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.

24 March 2012

Monticello bees

On Friday we took a little field trip to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, to see the new apiary there. Our host was Paul Legrand, the volunteer beekeeper at Monticello. Paul met us at the visitor center and then we got to drive up to the house in our car, under the watchful eye of Monticello security - they're pretty serious over there.

Paul currently keeps four hives near the house and is working on establishing a second apiary a mile or so away. The setting is quite picturesque, surrounded by blossoming redbuds and fruit trees. And of course, there's also the electric fence to keep out the bears.

After donning veils and lighting the smoker, we opened up the hives to take a look. All colonies are already very strong, with plenty of nectar coming in. The honey flow seems to be almost a month early this year. One colony had already swarmed, as evidenced by several empty queen cells on the combs (see photo below).

Paul uses styrofoam hive bodies for his bottom two brood boxes. He says the added insulation keeps the bees warmer in winter and cooler in summer. You might think Thomas Jefferson had no access to styrofoam, but a little known fact turns out to be that...just kidding. Actually, Jefferson predated even the modern Langstroth hive. In his time bees would have been kept in skeps - those inverted dome-like baskets. We asked Paul if Management gave him a hard time about that. He said there were some raised eyebrows initially, but he convinced them his way was healthier for the bees.

You can see the empty queen cell on the right side of the above photo. Just after the old queen left the hive with a swarm of bees to establish a new colony, a new queen emerged from this cell and fought to the death with other emerging queens. The winner is busy laying eggs and building the population of this colony.

Before we left, Paul handed us a jar of honey made by Monticello's very own honey bees. We'll open it up for our dinner event in May. Thanks for hosting us Paul! Some more photos of our visit are here.

12 March 2012

Spring check

Checked the bees. All hives still have lots of honey stores and are getting active again. I cleaned out the collapsed combs from the bottom of the TBH. The bees had used up the honey from them, so it was easy. Our observation hives have arrived; we need to paint them and get the glass. Nucs and queens have been ordered.