Rural Action Learning (RAL) Module
From bees to honey
Biology of swarms of bees and root of honey
from collecting to consumption
Materials for action-based learning in the rural areas
1 General Information
Project region: Latvia
Project institution: Latvian Rural Advisory and Training Centre
Title: From bees to honey
Biology of swarms of bees and root of honey from collecting to
Target group: 10-17 years old pupils
Co-operation partners: beekeeping farms and processing companies
2 Contents and Methodology
Short description (objectives and contents)
Beekeeping is an old field of agriculture and also in Latvia its roots are founded already on 13th
century. Beekeeping, the same as others producing industries, has grown over the years, gradually
humans have taught to live with bees. There has been found possibility how to remove bees from
bee-gardening in wood closer to home. People also have taught to obtain a production from bees
without detriment to swarms of bees, rather helping them to struggle with weather conditions and
diseases. But tasty and healthy production’s obtaining from bees has remained unchangeable.
There are various production produced in beekeeping, starting with products used in medicine,
such as pollen, propolis, bee poison etc. There is also produced wax, which is used in perfumery
as well as in industry, but still the most popular product of beekeeping is honey. It is produced not
only just as sweet and tasty food-stuff but also as a cure. And that’s why the most popular users of
honey are older people, who try to take care of their health, and young people, who consume
honey, because they like it. This group contains also a target auditory – 10 – 17 years old youth.
Lately there is observed a tendency that average beekeepers age little by little is growing, which
means that young people unwillingly take part in beekeeping. That’s why dynamic training
program’s ‘’From bees to honey’’ aim is to inform young people about beekeeping history,
biology of bees and swarms of bees, as well as about the process up to honey as consumer
product, so that not only view for them is that they bite painfully.
Form of action-based learning:
Monological (lecture, story), dialogical (summary review) and investigative approach (individual
exercises, field trip).
Duration of activity
5 - 7 hours
3 Procedure/Phases of the activity:
School groups are chosen by appointing closest schools in neighbourhood of its geographical
location and by taking into account teachers’ initiative and amount of pupils in class.
Preparing takes part in schools, preferable during Biology or Geography lessons. The substance of
included themes is systematically adapted to correspondent age group.
Aim: to present to pupils the history of beekeeping and biological structure of bees and swarms of
1. The general idea is given by using direct methods of following themes*:
• The history of beekeeping – from bee-gardening in trees to modern hives.
• Biology of bees and swarms of bees – strength of swarms in various periods of year, the
differences between drones, queens and worker-bees, also bees’ behaviour;
• First period of collecting of honey – from blossom to capped cells in hive.
*The presentment of themes mentioned is prepared separately it is not included in this material.
Different examples and advises about the explanation of some terms are given according to every
age group and the contents of school programs.
2. The concrete task is given:
After before acquired information youngest groups have to put in order shred text about bees’
behaviour in the process of swarming. (Annex 1)
*Depending on co-operation of school first part may be organized for all involved class together.
The material is presented by The Latvian Rural Advisory and Training Centre, beekeeping farmers
or other external experts. Teachers of subjects are only responsible for coordination of tasks
completion. Disadvantages of this version: Less possibility to ask questions individually, variety of
preliminary knowledge level, less potential to concentrate for each pupil. Advantages: better
understanding of theme in general, obvious understanding about the completion of task in
demonstration farm, economy of recourses of time during preparation part.
There are organized excursions to farms, which practise honey production, to improve knowledge
acquired during the lessons. It is possible to see the structure of bee hive, the placing and taking
care of swarms of bees, and taking honey out of the hive and straining.
During the field trip there will be a chance to see the process of taking care of swarms of bees as
fully as possible, so that youth can understand the biological specific characters of swarms of bees
and the process of honey production. It will make an idea of jobs practiced in beekeeping and
people involved in these jobs, and that will allow realize the action of production process and
activity of swarms of bees, while honey changes into the final product.
