Visitors who follow the sound of buzzing through Garfield Park Conservatory’s outdoor gardens will stumble upon a thriving demonstration beehive.
Go ahead and get close – the bees won’t bug you unless you disturb them.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet the conservatory’s volunteer beekeepers as they inspect honeycombs, check in on the queen bee and make sure these essential pollinators are in tip-top shape.
Meet two of the conservatory’s fearless beekeepers.
Edith McDonald, 79, head volunteer beekeeper
Home: Historic Pullman
Job: In charge of roughly 50,000 bees in the conservatory’s six hives.
Anthony McKinney, volunteer beekeeper
Home: Ravenswood Gardens
Job: Massage therapist
Medill News Service: How did you get into bees?
McDonald: My dad had bees in Ohio on the farm. I got to wire the frames, which we don’t have to do today, and clean the frames and help him collect the swarms.
McKinney: I’ve been fascinated by bees for a long, long time. There’s probably a psychological term for people like me.
Medill: Why does the conservatory keep so many bees?
McKinney: We’re interested in it for the honey, but we’re really interested in it for the pollination factor. The bees will forage within a one to three mile radius.
McDonald: The conservatory is an educational place, and the bees are very educational.
Medill: How do you take care of them all?
McDonald: We check the hive. Sometimes we look for the queen. That’s something that’s important; to make sure the hive is working.
McKinney: As a beekeeper, you’re looking for any signs of disease. Bees affect so much of our agriculture and our lifestyle without us realizing it. [Colony Collapse Disorder] is a major concern for that reason.
Medill: Colony Collapse Disorder is a recent phenomenon in parts of the country where adult bees vanish from the hive and no one knows exactly why. Are there any explanations?
McKinney: We still don’t really know what’s causing it. What they’re finding in the hives is usually the queen and a small entourage of young bees around her. All the adult bees seem to have left. It’s like trying to do an autopsy on a body that’s not there.
Medill: Should we be worried?
McKinney: A third of the food we eat requires pollination. Probably 80 percent or more of that is done almost solely by honeybees, which gives you an idea of how important they are to our overall agriculture. And not only some of the food we eat, but some of the food our livestock eats as well.
McDonald: We don’t think there are any [collapsed colonies] in Illinois and Indiana, so we’re very fortunate on that.
Medill: You work very closely with the bees, actually sticking your hands in the hives. Do you ever get stung?
McDonald: I got stung twice today, and it’s okay. It depends. We don’t open the hives if it’s rainy or cloudy because they tend to be cantankerous then.
Medill: What do you do with all the honey?
McDonald: We sell the honey in the gift shop here. I think last year we had 400 pounds.