College of Lake County, 19351 West Washington Street, Grayslake, IL 60030
In part one, Lisa and I were introduced to Ed, Dan and Angela at the apiary tucked away on the main campus of College of Lake County in Grayslake. We were treated to practical lessons about bees, bee products and sustainable living. In part two, Ed and Dan give us more background about bees and beekeeping; afterward, Ed showcases a sweet grand finale brought to us by the bees at the apiary of Special Bee Products.
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“Visiting the apiary was amazing! I was never scared of the bees. Ed and Dan were so passionate and knowledgeable, and were happy to answer my many questions. It was a fantastic experience!”
The temperature was 93 degrees. There was no escape from the sun. A breeze stirred up every now and then; but, it was more of a tease than a relief. We eclipsed an hour during our tour with more to go, but we didn’t want to stop.
Ed: “If you wanted to plant stuff for bees—I had mentioned trees—ideally what you want to plant is succession and diversity. You really need to plant for April and May. In May and June, you’re probably set. There’s enough stuff in nature. How about planting for droughts? Thistle is very drought resistant. We all hate thistle but thistle honey is amazing.
Do you see the white nodding onions over there? The bees will forage for them.
I love Dan for the fact that he’s really good with a smoker. We will smoke some bees. It calms them. It’s what they told me when I first became a beekeeper. Now, I have to laugh. Imagine somebody coming into your house with a big plume of smoke at your front door. How calm would you be? If there’s a fire, instead of stinging, the bees will fill their honeycombs with honey because they might need to get out of ‘dodge.’ In the Australian wildfires, a lot of the bees lived. In the Notre Dame cathedral fire, the bees lived. They gathered their honey, left, and then they came back. They gathered all that honey and that was their food source.
I’m bringing a bunch of bees down south. A lot of beekeepers keep their bees up north, but instead of putting their bees away for the winter, and leaving them 80–100 pounds of honey, a beekeeper could harvest 50–80 pounds of honey from one hive. I’ve harvested 400–500 pounds of honey from my hives before. Well, I have almost 20 hives now. I do three or five extractions a year. Sometimes I can get up to 500 pounds. I usually expect about 50 pounds of honey from a hive.
Even though I do a lot of splits, I want to be a bee breeder. But I also want honey. What I really recommend for anyone who wants to be a beekeeper, don’t do it to pollinate nature. Our native pollinators do a great job of pollinating nature. Do it because you want the products. Do you think 40,000–60,000 honeybees out compete solitary native bees? Absolutely, without a doubt they do.
Bees aren’t even from here. Settlers brought them from Europe. There was never a native honeybee in North America. Ever. Now we have 400–500 species in Illinois alone. We have 4,000–5,000 species in North America. And we have 20,000 species worldwide.
Do you know why I really like this Warre hive? Because you can see in here. And I really want to watch them build. You can take a peek inside the hive. Do you see that? Here’s a little window. This is all natural foundation.
We manage these Langstroth hives. L.L. Langstroth developed these in the 1850s for farming with manageable, removable frames. If you’re going to farm bees, this is a good way to do it.
I’m scraping off propolis. It’s 50 percent wax, 50% tree resin, mostly pine (the sap). It’s an antiseptic. Sometimes the bees will even go down to the mushrooms. What’s there? Some kind of medicine that they want. Something good is in there that they’re harvesting. Sometimes I see them digging the ground and I wonder, ‘What the heck are they doing?’ They’re finding something good. They know something we don’t. I love to eat propolis. A lot of cultures highly regard it. What does propolis taste like? Taste it for yourself. It’s kind of waxy. It smells awesome. It doesn’t really have much of a taste. It’s medicine. Propolis is good for burns mixed with honey. Soldiers used to carry it around with them thousands of years ago.”
Dan: “Normally the entire exterior of the cavity that they’re living in inside a tree is completely covered with propolis. That’s what they use for their entire home.”
Ed: “Just like what we might seal up our home with as insulation.”
Dan: “I’ve heard beekeepers talk about how bees prefer the feel of wax and propolis under their feet versus other stuff like plastic.”
Ed: “Look at them here. They’ve all got their heads dipped in this space where they’re depositing nectar. Here are all the babies getting ready to hatch. All the food is around the babies. Here’s a bunch of pollen. Look at how it’s all deposited. The bees are so busy working. ‘Busy bees.’ They don’t care about us. They are super gentle.
I’m looking for the queen. Ideally what I need to find are eggs. I’m not wearing gloves. I’m being gentle. This frame is very heavy. Look at how crazy this is. Some of these frames, full of honey, can weigh up to eight pounds. Look at this! Isn’t this a thing of beauty? They’re such happy bees.”
Dan: “Before the Langstroth hives, and even up into the 20th century, what a lot of people would do to get honey is they would sit by a field and watch bees next to a field of flowers. It’s called beelining. You watch where the bees go. By watching where they go, you can find the bee tree. If you find the bee tree, then you get all the honey, but you destroy their colony. Beekeeping has been around for thousands of years. This is the best way without destroying bee colonies.
Normally bees live in trees that have a 4–10 inch thickness around the cavity. We’re going to make tree hives. We’re going to hollow out the middle of this tree hive, and have a colony in here to make it closer to what they’re used to.”
