with sweet nature project
Marquette Monthly, September 2009
Einstein ... speculated once that if bees disappeared
off the surface of the earth, then humans would have
only four years of life left.
Warner, KBIC Natural Resource Director
Surrounded by a swarm of 150,000 loudly buzzing bees on
a hot summer day, a group of Marquette County teens
turned nervous faces and trepidation into smiles and a
education that they heard loud and clear to protect
rather than fear pollinators.
At first only two teens wearing protective beekeeping
gear entered the apiary behind the Negaunee township
home of Jim and Martha Hayward. The others wearing only
shorts and t-shirts soon approached when they discovered
that honeybees are not aggressive.
Bees and butterflies "are a part of the web of life
because they pollinate all the flowers and fruit trees
that provide us with food," said Dr. Jim Hayward, a
Marquette dentist who has four honeybee hives on a
teens literally got up close and personal with the
honeybees by inspecting honeycomb trays each covered
with about 3,000 busy bees and even handled a drone that
Hayward explained do not have stingers like the rest of
the colony and are easily identified by a larger round
abdomen and bigger eyes.
"It doesn't have a stinger? Are you positive?," asked
apprehensive teen Keith Gelsinger of Marquette.
"I am positive," Hayward said confidently while
carefully handing the struggling drone to Gelsinger.
"You can grab on to it it won't sting you."
In his soft-spoken, calm demeanor that relaxed the teens
and the bees, Hayward said "you can stand a lot closer
if you want, you won't get stung."
"The sole purpose of the drone is to mate with the
queen. Otherwise it has no function. It can't even feed
itself. The other worker bees have to feed the drones."
The teens let out an audible but soft gasp when Hayward
pulled out a tray that was dripping with honey and
packed with bees.
"Oooohh," several of the astonished youths said at once.
to the edge of the honey-oozing tray in the bright sun,
Hayward said "you can see the glistening of honey
"It's awesome,' said 13-year-old eighth grader Tanya
Nelson of Ishpeming. "Look at it, it's honey, it's
The teens also visited a bee farm along the Dead River
operated by Dr. Lisa Long and Lee Ossenheimer in
Negaunee Township and heard from beekeeper Jon Kniskern
The Zaagkii Project is sponsored by the nonprofit Cedar
Tree Institute (CTI), Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC)
and the United States Forest Service (USFS).
Honeybees often have "sacks of yellow or orange pollen
on its legs," Hayward said. "They are busy bringing
their nectar and pollen back to the hive."
"You can learn a lot about the health of the hive by
just looking at the flow of the bees coming in and out
of the hive," Hayward said as the heavy bees bounced in
Teen Anatoly Nelson was impressed that he was able to
stand in the huge swarm and not get stung.
"Holy cow, that's a lot of bees," Nelson said.
In its second summer, the three-year Zaagkii Wings and
Seeds Project protects pollinators through habitat
creation that includes teenagers constructing dozens of
bee and butterfly houses while helping native plants
flourish by distributing and planting tens of thousands
Billions of bees of have died worldwide in an ongoing
syndrome dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Suspected causes for CCD include pollution, pesticides,
climate change and habitat destruction.
have always been killed by a wide-range of predators.
Natural bee killers include black bears that raid hives
for honey, bald-faced hornets who kill the queen and
feast on the colony, birds that pick them off in mid-air
and skunks who scratch on the hive with an insatiable
taste for guard bees.
Feral and commercial hives are attacked by viruses,
bacteria and parasites like a tracheal mite that infests
honeybee airways and blood-sucking mites that infect and
feed on adult and larval bees causing wings deformities.
Hayward uses electric fences to protect bees from
persistent bears and elevates hives on cinder blocks to
"That makes the skunks have to stand up, so their
bellies are exposed and the bees can sting them more
easily," Hayward said.
Experts say bee colonies have declined 70 to 90 percent
in the past quarter century. Albert Einstein predicted
humans would die within four years if bees disappeared.
"People get into beekeeping is to sell their pollination
services to orchards around the country" including
"apple and cherry orchards in Michigan," Hayward said.
"I got into raising bees after local bee populations
died out because of some disease and we did not have
anything to pollinate" our fruits and vegetables,
The teens learned about beekeeper tools like honeycomb
trays, frame grippers, a hive tool and a bee brush.
"You can brush them off an area with this gentle brush
and it won't damage the bees," Hayward said.
reassuring the teens that "honeybees tend to be docile,"
Hayward donned himself and two youths in protective gear
including a bee veil and gloves.
"If I make a false step and jar the hive or move too
quickly it keeps me from being stung," he said.
"Honeybees die if they sting you, so they are not
anxious to sting unless they are protecting themselves
or the hive."
The teens gathered along the edges of the hives
listening to Hayward's honeybee facts.
"The queen excluder keeps the queen from getting up into
the honey chambers and laying eggs so you don't get
larval bees into the honey," he said. "These two
chambers are the brood chambers, where the hive raises
its new bees."