Also during the field trip it is easier to explain the second period of honey gathering – from capped
to prepacked honey.
The aim of excursion is to show theoretical knowledge in practice.
Getting to demonstration farm: (not more than 1 hour)
Getting to the demonstration farm should not take more than 1 hour, which means that the farm
should be in a radius of 50km maximum from school. School administration organizes and pays for
getting to the demonstration farm. It would be perfect if a guide accompanies the group from the
school and uses the time of the trip to start working with pupils, discussing one more time themes
talked through in the lessons and creating the repetition of themes further discussed.
Arrival and getting ready: (15 min.)
After arrival, there is planned to check up the surrounding, to meet hosts – guides, to have tea
break, and some snacks. After adaptation in new conditions pupils can set aside their stuff and
cloths, and get ready for seminar. When they are ready, they are introduced with hosts – further
guides and seminar presenters.
Lecture: (40-50 min.)
During the lecture it is told about the structure and historical development of farm in connection
with beekeeping. There are also given information about the bee hives used in the farm, methods
of bee-gardening, chosen bee race and so on. It would be great to tell why the farm specializes in
beekeeping. Visual aids are needed as much as possible - for example, various inventory of
beekeeping and plants in closest neighbourhood that give nectar. In case of good weather
condition it is possible to see an opened bee hive for a moment. From the viewpoint of
management it is told about the distribution of produced production. This information about the
sales is one of the main tasks of field trip.
There are questions asked to pupils to make them think all the time, and in some cases they are
allowed to tell the right answer, thereby providing two-way communication (discussion). Questions
are also asked rhetorical, but answer is not obligate, the purpose is to make pupils think together
It would be rational to have a 10 minute tea break after lecture to rest a little bit, so that pupils can
concentrate their attention later too.
Discussion: (30 min.)
The concrete farm where the seminar takes place is being analyzed during discussion. Pupils ask
questions and give their judgement about what they would do differently and what they consider as
a good example. The leader of discussion is the guide, but the teacher also can join in, and the
representative of every group, made for the tasks realization, can also express its opinion. The
guide summarizes comments and initiates other pupils to discuss them. The aim of discussion is to
compare and evaluate the connection between tasks done and common contest: the management
and protection of environment. The methodical aim of discussion is to encourage pupils to take
part in it and give arguments for their opinion, in that way establishing basic knowledge about the
theme. The marks are not given.
Resume: (15 min.)
To make a resume in the end of discussion (dialogic approach) is the guide’s task. The guide must
be well prepared and competent to talk about pupils’ arguments. During summing up the guide
should give objective appreciation of discussion and mark the main theses.
Lunch break: (45 min.)
It would be perfect if it was possible to provide lunch in the farm, but considering the various
conditions in farms and abidance of sanitary standards, it is allowed to have a lunch in a canteen, if
it is close to the farm and takes not more than 15 minutes to get there. The lunch is already
counted in project expenses. The teacher and guide also join kids in lunchtime to stimulate
informal talks with questions.
Field trip: (2 hours)
The aim is to strengthen theoretical knowledge using practical examples and to demonstrate
methods of management. During the field trip (explorative approach), there has to be expressed a
positive experience and opinion about possibly lasting and successful managing in countryside.
Field trip is divided into following periods:
• Presentation of bee-garden, premises of farm, buildings for primary processing of honey
and other jobs of beekeeping, machinery and inventory used in the farm;
• Movement through previously developed and deliberative route, during which nearby
existing plants that give nectar such as cultivated meadow, natural meadow (biologically
worthy grassland), park, forest is discussed;
• Demonstration of the process of removing and straining the honey.
The most suitable time for field trip is the period of flowering (from April to June), when is the best
chance to realize this training model.
Conclusion: (30 min.)
