By Aidan Alvezi, 8th grader
Woodside is home to several raised beds where the students grow various food and herbal crops. The Middle School focuses on growing herbs which we then infuse into oils for our products. After we harvest the herbs we dry them for several weeks until they are ready for the next step.
When you use herbs in topical products you have to extract the oils from the herb into something called a carrier oil. It carries the herb to your skin. The herbs are put into the oil through a process called infusion.
How long does the Infusion process take? The process takes about six to eight weeks. The dried herbs are covered in a carrier oil such as oil or rapeseed and left to sit in sunlight where it infuses the oil so that they herbs healing properties can then be put into the salvas and lip balm.
What carrier oil do we use? We use both olive oil and grapeseed oil. We used these because they are very stable and easy to work with when we heat them and combine them with the bee’s wax and scents/flavors. Also, they are very good to use because they don’t go bad as quickly as other oils. They can last for a very long time which is key because the process is very long.
A special thanks to MaryAnn Sullivan who helped our class: grow, harvest, dry our herbs; infuse the oils; and make our salves and lip balms. She shared her knowledge of herbal healing properties and the process of making the products.
By Ryan Collier, 8th grader
One of the products in our line is our healing salves. Healing salves are a topical, oil-based, soothing rub. A carrier oil is infused with herbs and then it's thickened with a bit of beeswax for easier use.
When we make salves, we first choose what type of oils we want to use. We make this decision by looking at the healing properties of each oil. Herbs have different healing properties, for example: comfrey is a great wound healer, calendula is good at soothing rashes and skin diseases, basil can soothe muscle aches, sage is very good at healing and stress reduction, rosemary is good at reducing pain and inflammation, chamomile can ease skin conditions and sores, lemon balm is very good at healing cold sores and cramps, thyme can be good at anti-inflammation, and peppermint can help relieve headaches and migraines.
Once the oils have been chosen we place the oil jar into hot water and mix the desired amount of beeswax into the jar. When all the wax has melted we can test the salve’s consistency by putting a small amount on a spoon and letting it cool. We then physically feel the salve to check for smoothness and tobe sure the oil and wax have come together. After we have the salve at the correct consistency, we can add essential oils which scent the salves. The mixture is then poured into the containers and left to firm up. Labels are then designed and placed in the containers. After this, the salves are ready to sell.
The middle school students would like to thank MaryAnn Sullivan for helping us make the salves and sharing her knowledge of herbs with us.
By Isa Reynolds and Molly Luccini, 7th Graders
If you are having some trouble sleeping, our dream pillows are the thing for you! Our dream pillows contain two medicinal herbs called lavender and mugwort. Most people have heard of lavender but don't know that it has some quite amazing healing properties. Lavender has a sedative effect on the central nervous system and reduces anxiety, nervousness, irritability, and stress. Lavender is also a more natural approach to help with insomnia, It promotes sleep, decreases motor activity, and lengthens your duration of sleep. This provides a natural and restful sleep. Lavender is a very important herb and what most people don't realize is that it is right in their backyard!
Our dream pillows also contain mugwort. People have been using mugwort for thousands of years but it is a less commonly known medicinal plant so allow us to tell you a bit about it! Mugwort is a perennial plant that usually grows in the warmer areas of the Northern Hemisphere. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Because it is related to ragweed and can cause allergic reactions, people usually kill or remove it. Mugwort is known to help you get a calming and very dreamy sleep. It is also said to help people have clear and bright dreams. It also has many antibacterial properties.
We grow all the herbs used in our infused oils and dream pillow here on campus. Read our blog post on how we harvest, dry, and infuse our oils in another post!
The process of making these pillows is fairly simple. After drying the herbs we packaged them in small, porous, cloth drawstring bags so that the pleasant fragrance can be easily enjoyed. Next, we cut a fun cloth to size for the case of the pillow. We then took bunting and wrapped the herb sachet in a lining of stuffing for softness. To make the pillow, we sewed together three sides of the pillow and put the sache into the case. Then we folded in the edges of the pillow, and sewed the last edge in.
You can use this pillow by putting it in your pajama drawer and giving your nighttime clothes an aroma of sleepiness, or you could just let it sit on your bed while you sleep. The dream pillow is about four by five inches in size, not very big, but large enough to assure you sweet dreams!
Written by Kat Jacks, 8th Grader
Our class prides itself on working together on hands-on projects. One more recent project we did was making soap. We each took on and rotated tasks, ensuring everyone got a chance with each job.
The class decided two make two kinds of soap for our first round. We made a honey and lavender soap and a honey oatmeal soap. The honey and beeswax used in the soap came from our beehives. The oils and fragrances used were all organic.
