I was fortunate enough to be allowed to sit in on this lecture with Michael Thompson, of the Chicago Honey Co-Op, and Dr. Alan Molumby, of UIC. The lecture was presented by The School of the Chicago Botanic Garden & the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs at the Chicago Cultural Center. Part of it was suppose to take place at the Lurie Garden, due to bad weather the lecture was kept indoors but was even more interesting than I was expecting. My only complaint is that it was a one time thing and not part of a series. I took some notes that I’ll share below the fold.
Rooftop Beekeeping in Chicago: The Confluence of Culture and Nature
Honey bees can’t hear, aren’t affected by noises like music because it is the wrong frequency.
Bees have been farmed since ancient Egyptian times, possibly before then.
Queens lay two thousand eggs a day, a hive can increase by one thousand or two thousand bees a day. A hive of three thousand bees in May could have fifty thousand bees in July.
Bees need a lot of water, Chicago Honey Co-Op provides containers tanks with wine corks floating on top to give bees access to water. Beekeeping is very hard work under hot conditions and a hive can weigh as much as three to five hundred pounds.
The nectar of ubran flora in Chicago produces good honey because of the diversity of plants found. Farm remnants, escaped seeds that have naturalized & the amount of clover that grows in our area helps the production of honey.
Yellow jacket wasps attack hives because they smell honey and aging bees make easy prey. Yellow jackets eat aphids and other pests in vegetable garden.
Honey bees are very efficient. They will visit the closest & most numerous flowering plants within a 2-5 mile radius of the hive.
The amount of “free labor” that humans receive from bees is estimated to be in the trillions of dollars.
Urban beekeeping enthusiasts examine specimens
A honey bee is a wasp that abandoned the predator lifestyle around the age of the dinosaurs. It was easier for them to become foragers than to be killers.
Most bees are solitary and never meet their offspring, they die before broodcells emerge.
A lot of bees are parasites of other bees.
A typical urban area has a higher density of blooms than a rural area of similar size. Bee use urban areas like rest stops to spread, only a few bees have been able to take advantage of this.
Bees in urban areas can make a home in discarded things like boxes, refrigerators and coolers.
Honey bees fly when cooler, bumble bees are hairy because they have evolved to forage in cold temperatures. The hairs on bees are thermal regulators. Sweat bees are named so because they will collect the sweat off of your body.
Sandy soil is good for solitary bees because many of them will build homes in it. Large undisturbed piles of sand make perfect homes for them.
Honey bees were brought to America by the settlers of Jamestown and some escaped, nobody knows if they wiped out any native bees. The Native American’s called honey bees “the white man’s fly.”
Bumble bees are also in decline but nobody knows why. They are always present in bad industrial areas. Leave a pot upside down with the drainage hole covered and way for the bumble bee to find an entrance and they will take up residence. They are the only bee that pollinate tomatoes.
To attract more native bees plant native plants, add sand piles, rotting woods, trees to increase the diversity of native bees in your garden.
Plants recommended for butterfly gardens aren’t good choices for bees. For native bees plant things like: Golden Alexander, Praire Rose, Horsemint, Blazing Star, Beards Tongue.
While a lot of money is spent by agriculture industry to transport honey bees to pollinate crops most of the pollination is actually done by native bees.
The plants you find in Big Box garden centers aren’t ideal for bees. They have been bred to produce large flowers losing the genetic diversity that makes them good candidates to collect pollen from.
Dr. Molumby recalled an anecdote of not believing that bees will be attracted to corn pollen and looking at his plants one day and watching bees “bathing” in the pollen of his corn. Pollen from GMO plants will kill bees.
The lecture was particularly interesting because both of the speakers had different styles. When I first entered the room I thought Dr. Molumby was the AV guy, imagine my surprise when I discovered the guy with tattoos and studed belt was a, self-described, “bee nerd” who has spent years studying bees. The people in attendance were also diverse; from young students to older couples, united by an interest in bees. Like I said above, this lecture should really be part of a series because there was so much more that could have been covered. Special thanks to Bonnie Tawse, Coordinator of Environmental Programs at Millennium Park, Lurie Garden , Michael Thompson and Dr. Alan Molumby for the hospitality.