Growing up on a farm in Kendall County, Carolyn Pottinger remembers her dad keeping bees.
Even at that time, her dad donned netting, long sleeves, and used a smoker to distract the bees so he could claim the honey. The equipment was less advanced as today, she said, but it served the same purpose to harvest the honey.
Pottinger and fellow master gardener Linda Kopacz, recently attended a workshop conducted by the University of Illinois along with approximately 30 others interested in learning about bees and beekeeping.
Kopacz, who has considered beekeeping herself, has memories of taking peanut butter and honey sandwiches to school and “by lunchtime, the honey had crystallized.”
Today, she uses honey on top of yogurt, English muffins, and in her tea.
“I have lots of flowers, so the bees would have sources of pollen and nectar,” she added.
Kopacz, who along with the other master gardeners takes calls to the University of Illinois gardening help line, said many of the calls she receives are related to identifying bees that have made their way into homes.
The workshop was presented by the University of Illinois Extension Educator James Theuri who said, today, we have much more interest in where our food comes from, where it was grown, and if pesticides were used.
Honey is considered to be the “world’s first processed food,” he said.
Bees gather nectar from flowers to bring back to the hive. Bees regurgitate the nectar, and others fan their wings to accelerate the evaporation process.
However, honey is not technically the “health food” some may think. Honey doesn’t contain a large amount of vitamins or minerals, and it is 64 calories per tablespoon.
It is also used to make candles, lip balms, lotions, and soaps.
In the United States, 90 different crops are pollinated by different types of insects including bees, butterflies, moths, and flies.
However, 80 percent of the crops including fruits, nuts, vegetables, and legumes are pollinated by bees.
Bees are the only pollinators for California’s almond industry, Theuri said. To pollinate the half of million acres of almond groves, 1.2 million hives are needed.
“Without the bees, there is no almond industry,” he added.
Honey bees are the best-know bee; however, Theuri said most pollination of plants is done by wild solitary bees including the Mason Bees which are great pollinators and can assist plants and trees blooms.
All kinds of bees have been disappearing, Theuri said. “The number of bee colonies has fallen from six to seven million colonies 50 years ago to only three million today,” he said.
The reduction has been linked to both pesticides and parasites.
Some begin beekeeping to sell the honey at farmer’s markets, but others do it as a hobby, Theuri said.
“Some people say beekeeping is therapeutic,” he added.
To start beekeeping at home, Theuri estimates the cost to be about $500. He recommends beginning with two hives.
Since beekeeping is considered “livestock” he also suggests that anyone wishing to start beekeeping check with their city’s zoning laws.
Retired police officer Carol Lussky, who now runs a farm that raises sheep, chickens, and bees in unincorporated Elgin, is in her second year of beekeeping and also attended the workshop.
Lussky began beekeeping for a local honey source as well as to “help the bees.”
“I find it very interesting and exciting,” she said.
Today, Lussky has accumulated about 60 pounds of honey which she currently shares with friends and family. However, she may begin to sell honey in the future.
Beekeepers can expect to get about 30 to 40 pounds of honey per hive, Lussky said, but in the first year, they spend all their time building out their comb and wax.
Lussky who operates four hives said it doesn’t require daily maintenance, but every week she checks on the hives to make sure they are disease free, have their food source, and are “buzzing around.”
— Beekeeping workshop attracts people for varied reasons —