During the summer, the queen "lays close to a thousand
eggs a day," Hayward said. "It takes 21 days for a bee
Using a smoker that burns dried sumac, Hayward said the
smoke "simulates a forest fire" triggering a
protective instinct that causes the bees "to gorge
themselves with honey in preparation for leaving the
"When they are gorged wit honey they are more docile,"
he said. "The key is moving slowly and trying to be a
gentle as you can be so the bees don't get too
develop from unfertilized eggs, worker bees are
developed from fertilized eggs," Hayward said. "If they
need to make a queen they take worker larva and feed it
a special extract from their heads called Royal Jelly
and that larva grows into a queen instead of a worker."
The teens likely have "never been that close to a bee
hive before," said Jim Rule, a child care counselor at
Marquette County Youth Home.
"Even the kids that did not have any protective gear
were right up close too," Rule said. "I was amazed at
how brave they were."
Hayward explained that the bitter sumac burning in his
bee smoker makes a great tea that tastes like lemon.
Later the teens made sumac iced tea, add a drop of
Hayward's honey and served it to Zaagkii Project
supporters at the annual CTI Midsummer Festival at
Presque Isle in Marquette. The youths made other natural
hors d'oeuvres like honey and wild mint in a tiny
The teens visited Laughing White Fish Falls in Alger
County, the organic Dancing Crane Farm run by Natasha
Gill in Skandia, and planted native species plants at
the Borealis Seed Company owned by Sue Rabitaille in Big
Meeting three days a week for five weeks, the teens
walked dozens of miles during numerous hikes, climbed
Sugar Loaf, and swam in Lake Superior and the Dead
Martial arts training and Tai Chi lessons were given to
the teens by Rick Pietila of Marquette. The teens built
a huge beehive with help from Jim Edwards at the U.P.
Children's Museum, who created a large butterfly for the
Zaagkii Project in 2008. Facts about monarchs were
taught to the students by Susan Payant of Marquette,
nicknamed "The Butterfly Lady."
students learned about different species of native
plants and insects during several outings with an Ojibwa
brother and sister Levi and Leora Tadgerson - who are
Zaagkii Project interns from the NMU Department of
Native American Studies.
The students learned "different uses the Ojibwa had for
edible and medicinal plants" like "the saps of different
trees and the roots," said Levi Tadgerson, 22, of
Marquette, an NMU senior.
"We explained this plant is good for keeping bugs away
from you and this plant is good for a breath mint,"
The Tadgersons were impressed with the teens' ability to
grasp Chippewa language because "we would tell them the
different native names for plants and two days later
they would remember it," said Leora Tadgerson of
"I think the earth is suffering," she said. "Indicator
plants like wild rice that don't grow as much anymore
because of the way we have abused the earth."
The pair taught the teens to seek a "symbiotic
relationship" with the earth because "nowadays we are
more of a parasite to the planet," Levi Tadgerson said.
"We need to respect the gift we have been given by
"There are ways to heal by just getting into the woods
and learning knowledge from elders," he said. "There are
gifts and teachings every day that you will get from the
passed on respect for the earth inherited from elders
and knowledge about native plants learned from NMU
Anishinaabemowin Professor Kenneth Pitawanakwat, who
offered the closing prayer at the CTI midsummer
"We greet each day and end each day with a thank you
prayer," Pitawanakwat said.
"In Native America, all events begin and end with
prayer. It's a spiritual component that's all done with
prayer. There is no such thing as a separation of church
Noting a Tai Chi performance by the Zaagkii Project
teens, Pitawanakwat said:
"The sounds from the soft fluttering moves of Tai Chi
were very beneficial to all of us."
Turning to the band, Terracotta half-life of Marquette,
Pitawanakwat said "megwich for your inspirational
A few weeks earlier, the sounds of hammers and saws
filled the Grace United Methodist Church in Marquette
for several days as the teens built and painted 36 mason
bee houses with help from carpenter Bruce Ventura and
artist Diana Magnuson, both of Marquette.
In 2008, other Zaagkii Project teens built and painted
17 butterfly houses at the church.
Shaped like a birdhouse, the mason bee houses have five
pieces of wood below the roof with 33 holes that are
each turned into a private nursery.
bees "are very particular" and "want a five-sixteenths
inch diameter hole," Ventura said. "If the holes are too
large other insects get into them, and if the holes are
too small the mason bees can't get in."
After laying a single egg into each hole, the mason bees
"deposit some pollen and mud that hole closed hence the
name mason bee," Ventura said.
Mason bees "make these holes three to six inches deep
depending on the size of the tree," he said. "Mason bees
are solitary bees, they're not colonial like honey
While mason bees do not make honey, Ventura said
"they're great pollinators like honeybees."