While soap is safe for us to use it undergoes a chemical process when it is made the generates a considerable amount of heat (130+℉) and uses a chemical called sodium hydroxide (lye). The chemical process that occurs is saponification. We made cold process soap which involves mixing fats and lye. The chemical reaction between any fat and sodium hydroxide is a saponification reaction. Using a sodium hydroxide, it creates a hard soap.
To be as safe as possible, we used goggles and gloves while handling and mixing the lye. When lye comes in contact with water, it rapidly releases heat and fumes which cannot be inhaled. Once the lye had completely disintegrated into the water, or now lye mixture, we integrated it into the wax and oil.
Measuring out the ingredients went by fast, and the next step was to mix them together. We used the heat from the lye and water mixture to melt the solid coconut oil down so it could incorporate easily. Once the oils were well combined and beginning to harden, to the point of trace, we added the fragrance and oats. We then poured the completed mixture into molds to cure. The soap isn’t safe yet, depending on the thickness of the soap it can take 4-6 weeks for the chemical process to finish.
After two days we cut the soap. The goal here is to cut the soap before it gets too hard and allow more surface area to be exposed to air quickening the chemical process.
The class would like to thank Chris Chamberlin and the Woodside Montessori Academy Parent Guild for helping us make the initial investment in this new product for our microeconomy. We are very grateful and learned a lot during the process!
Written by Santi Sekula, 7th Grade
Part of our Icarus Apiaries microeconomy is a line of products that we make with our honey or beeswax. Classes have made beeswax candles, soap, salves of several types, and lip balm. In the past, classes have made stick lip balms but this year we decided to make lip balm tins.
Our lip balm is made with all natural ingredients and fragrances. Our lip balms are made with beeswax and calendula oil. All the oils used in our products have been infused by the Woodside Montessori Academy community and using plants grown by us.
The process of making the lip balms involves an intricate process of testing consistency to make sure the mixture is perfect. The lip balm is made with a double boiler slowly melting down the wax into the oils. You test to see if the mixture is ready by taking a tablespoon of the mixture and placing into the freezer to make sure the mixture is the right consistency for pouring.
Once the hot mixture is ready, the fragrance is added to make the desired smell. After that, it is poured into containers to cool and harden. When mixture has hardened, the caps are placed on the containers and the containers are labeled/ We chose to label the lip balms with a corresponding color to match the scent, so it is easy to see what fragrance it is quickly. To me, the lip balms were very fun to make.
The lip balms will be sold at the Montessori Schools of Massachusetts Annual Conference in Franklin, MA in January along with our other products. For the last several years the class has had a vendor table at the conference, preparing everything to market and sell at our booth. This year we will have three types of lip balm to sell: strawberry, citris, and unscented. Our lip balms will also be sold in bags that have variety of other products included, they make great gifts!
Written by Gautam Shankar, 8th Grader
In November of 2019, we attended the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association’s Annual Meeting in Medway, MA. We entered the honey judging competition for the first time because we wanted a new challenge and wanted to show off our honey and beekeeping capabilities. We were all very excited to compete and really wanted to win or at least get a ribbon for second or third!
To help us learn about the honey judging process, Kathy our Head of School, asked a friend from the Norfolk County Beekeeper’s Association, Kathy Varney, to come and talk to us. Ms. Varney has ribboned in countless honey and wax competitions across the state, and has several best in show awards. She shared her expertise and words of advice as we started the research process to prepare for our first competition.
Never having done this before, we prepared two jars (a requirement) from three different harvests and two hives. We went through the steps with each set so that we could decide which set looked the best for submission. Criteria for honey judging include: cleanliness, appearance, density/water content, freedom from crystallization, accuracy of fill, and flavor.
Preparing for the honey judging was an arduous process. We had to strain our honey from our Langstroth hives twice and our AZ hive three times because it was so thick - the extra strain helped ensure that there was no crystallization or any other impurities in the honey. We had to clean the two jars we submitted multiple times to make sure that there was nothing on them, not even a fingerprint. Right before the competition we carefully cleaned the jars one last time with a microfiber cloth to get rid of anything else on the jars.
We ended up coming in third place out of fifteen in the “Best two jars of amber honey” category; which we all thought was pretty good for the first time. Our honey received 81 points out of 100. There were some impurities in our honey and our jars were underfilled so that is why we lost 19 points. Considering that this was our first time, we were very happy with the results. We hope to do even better next year now that we have some experience with the process.
