The buzz about bees: Nature center’s bees a chance to see nature’s pollinators at work

Published 12:01 pm Saturday, June 15, 2019

What’s all the buzz about?

Bees, that’s what.

Just off from the visitors center of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, snug underneath some low hanging branches are three hives, filled with honey bees making their home, making their honey.

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Each hive is the responsibility of three different people at the nature center: Director and Naturalist Luke Reese and naturalist interns Kelly Bahl and Andie Harveaux. Friendly competition aside as to who produces the most honey, the bees are serving as an excellent education opportunity for people visiting the nature center.

Jay C. Hormel Nature Center Naturalist/Director Luke Reese checks out the bees under his care at the nature center. Eric Johnson/

“There’s a whole bunch of facets, lanes we can go down,” Reese said. “It’s a wonderful tool to have.”

The process of bringing bees to the nature center as a controlled effort began three years ago with the help of Paul Hanson of Albert Lea.

The nature center paid a fee to Hanson, who owned and cared for the hives. At the end, when it came time to harvest the honey, the nature center would receive the product.

But this year, the nature center decided to try something different, purchasing hives and the equipment to not only develop a small little fundraiser in the sales of collected honey, but to use as a teaching tool to show the importance bees and other pollinators play on the world around us.

“It is a good way to bring up these pollinators,” Reese said. “Any time you can connect people to the food they consume it’s nice.”

Bees come and go from a hive at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. Eric Johnson/

During a recent trip to the hives, Reese went over his hive, looking for moisture build up and other details that would indicate the health of the hive.

Using smoke to make the bees docile, Reese opened the hive and pulled out the panels on which the busy insects were building their combs, many of which were capped off as the larvae developed into a new worker bee. Honey was already dripping from several of the combs.

Somewhere in the mass was the queen, and as Reese tried to find her, it was clear the interest he found in the process as a whole.

“When you can stand that close to honey bees, watch them working, it brings the natural world a little more into focus,” Reese said.

And that’s a focus more need to start finding.

Smoke waves over a rack of bees at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. Eric Johnson/

The health of bee populations over the years has been of great concern to scientists and researchers. According to Green Peace’s website, honey bees — both wild and domestic, are responsible for 80 percent of all pollination worldwide.

This is concerning as bee populations and numbers have been dying off at alarming rates.

While the nature center’s bee hives, which also includes hives started by former intern Will Bjordnal at the north end of the nature center, won’t fix the world’s bee problems, it does allow people to see the critters up close and to appreciate what they do for the wider natural world.

It also gives the nature center the opportunity to maybe educate visitors on what they can do in their own backyards.

“(It shows) what you can do to support pollinators at home,” Reese said.

What makes the bee experience at the nature center so interesting is the accessibility of the hives to the public. A small fence keeps people back a bit, but they are still given extremely close up access to the bees.

“It’s neat to see the honey bee social structure,” Reese said. “It’s a neat way to talk about a key pollinator that draws people’s attention.”

While the nature center won’t be creating a new honey industry in town, the educational interests will continue to be pursued. That includes providing more information about the bees themselves and what backyard enthusiasts can do to maybe create habitats for the bees.

It’s something Reese is passionate about.

“How can we be more friendly to the critters about us?” he emphasized.

For now though, the bees provide a neat new facet to the nature center, an element of nature that maybe some have never really seen before.

“People are fascinated by bees,” Reese said. “It’s neat to watch them come and go. Talk about what the bees are doing and all the jobs they have, working together.”

Jay C. Hormel Nature Center Naturalist/Director Luke Reese checks the nature center’s hives. Eric Johnson/