Ventura is impressed with the teen's carpentry and
"The young people are terrific," he said. "They did a
great job putting the mason bee houses together and
decorating. They did a lot of sawing and nailing and
screwed in the tops."
Lessons on protecting pollinators was not lost on the
Zaagkii Project teens.
"I learned that there are 4,000 different species of
bees," Bobbie Weymouth, 14, of Beaver Grove told project
supporters at the CTI Midsummer Festival.
Earlier, Weymouth explained what he'd learned about
mason bees as he nailed and sanded mason bee houses.
"The bees are going to put pollen it these holes and put
mud in and then they hatch an egg," said Weymouth, whose
brother Daniel participated in the Manoomin Project, a
CTI environment initiative that paired Marquette teens
with Native American elders to restore wild rice to
seven remote rivers and lakes across the U.P.
While screwing on a mason bee house roof and sanding the
edges, Elliott Burdick, 17, of Marquette said
"pollinators are important to all life on earth because
they pollinate all the fruits and vegetables we eat."
"I am screwing in the roof to the base of the bees
houses right now," Burdick said. "Then I am sanding it
down so the edges are not sharp and making it all flush.
The mason bees will be going inside these holes."
students learned that butterflies are just as important
pollinators as bees.
"I learned that Monarch butterflies only eat and lay
their eggs on milkweed," said Jake Gentz, 16, who will
be a senior this fall at Marquette Senior High Schools
Student Brandon Maki of Marquette said he "learned we
can make natural teas out of spruce trees and pine
The mason bee houses are now in yards across Marquette
County. The mason bee houses and last summer's butterfly
houses were put up around the Keweenaw Bay Indian
Community and one of each were placed by the USFS in the
"The People's Garden" at U.S. Department of Agriculture
Headquarters on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Teen Devon Myers of Marquette told Zaagkii Project
supporters at the CTI Midsummer Festival that the
students "made 36 mason bee houses and we are giving
some of them away tonight."
USFS officials said the Zaagkii Project is effectively
spreading the word about the importance of native plants
and the teen mason bee and butterfly houses have a
positive impact on the survival of pollinators.
"In point of fact, the mason bee houses are very
useful," said Jan Schultz, USFS botany and non-native
species program leader in Milwaukee, WI. "The mason bee
houses are used by mason bees and other types of
solitary bees. They really like them and they will have
"The insect pollinators in North America evolved with
indigenous plants and so they are really well-suited to
pollinate them," Schultz said after watching the teens
make the houses in Marquette.
Schultz said that "native plants and the native insects
that pollinate them represent a symbiotic relationship"
and cannot survive without each other.
"In some instances they have a mutualistic relationship,
where they are pollinated by one insect and one plant
species, so it can be really specific," she said.
Vegetable and flower garden production increases when
"native plants are in close proximity," she said,
"because the pollinators that people want to pollinate
their squash or tomatoes need to have food all summer
"are not going to magically appear in front of a tomato
flower at an appropriate time," Schultz said. "So
planting with native plants in proximity to their garden
makes for a much more productive garden and more
"Milkweeds and monarchs are a stunning example ," she
said. "The monarch larva prefer to eat various milkweed
"The more of the milkweed that monarchs eat, the less
palatable they are to predators because apparently they
taste really horrible," Schultz said. "So that's
beneficial to the monarch butterfly and they also
pollinate the milkweed flower."
During the CTI Midsummer festival, KBIC Tribal President
Chris Swartz Jr. announce the building of a native
plants greenhouse that scheduled this fall on tribal
property near Baraga.
KBIC "is happy to be partnering with the Cedar Tree
Institute and the U.S. Forest Service in trying to
protect native plants and bring them back home," Swartz
said. "One day we hope (KBIC) will be regarded as
pioneers to bring these native plants back here," he
said. "So it's only fitting that the (KBIC) become
involved in helping save those native plants."
"We have been working with the Cedar Tree Institute for
a number of years and they are great to work with," said
Swartz, noting the Manoomin Project to restore wild rice
and native plants restoration project at the KBIC Sand
Point beach on Lake Superior.
respect for Native American culture and the planet are
goals the CTI plans to continue for another decade, CTI
officials said during the festival.
"We honor the presence of the Native Americans," said
Marquette banker and CTI board member Steve Mattson.
"It's tremendous that the (KBIC) have shown the
leadership and the vision to have the first greenhouse
for native species plants in the U.S. on their native
Working "behind the scenes," the CTI will continue
efforts like the Zaagkii and Manoomin projects because
"they are important," Mattson said.
"We're the quiet people and we like to keep it that
way," Mattson said. "We like to do big things and we can
only do big things through each of you."
The Zaagkii Project contributors include the Marquette
Community Foundation, Marquette County Juvenile Court,
the M.E. Davenport Foundation, the Kaufman Foundation
and the Phyllis and Max Reynolds Foundation.
Visit photos of the day's events by Greg Peterson:
KBIC Tribal youth protect pollinatorsNative
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