Conclusion is organized in two small parts. First part is the competition about various things taught
during the day about the beekeeping and managing. The best way to organise competition is
After asking question, pupil, who raises up his hand the first, answers the question loudly for all to
hear. For each correct answer pupil gets a small present (sticker, tack and so on). In the result
pupils will be motivated to listen and acquire explained better. Most active ones will be able to
descend, and competition will ensure faster thinking and active joining. Everyone will be able to
hear the right answer immediately and thereby to memorize it better.
In the second part there should be expressed general conclusions and main cognitions about the
life in countryside as economically justified model of management, which is based on the methods
of economy that assures biological variety.
After conclusion the guide says goodbye to pupils and they leave (it is already mentioned in the
part ‘’Arrival and getting ready’’). Depending on specific characters of demonstrations during the
excursion, there may be included visiting of some extra sightseeing objects, such as secular trees,
grate stones, some water body in the territory of the farm, but that is an extra element and about
information expressed guide should take care himself. Above mentioned objects and
demonstration methods of them must be obligatory included. It is very imported to develop
methodically united activity, so that the part of originally prepared theory would be in close
connection with excursion and tasks made in groups. The guide must also conform to standards of
guides: communication, rhetoric, methodically correct way of presenting information, ethics and
other things that are separately taught during the guides training in the way of recommendation-
Worksheet handouts (WH) for the pupils
Proposed handouts for action-based learning
WH 1 Melliferous Plants of Latvia
WH 2 Flowering of melliferous plants.
WH 3 Bees Friendly and deleterious insects
WH 4 Swarming of bees diary
Work sheet no.1
Melliferous Plants of Latvia
1. Please identify melliferous plants by the pictures.
2. Try to determine periods of flowering of them.
3. Please name actually flowering melliferous plants.
Work sheet no.2
To arrange melliferous plants in order of flowering.
Clover, maples, heath, orchards, osiers, raspberries, winter rape, acacias, dandelions,
sweet clover, nut-trees, creeping thistles, thistles, buckwheat.
1. ………………. 8. ……………….
2. ………………. 9. ……………….
3. ………………. 10. ……………….
4. ………………. 11. ……………….
5. ………………. 12. ……………….
6. ………………. 13. ……………….
7. ………………. 14. ……………….
To group insects in pictures in:
1. Bees deleterious;
2. Bees friendly.
As well as to name other bees deleterious or friendly insects, which are not seen in
Work sheet no.3
Bees Friendly and deleterious insects
Wasps and giant hornets Moths
Humble-bees Ticks and cooties
Work sheet no.4
SWARMING OF BEES DIARY
Arrange the mixed paragraphs in the correct order of the swarming
Swarming mood or swarming instinct appears after the swarm has spent the winter and is
gradually becoming stronger. The bees are then overwhelmed with the species reproduction
instinct: bee chrysalis are growing under the wax caps, the young bees come out of the cells, but
the queens lay eggs continuously. The smallest the nest (limited by the size of the hollow or the
hive), the sooner the swarming mood will appear.
First indication by which it can be said that the swarm is preparing to hive is presence of drones in
the hive. During winters the drones are not necessary in the hive, because the queen in a normally
over-wintered hive is fertilised. Usually the young bees of the spring first generations extract
several hundreds of drones cells, however, until the swarming instinct in the hive has not appeared
the queen avoids the cells of drones and also the working bees pay no attention to the cells. As
soon as the swarming instinct appears, the house-cleaning bees search and clean the cells of
drones to prepare the cells for laying eggs in them. Even if the beekeeper willing to prevent the
swarming will have had destroyed the cells of drones, the working bees will extract them again or
modify the cells of bees into cells of drones. The queen then lays eggs in the prepared cells, but
the working bees continue to collect the honey harvest and grow larvae of bees. The queen lays
less and less fertilised eggs and is more often searching for cells of drones, sometimes creeping
even ten meters per day. The number of the cells of drones is growing. This goes on for
approximately 14 days.
