Union.
Just over $1,500 will be used for the group to acquire new equipment, honey extractors and even more bees. Four more queens and their hives are planned for the program.
Some 18 high schoolers actively worked on the project this summer, with even more participating on Outdoor Education Days.
Some of the students have even made presentations about the project at education conferences.
“The students are teaching the teachers,” said Ehlers.
The project, of course, has a slight amount of risk involved, but BlueSTEM takes precautions to ensure the safety of the students.
None have been stung at anytime, though Ehlers said that a couple of adults weren’t so lucky. But she doesn’t blame the bees, and she said the only way to get stung is by being careless.
“Each of the bees has a job to do in the hive,” said Ehlers. “They’re not looking to hurt people.”
As for her own job with BlueSTEM, Ehlers said it’s the best one she’s ever had.
Honey-tasting receptions may be held later in the year.