By Sophia McAvoy, Class of 2017
Inspired by my Science Fair project, the Middle School at Woodside set itself a goal to be the first school in the United States to build, and maintain, a Slovenian hive. We accomplished this goal in April of 2019! Slovenian beekeeping is a technique that originated in Slovenia over 100 years ago. Slovenian beekeeping is more efficient, and is healthier for both bees and humans.
We were inspired by the fact that Slovenian students of all ages learn beekeeping basics and the bee’s importance to the environment. We hope to spread that concept here in the US by offering AZ hive tour, workshops for local agricultural groups, beekeeping associations, and schools. We also hope to start a 4-H club in our county that focuses on bees because there is not one in our county currently.
Within our classroom this hive will help us achieve our secondary goal of expanding our microeconomy by selling nucs, expanding our current honey sales, and various products from the hive (lip balm, creams, soap, and candles).
We also plan to use the hives to do scientific research comparing and contrasting the Langstroth hive with the Slovenian hive.
Slovenian beekeeping is a technique that originated in Slovenia over 100 years ago! Slovenian beekeeping is more efficient, and is healthier for both bees and humans. It removes the burden of lifting an eighty pound hive super, (where the honey is stored) so smaller children and adults who may not be able lift such a heavy object. The frames where the bees reside slide out of the back of the hive, which removes the hassle of having to lift the top off and take everything out, including the bees, which aggravates them. A Slovenian Hive allows the bees to be much calmer and more peaceful than in the Langstroth hive. Since we have children on campus who are very young, and hope to bring people of all ages and abilities to learn about bees, calmer bees who are less likely to sting are ideal.
The Slovenian bee house is essentially a shed with specially fitted beehives placed in the front, where the bees’ entrances/exits are located. In the house, there is enough room for storage and a work space for honey extraction and/or other necessities and/or activities that we may need to do to take care of the bees.
Written by Kat Jacks, 8th Grader
"A Bee is an exquisite Chymist" [chemist] – Royal Beekeeper to Charles II
Bottling honey is how we prepare it for storage and sales. After the honey is extracted, we strain it by pouring the honey through a fine straining material (we use cloth or plastic), making sure nothing but honey ends up in the bottling bucket.
The bottling process requires a team effort, lots of patience, and a tolerance for being sticky. It is very important to keep the workspace clean and to only use clean, sanitized materials. We split our work into three tasks: carefully pouring our honey out of the bucket’s nozzle and into bottles; putting the caps on and washing the bottles with warm, soapy water to make sure remnants of honey are gone and it is no longer sticky; and labeling the jars.
By the end of the day, we managed to fill an entire table with honey! This year we are planning to enter two types of honey into a judging competition at the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association Annual Meeting. This required us to keep our honey divided by the “super” that it came from so that we could accurately track several factors. More on this in a future blog entry.
Written By Gautam Shankar, 8th Grader
Recently, the Middle School Classroom used a refractometer to figure out the water and sugar content in our honey after we extracted. This year, instead of combining all the honey into a couple of buckets we used a separate bucket for each super so we could do experiments with it and compare each one to the others. We used the refractometer, not only for the science we are doing but also because we are submitting our honey into a competition.
In a honey competition, your honey has to be between 14% to 18% water. If there is too much water it could ferment and if it has too little water the judges could think that we artificially tried to dry our honey. All of our honey was within the competition parameters.
One interesting finding in our comparisons was that the AZ hive had higher sugar content and less water. All of the supers from the Langstroth hives had around the same amount of water and sugar in them, but the AZ hive honey had less water, more sugar, and weighed more. We hypothesize that this might be due to the AZ hive being in a hotter space much of the year (protected by the hive house). We hope to design and experiment for next season that will allow us to test this hypothesis. We also plan to interview experts to see what they think about this hypothesis.
A refractometer (ree-frak-tom-i-ter) is a tool which uses light to measure the amount of sugar and water in a liquid. It works by measuring the angle of light after it goes through a liquid by doing this it is able to determine the water and sugar content in a liquid.
The refractometer measures the amount of sugar using the Brix scale. The Brix scale is largely used in the honey, sugar, fruit juice, carbonated beverage, wine, and maple syrup industries. The Brix scale uses the mass of the liquid to figure out how much sugar is in a liquid instead of volume. One Brix in the Brix scale is equal to one gram of sugar, sucrose to be more specific, in a 100 gram solution. Since honey is relatively dense 100 grams of honey is not that much at all being only around 4¾ tablespoons of honey.
In the near future, we plan to learn more about and conduct experiments on the honey and hives. In the spring, we are also going to use liquid nitrogen to see and compare hygienic behavior in the queen bees. Hygienic behavior in a queen bee helps the hive deal with varroa mites and infected brood better resulting in a healthier hive. We will share our results once we conduct the experiment.