Young Chicagoans are signing up for a new hobby: urban bee-keeping. Groups are popping up in almost every neighborhood, as online meet-up groups share secrets to successful hives.
Listen closely to the buzz around town, you'll hear Chicago’s bee population – thriving. It's happening in part, because of people like 16-year-old Willie Wagner.
This urban bee-keeper tends his hive on a Pilsen rooftop. Wagner explained that no one would guess that there would be beehives in the old, urban convent.
“The Sear’s Tower is not that far away!” Wagner said.
Wagner is one of nearly 40 bee-keepers in Pilsen alone.
"It's definitely excellent for the city,” Wagner said. “It's excellent for all the flowers.”
Gardeners love it. Plant-life around the city – flowers, vegetables and fruit trees - are doing well with the bees around.
Although residents might be uneasy around bees, keep in mind that we cannot live without them. About one third of food is pollinated by bees.
Hives can be found at the Garfield Park Conservatory, at the Museum of Science and Industry and even on the City Hall rooftop. All across the city, outdoor spaces are populated by bees.
Michael Thompson is the manager of the Chicago Honey Co-Op, teaches classes, and tends to more than 60 hives across the city. He said this hobby is becoming very popular in cities.
"This one has about 80,000 bees in it,” Thompson said. “By the way the larger hive here, right now has surplus honey, has 150 pounds of ripe surplus honey."
“In April, you put three pounds of bees in a hive,” Thompson continued. “Three hundred pounds of excess honey."
It may be fun to be a bee-keeper, but it’s not exactly easy. There are hazards to this hobby.
A lot of people might wonder - do bee-keepers ever get stung by bees?
They do, but here’s the interesting part. They say that most of the time when you get stung, it's because you've done something to irritate the bee, that random sting incidents are actually quite rare.
Most of the time, bee-keepers said they get stung - when accidentally trapping a bee, or crushing it.
Unlike wasps, they don't usually attack unprovoked.
“If you get stung by a bee,” Wagner said, “[They] release a pheromone, and that tells them, let's get this person, all the other bees that smell, and they say that's the smell of death let's get that person."
So if you get stung, walk away slowly. Don't flail around, or you'll invite the entire hive to attack you.
"A common misconceptions about bees is that wasps are bees,” Thompson said. “Wasps, yellow jacket wasps are a plague throughout the whole continent and they attack us at our picnics!"
Bees, started to suddenly die off a couple years ago. Perhaps because of pesticides, no one knows for sure.
That’s when backyard bee-keeping really began. It’s blossoming into a busy business.
"A lot of younger people are interested,” Thompson said. "We have to turn people away at our classes because we can't do enough classes."
Some swear by the medicinal benefits of locally-produced honey.
It helps with all kinds of illnesses. Some eat it to help with their allergies, and others use it for sore throats or soothe burns.
Whatever you think, it tastes great and you can find it at some restaurants, most farmers markets. If you’re tight with the mayor, maybe he’ll gift you some of the city hall rooftop honey.