Also the older the queens the smaller number of eggs she lays. A large stock of young bees
accumulates and an incompatibility emerges between the nurse bees and the nursed larvae. The
number of young feeding bees in the hive increases and not all bees have work to do. Now each
maggot has not 1 or 2 bees as usually, but 2 to 3 times more nurse bees. The young bees for
feeding the maggots do not use all of their larvae milk in such way accumulating energy that will be
useful for creating new nest. Such 'unemployed' bees gather on the side honeycombs of the hive
therefore the hive is usually crowded.
Therefore the temperature in the hive is increasing that in turn fosters the swarming. A lack of air
increases and the bees find it difficult to maintain normal temperature. On the hot days the
temperature in the hive is so high that the ventilating bees cannot cope with their task. To protect
the larvae from the heat part of the bees fly out of the hive. Quite often we can see bee clusters
hanging outside the hive under the flight board not only in evenings, but also during the day and
flapping their wings. The swarming mood is also fostered also by warm weather and low honey
Bees which have the swarming passion start to pull the honeycombs of queens – large, rounded
wax cups. It is the second indication by which the beekeeper can see that the bees are preparing
to swarm. (Later when the bee families have let out their first hives, the beekeeper usually breaks
the extra brood cells leaving only one – the largest and most correctly pulled). As the number of
unemployed bees is growing also the swarming mood increases. If in the beginning the queens
and her entourage pay no attention to the brood cells, than later the entourage bees excite even
more and embrace the queen in a tough circle to force the queen to lay egg in the brood cell,
because she would not do it voluntarily. Being enclosed by her entourage the queen is forced to
lay eggs for three days also in the remaining brood cells.
After that the bees are no longer feeding the queen although it starts already with the appearance
of the first brood cells. The queens get less and less food. Then the feeding with milk is interrupted
completely. The queen then must subsist not of the high quality milk she was fed by the young
entourage bees, but she must eat the honey. Queen discontinues laying eggs, grows thin and
becomes notably lighter. While the queen is not laying eggs, she builds up her strengths for flying
and laying eggs in the new place of settlement.
While the queen rests and accumulates strengths also the 15 to 20 days old bees as ordered by a
signal discontinue their work already 9 to 10 days before swarming. On the swarming day the bees
are not flying out of the hive, but fill their belly with honey. Therefore it is believed that during
swarming even the most annoying bees become peaceful, because it would be physically difficult
for them to pull out their sting stylet.
In the brood cells the maggots of new queens develop, and then the bees seal them with curved
caps. Under normal conditions after the first sealing of brood cells in the middle of the next day – in
a warm day free of wind – usually in May or June the first swarm flies out. As soon as the first
brood cells have been sealed, it is the alarm taking over the peaceful hive. Prior to coming out of
the hive part of bees run across the honeycombs in a staggering way by pushing other bees and
strongly buzzing. They emit ultrasounds inviting other bees to join them. After approximately 10
minutes the swarm comes out.
Swarming starts fast. Huge amount of bees from the hive come out on the flight board or the walls
of the hive, they move chaotically and as if without purpose by flying clumsy in the air. They fly in
strange winding pattern above the hive in the swarming dance as if saying goodbye, and buzzing
in a strange way. This is called the hive song, which differs from the usual bee buzz. The number
of bees having left the hive may reach 10 to 30 thousand, sometimes even more. With the swarm
particular groups of bees fly out: usually those are the young unemployed bees, but the employed
bees remain in the hive. Also the flying bees join the swarm. Bees with full honey gizzard remain
close to the swarm, but the other one must return to the hive. If in the swarm there are bees with
pollen packs they are usually joined from other hives. Sometimes several swarms having left
different hive join in one huge swarm cloud. The swarm as a tight and live cloud flies with the
speed of 20 km/h by rising in the height of 6 metres and suddenly coming down almost to the earth
as a golden rain. Width of swarm may be of 15 to 30 metres, however if the bees are flying in skein
as cranes do it then the length may exceed half kilometre.
Together with bees, sometimes also earlier or later, the queen comes out on the flight board.