Ed: “Pete made this tree hive. I’m learning. In Illinois, according to the Illinois State Beekeepers Association, to be within code, we need to have removable frames. So I coated wax on these frames, and that will let them build down. These are little paint sticks. That’s all they need. We’re going to make tree hives.”
“Kill the weeds, kill the bees. All weeds are bee food. Weed killers kill bees.”
Dan: “The research that’s been done, there’s a guy at Syracuse University, his name is Tom Seeley, he’s done most of the research that is about bees’ natural habitats. And what he discovered is that bees like to live 8–12 feet off the ground. I wonder if it’s the bees that have chosen that height or if it’s the height of the tree hollows? If you think about it, that’s the thickest part of the tree and where the most potential for a hollow to be. There’s so much to learn. It’s exciting!”
Ed: “Everybody who truly loves bees is really going to self educate themselves a lot. I’m obsessed. I do YouTube videos. I read books. I go to Northern Illinois Beekeepers Association meetings. I go to Lake County Beekeepers Association meetings. I go to Racine-Kenosha Beekeepers Association meetings. I hang out with beekeepers. I watch videos on the internet. There are some great beekeepers everywhere.
It’s great to stay versed on everything, especially because we’re a college. We’re here for educational purposes. We sell our honey at the farm market and the bookstore. And all that honey that’s sold goes to fund the Special Bee scholarship. Win, win, win!
The goldenrod and the aster are what’s coming up. Goldenrod honey is very flavorful and good for your seasonal allergy needs. You want some late season goldenrod honey. It granulates quickly. If honey granulates, then it’s good. Everybody seems to want clear honey. They all want to warm it up. That’s the worst thing you can do to honey. The health benefits are killed. All the live enzymes are killed. If you put your honey in hot tea, all the health benefits are gone. Raw honey is never heated or warmed, never filtered.
I don’t put anything on my lawn. Kill the weeds, kill the bees. All weeds are bee food. Weed killers kill bees. Who knew? Most people don’t. That’s why I teach classes about bees, protecting our pollinators to raise awareness.
I’d like you to look at some books. If you want to know what to feed bees, then you want to plant some native plants for our native pollinators. They’re absolutely amazing. These are all great books to learn about native landscaping. I just taught a native bee class in an effort to help save the rusty patched bumblebee. I shared my 10-year journey with these honeybees and where it’s all led me. My next class is going to be phenology. It’s about relationships between insects and native plants.
This is bee pollen. Bees gather honey from nectar. It’s 68% moisture by volume. And they dehydrate it to 17.8%–18.3% moisture by volume. It lasts forever. Bees make honey to survive droughts and winters. They don’t eat it during the summer when there’s food already out there. They eat nectar and pollen mixed together. It’s called ‘bee bread.’ It’s kind of fermented. This is carbohydrates and protein. It has every vitamin and mineral except for vitamin K. People ask me, ‘What does it taste like?’ Do you see how every one is a different color? Different flowers. It tastes kind of like flowers. Superfood.
This is a one pound jar made for honey. Everyone loves liquid, clear honey. I would almost call this amber honey.
This is beeswax. It burns 2–5 times longer than regular candles. All churches use beeswax candles because there’s no after scent.
See this? If you want to know if you have real honey, just look at this fresh comb.
“We were never afraid of the bees. The bees were so intelligent, treating us with the Golden Rule. Ed, Dan and Angela were so helpful in teaching us about bees, bee products and sustainable living. That is the essence of Special Bee Products!”
I make bee bars. I make cocoa butter and shea butter. I melt it all down. I make these little moisturizing bars. I make honey, pollen, propolis, honeycomb, and beeswax. There’s royal jelly and bee venom. I do candles, bee bars, and soaps. I sell all these products at the farm market right here at College of Lake County. All the details are on the College of Lake County website. Right now I have a Special Bee Products Facebook page. I’m close to launching my own website, hopefully by this winter!”
Our tour at the apiary concluded after more than 90 minutes, but it honestly felt like 10. The time flew, the bees buzzed, and all the while we felt comfortable as if we were at home. Ed, Dan and Angela welcomed us, but the bees made us feel at home. We respected the bees and their homes; consequently, we were their welcome guests.
Lisa’s words afterward echoed my thoughts, “Visiting the apiary was amazing! I was never scared of the bees. Ed and Dan were so passionate and knowledgeable, and were happy to answer my many questions. It was a fantastic experience!”
I shared a hive mentality, “We were never afraid of the bees. The bees were so intelligent, treating us with the Golden Rule. Ed, Dan and Angela were so helpful in teaching us about bees, bee products and sustainable living. That is the essence of Special Bee Products!”
This experience was unbelievably good! Meeting good people always feels good, but meeting bees on good terms is just, to use Ed’s favorite word, “Awesome!”
To learn more about Special Bee Products, visit Special Bee Products
For more information about the Farm Market and Special Bee Products at College of Lake County, see College of Lake County – Farm Market 2020
To experience an amazing dynamic presentation of Special Bee Products, click on the link to my Adobe Spark photoblog at Adobe Spark – Special Bee Products
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