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.

06 May 2012


Yesterday evening we had our final official bee school event, a closing dinner featuring as much honey as possible — or as much as reasonable, really. There was a leg of lamb with polenta and honey in the jus, field greens with honey vinaigrette, and for dessert a classic Bienenstich, or "bee sting" cake. We all enjoyed a lovely evening out on the back porch.

But somehow it's not the end. The bee schoolers all have plans to stop by and inspect the observation hive later this summer. Rowan has received a grant to run an experiment on the Small Hive Beetle, a recent honeybee pest, and I'll be helping her with that. She's already set up six hives for the experiment at UVA's Morven Farm. And there's also talk of running another bee school in the near future, or maybe one of the new Pavilion seminars along similar lines.

Lots of excitement to come. For now, I'm going to go check the observation hive...

01 May 2012

Observation hive

At the beginning of May we finally installed the observation hive. This hive is well ventilated and can hold eight deep frames, in four pairs (only three pairs are currently installed in the photo). So it's big enough to exist as a permanent hive. That is, the frames are permanently behind glass (and also wooden panels when not being observed), as opposed to being placed there temporarily as is done with smaller observation hives. This way we can pop off the panels any time we want, year round, for a glimpse into the status of this honey bee colony. Of course, you can't see in between the pairs of parallel frames. But the two outer sides give a view of half of the entire hive. That's more than enough to see all activities going on inside, and asses the state of things.

The colony that we installed had some trouble initially, but they've been rebounding well over the last few weeks. The colony should be nice and strong by the end of the summer, in time for visits by returning beeschoolers!