Drone brood
Lighting the smoker
Capped honey
Brood nest
Comb honey
Different types of honey


UVA Bee School is an informal seminar at the University of Virginia on the mathematics of honeybee behavior and the practice of beekeeping. It's part academic pursuit and part social activity, honoring the University's unique tradition of close student-faculty friendship. It's led by Associate Professor of Mathematics Christian Gromoll, and generously supported by the Mead Endowment.
Hive intelligence
Honeybees survive by acquisition, defense, and efficient allocation of various resources, to enable successful overwintering and reproduction. This requires sophisticated decision making, akin to that needed by manufacturing firms, and beyond the capability of a single bee's brain. But when each bee follows simple sets of rules, the aggregate effect creates an emergent intelligence for the colony as a whole, able to react to a dynamic environment and achieve complex optimizations.
We're interested in understanding some of the mathematical principles underlying the colony intelligence of honeybees. We meet roughly every other week from October through April to discuss articles from the scientific literature on honeybees. We also do some mathematical modeling of specific honeybee optimization behaviors. Along the way, we learn some aspects of honeybee biology and ecology, as well as the history and practice of beekeeping.
We're also interested in getting to know each other, and getting to know the bees. In the Fall and Spring, we meet regularly at Professor Gromoll's home for hands-on activities in the apiary. This includes an opening breakfast in the Fall, and a dinner in the Spring. We'll also start a new honeybee colony for the group, and take a field trip to a larger apiary in the area.

03 November 2011

First post

BeeSchool got started on October 10 and we had our opening breakfast on a cool Fall morning on the 11th. After eggs, baguette, butter, and honey, we headed outside for our first visit to the bee yard. The bees are just about ready for Winter. Two colonies are still being fed and that was the task for the day. We brought out several gallons of sugar syrup and filled up the feeders. We also opened up one of the Langstroth hives and started getting some practice with reading the various frames: honey frame, brood, pollen. There were no eggs or larvae left, just capped brood. Drones are gone by now. We did spot the queen - not so easy since she's an unmarked Carniolan. Watched her go about her business for a bit and then moved on to the top bar hive to see the differences in how that hive is set up.

Then we took a few posed photos for local journalists, closed up the hives, and went back inside to hang out for a while. I was out in the yard the next day to clean up a bit more and noticed that the two top bar combs we had pulled for the photo op had collapsed. Guess we had them in the sun too long, even though it was pretty cool out. The combs were fine when we put them back in the hive, but it takes the bees some time to re-establish their climate control, and the combs must have failed a few minutes after we returned them. These were combs with unripened honey. The bees have since finished ripening the honey and capped the combs, even though they're slumped on the floor of the hive. There's nothing to do but leave them there over winter for the bees, and clean things up in the Spring.

At the moment we're covering basic bee biology in the seminar. Starting next week we'll discuss Chapters 4 and 7 of J├╝rgen Tautz's book.