Carl Johnson has suffered from back pain for a number of years. Nothing the 63-year-old did to try to ease his pain seemed to work.

As he was searching for something to help, he happened across an old book in his collection about Bees and how their pollen can be used to improve human’s health. Johnson took a shot, and started taking pollen.

“I read about all of the health benefits of bee pollen and about how it aids in the healing of injuries of this nature. I started taking bee pollen five years ago and now I feel as good as I ever have,” said Johnson. ” I certainly [don’t feel] 63 years old.”

When Johnson found out about Garfield Park’s bee keeping class, it wouldn’t take long for him to sign up.

‘Buzz on Beekeeping’ is one of the conservatory’s programs offered through its non-profit Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance. The first class on Jan. 14, had 20 students their abuzz.

Some were looking to start their own beehives. Others were looking to take the knowledge of the class into their own health classes, as well as learn more about the nature of bee pollen.

The jury is still out on to what extent humans are affected by bee pollen. But some, like Johnson, believe the pollen, which is filled with such nutrients as vitamins, carbohydrates and proteins, provides nutritional supplements when ingested.

“About a decade ago I got into an accident where a disk in my back was severely damaged,” Johnson recalled. “I tried physical therapy, chiropractors, everything to regain the physical skills I once had. Then I pulled out a book I had purchased many years ago called ‘Bee Pollen for your health’, which is not even in print anymore.”

Johnson has taken bee pollen for his back ever since while some use it for other ailments. Some research points out that bee pollen can be used to treat such things as obesity, cardiovascular disease and skin conditions such as psoriasis.

Other researchers think the hype surrounding bee pollen’s health’s benefits are for the birds ” and the bees. There are small risks in taking pollen. People may become allergic to pollen.

But the conservatory class was as much about maintaining the bees and their hives as with exploring the health affects of pollen. Instructor Micheal Thompson, a professional beekeeper, said it’s important to maintain the hives at a temperature of 93-degrees year round.

“This is why many worker bees only live a few weeks in the summer,” he said.

So much energy is expended fanning the hives with their wings, not to mention searching for nectar from trees, they wear down.”

Thompson went into every aspect of bee maintenance during the five-hour workshop, including the use of smokers. These smoking canisters are blown into the hives when beekeepers need to check them to both subdue the bees and keep them away from the open area.

Supers, as they’re called, are the stacked boxes the hives are kept in. Thompson said it’s important to wear light-colored clothes when in contact with the hives.

“Light clothes comfort them and it’s best not to wear perfumes or strong hair sprays around the hives either unless you want them to be checking you for nectar,” said Thompson.

He also cleared up the misconceptions between identifying bees and wasps.

“If you’re at a picnic and you are infiltrated by buzzing yellow and black insects, they are probably wasps,” he cautioned. “Bees almost never invade a picnic, they aren’t interested in your hot dog.” Aside from health issues related to bees, the class identified what to do if stung, the various types of diseases that can infect the hives, and the proper way to place the queen bee into a newly built hive. The queen bee is the largest in a colony and the only sexually developed female. The queen when most active can lay upwards of 3,000 eggs in one day. She starts laying eggs about 10 days after mating.

Thompson and volunteer beekeepers plan to build hives and install bees at the North Lawndale Employment Network. The job-placement and training agency’s used the hives in year’s past for its ex-offender program, turning one-time inmates into part-time beekeepers.

“Although we didn’t hold one last years, we generally like to hold our beekeeping classes in January since that would be the time that most aspiring keepers would be obtaining their resources to start their hives,” said Kristen Acres, Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance coordinator. “With these classes they can find out exactly what is needed to get started.”

Garfield Park Conservatory Beekeeper Edith McDonald had her own interesting story involving bees.

Her father was a beekeeper from Ohio. She learned much from watching him work and working alongside him.

“When I was a girl I wasn’t allowed to do as much of the hands-on work that my father did,” she recalled. “But I was able to help in cleaning the frames, gathering the supers, and checking the thickness of the syrup feeder for the bees (which comprises sugar and water).”

“Before he passed he said he wanted his great-grandchildren to receive a special container of his own extracted honey when they reached a particular age,” McDonald added. “Most people don’t know that honey cannot spoil so you don’t have to keep it refrigerated. That will just harden it. Well, that’s what someone did to it, so we had to thaw it out and re-store it. It’s still waiting for my grand-children now after 70 years.”