By now most people are aware of the disappearing North American honeybee. One local beekeeper "Le Blue Bee" is trying to put a positive spin on honeybees and help our community understand the many benefits of honeybees by placing them in local gardens.
"How can bees help an urban community garden you ask? Without bees you can't grow crops. With the decline of the honeybee in North America farmers are struggling to pollinate their food. The bees are responsible for 1/3 of the food we eat. CCD "Colony Collapse Disorder" is a spreading phenomena where the bees are disappearing due to hard pesticides sprayed in rural fields. With that said "city" honey is more pure than "country" honey because residents keep decorative plants and don't use harsh chemicals. Since bees can cover 8,000 acres I think Northbrook would be an amazing place to keep local hives. We have several community gardens that can benefit from their pollination and we are a stones throw to the Chicago Botanic Gardens- they keep bees too!
Im sure safety comes to mind when I say the word "bee". I am designing an public education information packet that will cover the fears and concerns along with bee facts for urban-specific safety precautions in a community garden. For example, "75-80% of bee stings come from other stinging insects, not honey bees". It will also cover the differences between honeybees, wasps, yellow jackets and hornets, honeybee lifecycle facts and how they "work" and make honey, sting precautions and statistics, Colony Collapse Disorder and the disappearing honeybee, The Langstroth Hive, pollination facts and how they increase productivity and the health and allergy benefits of local honey. I aim to spread positive public awareness with new acceptance and love of the honeybee.
For example- Recently, Le Bleu Bee has been contacted by a local girl scout troop to sponsor a hive. My husband and I work as a team and make our own Langstroth hives with wax foundations. The troop will be able to personalize their box. (We paint it white and they can decorate it). The troop can earn their "honeybee badge" along with collecting invaluable information on the honeybee. The troop can adopt the hive by donating $200 to purchase materials and the colony. We use italian bees because they tend to be the most docile and friendly. The troop will come out to learn about the hive at the beginning of the season- April, help harvest the honey- July, and winterize the hive- October. Depending on our season these months can vary.
We pledge to donate a percentage of the harvest to the Northfield Food Pantry. At least 10% or 12 pounds, whichever is greater that year. I spoke directly with the pantry and they were very willing to accept the honey as long as it was unopened. After harvesting the honey we apply tamper resistant seals to the bottles.
Le Bleu Bee is in talks with the Northbrook Farmers market to sell the honey and donate a percentage back to our elementary schools to educate children on honeybee welfare. I can't stress enough how important pure local honey and pollen is to allergy sufferers in this area.
Next year we hope to use that percentage of profit to fund an elementary school program that brings honeybee awareness to children. They will be able to look under microscopes to study bees and learn how they carry pollen along with being able to identify honey bees from other wasps etc. Aiming to bring the fear of the actual honeybee down. This may have to start with the way we educate children. Kids need to experience nature--plants, animals, insects etc. at an early age. Adults have a lot of ingrained, irrational fears unfortunately."
When I asked a Northbrook resident what they think of keeping honey hive in our local garden he replied, "There will be wild bees in our cities and towns as long as there are nectar and pollen-producing plants. Why not have properly managed domesticated bee colonies packed with a gentle strain of honeybee that were bred with characteristics like being cold hearty for these winters".
Another resident replied, "I love the idea of local honey because I have allergies and like to eat 1 tablespoon daily to help me get through the rough seasons. I mostly only find heated honey that is stripped of all nutrients and benefits and it came from an area that doesnt have our native plants".
*Le Bleu Bee has proposed an adopt a hive program for Northbrooks local gardens and other locations around town that will give private residents, clubs, schools, groups and corporate companies a chance to sponser a hive for $200 in exchage they will share a percent of the harvest with the sponsor, local schools and the Northfield Food Pantry. They are currently waiting for a response.
Id love to see how many residents are actually knowledgeable about honeybees and would love to sponsor a hive(s).