Bees at the Arb

Ping Honzay, the Farm at the Arb education program coordinator and beekeeper, is the beeswax luminary class instructor. Her job at the Arboretum connects people with bees, which is not always a logical progression in people’s minds, she said with a laugh.

Beeswax can be used for many purposes, from candles to lip balm to a reusable wrap to use in place of wasteful plastic wrap. It can even be used to make a decorative luminary, perfect to give as a gift or to make your home festive for the holidays.

If a beeswax luminary sounds like a craft your buzzing to try, consider taking the “Beeswax Luminary: Gifts from the Hive” course at Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3210 W 82nd St., Chanhassen.

While the November sessions have already filled up for the make and take class, the Arboretum recently added two more sessions on Friday, Jan. 7, 10:30 a.m.-noon and 2-3:30 p.m. The class cost is $29 for members and $44 non-members.

Ping Honzay, Farm at the Arb education program coordinator and beekeeper, is the class instructor. She often tells people in the class that she isn’t an arts and crafts person, but the project is simple and very impressive looking.

“People are like, ‘Wow, you’re so artistic’ and you’re like ‘No, I’m not actually,’” she said with a laugh. “If I can do it, you can do it.”

In the class, students will fill a balloon with water to use as a mold for the beeswax. The balloon is dipped into melted beeswax several times for multiple layers. Students can also get fancy with the craft by adding dried leaves or flowers or making different shapes and patterns. When the balloon is popped you are left with a luminary.

Beekeeping basics

When Honzay isn’t helping people create beautiful crafts, she is keeping the hives at the pollinator center. The Arboretum is a bit different because its main objective is educational programming, rather than honey production, she said.

A typical day for Honzay doesn’t always involve beekeeping. Bees are a unique livestock because they feed themselves. In their peak season, bees go out and forage for food, but she usually checks on them every one to two weeks to see how much honey they are making and to ensure they look healthy.

The tasks that Honzay performs vary be the season. This time of year, she is getting the bees ready for winter. She is making sure the bees have enough honey for the winter, which is their food source when fresh flowers aren’t available. She will also feed them sugar syrup to supplement their honey supply.

When people come to the pollinator center in the winter, they might have noticed that the bee hives have a black cover on them. Honzay wraps the hive to give the bees more insulation for warmth.

When Honzay closes the hive for the winter she wants them to be as well set-up as possible, to limit the number of times she opens the hive. Occasionally, she still has to do a few management tasks.

“For the most part, you really want to just leave them alone as much as you can. You don’t want to be like ‘Hey, it’s 30 degrees outside. Let me open it up and see what it looks like’,” Honzay said.

Education is key

Bees at the Arb

Ping Honzay loves honeybees and enjoys that she is always learning something new about them through her work.

Honzay spends a majority of her time on educational programing. Her job entails connecting people with bees, which is not always a logical progression in people’s minds, she said with a laugh.

“It’s kind of a magical thing when it happens,” Honzay said. “I think it’s a really exciting topic for kids.”

While honeybees aren’t native to Minnesota, Honzay loves them and spends a lot of time talking about honeybees. There are actually over 400 species of bees in Minnesota that have important roles in the environment.

Honzay educates visitors about the other pollinators in the state that people may not notice, such as blue or green bees. She often discusses pollinator relationships and what people can plant for them. She has noticed that people have more awareness of pollinators. It’s important to know that the issues facing honeybees are also facing other bees as well, she said.

With beekeeping, it’s like taking care of any living thing, Honzay said. She is always learning something new and how to do things differently. You’ve never quite got it figured out, she said.

“Honeybees are just fun. They’re just really amazing animals and there’s so much going on inside a honeybee hive…there’s always more to learn and to try,” Honzay said.

Lydia Christianson is a digital reporter for Southwest News Media. She graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota. When not reporting, she enjoys reading in coffee shops, listening to podcasts, and checking out new restaurants.

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