Usually the first swarm is joined by the senior queen. Being thin she creeps to the edge of the flight
board and take off in the air to land on the nearest branch of a tree or elsewhere after couple of
minutes of flying. Gradually around her cloud of bees is originating making dense swarm forming
the swarm ball. This takes place 5 to 10 minutes after the swarm has left the hive. Swarm ball
reminds of large hanging bunch of grape, however the construction of the ball is similar to the
structure of the winter ball: the inside of the swarm is loose, made of series of young bees; from
outside the swarm is covered by dense crust made of the oldest bees, which have joined each
other’s tarsi in approximately 3-bee thick layer, In which immediately after landing of the swarm an
opening or entrance appears through which the bees enter and leave the ball. Bees hanging in a
dense ball as if feed each other with the honey stock brought with in the honey gizzard. Swarm
bees with this stock may, if necessary, survive couple of weeks. some bees, which do not take part
in creating the ball, but fly around it, are the swarm guardian bees but on the top of the swarm we
can notice the dance of the spy bees or the locating bees, which in difference from the spying-
collecting bees can dance for hours. By such dancing they announce the direction of the new
Swarm rarely remains in its bee garden; it also does not remain long in one place. If the swarm
does not manage to leave the bee garden it spends the night in the ball, but in the morning, as
soon as the sun comes up, the ball disintegrates and the swarm flies away. Usually in its first
settlement place the swarm lands for approximately 10-20 minutes, sometimes – for several hours.
Even though the locating bees have not found an appropriate nesting place within the radius of 2
kilometres the swarm moves to another place. Search of new settlement may last for several days.
When swarming the bees can settle in the most unimaginable place by creating in the nature
strange live sculptures. Every beekeeper has its own swarming stories and experience in catching
swarms. If the beekeeper does not catch a swarm it is lost for the bee garden, because it may fly
away and settle elsewhere. Therefore in the applied beekeeping swarming of bees is not
advantageous. Experienced beekeeper tries to catch the swarm in the beginning of its coming out.
It is easier to do by first identifying the queen and then capture her in the queen cage and then it is
moved to the hive. If it was not possible to catch the queen on the flight board, then the swarm lure
shall be used – cell honeycomb with cap. Swarm can be taken as soon as it has settled on the
branch of a tree. If the swarm has adhered to the branch, it can be shaken into the hive. If there is
no hive a screen or wattled basket can be used. If a swarm has settled in a place from which it
cannot be shaken off, for example, it has wrapped around a large tree then it can be carefully
collected in the hive by using wooden spoon or a special swarm spoon that in past were made of
birch bark. Hive stand then shall be put in the shadow and when the sun has went down and the
bees have stopped flying the stand then shall be put into the hive. The swarm can be shaken into
the hive from above or pour out on the flight board to make the bees believe that they have chosen
this settlement. Bees are not moving very fast. They creep having stretched out their belly, shaking
wings and buzzing in a strange way as if inviting to join them. After approximately half an hour the
new hive is already populated. Swarm has already become a family that starts to grow and develop
as a single structure. Working bees are starting actively to pull cells and carry out other work.
For wild bees the swarming does not end with the flying out of the first swarm, because there are
many brood cells. More and more new queens are born therefore the bees let them out from the
brood cells one by one. When the young queen has become stronger it flies away together with a
number of bees. The following swarm comes out on the ninth day after the first swarm if in the hive
there are many capped brood cells left. When the hive prepares to launch the second swarm in the
hive we can hear a specific „singing of queens” – the queen having broken the pupa shouts to
those queens that are still captured in the royal cells. The queens still in the cells croak similarly to
frogs. If the initiators of the first swarm are the working bees, then the following swarm is launched
by the young unfertilised queen which is the first to leave the hive. Subsequent swarms may exit
also in very poor weather conditions and they usually settle very high in the trees. With the next
subsequent swarm the number of bees in the hive decreases. When the swarming mood is over
the bees crunch the remaining brood cells and destroy the queen chrysalis in the cells.