Sweet Life of Beekeeping
Danny Hart’s day begins with a teaspoon of pollen and ends with a spoonful of homegrown honey.
The sweet rewards of beekeeping began nearly 15 years ago for Danny and wife Janet of Brimfield, who now manage between 21 and 26 hives. The couple, named the 2005 Illinois Beekeepers of the Year by the Illinois State Beekeepers Association, started with no experience. Class time, beekeeper mentors and plenty of reading set their foundation for success.
“If you start reading about bees, it draws you in,” Janet says. “The more you read about them, the more you want to try your hand at beekeeping.”
Both urban and rural residents with about $250 and some hobby hours to spare can become beekeepers. The sale of honey and products, such as beeswax candles, pollen and body butter, can make the hobby self-sustaining or even slightly profitable.
As a bonus, beekeepers enjoy honey’s natural vitamins and minerals, as well as its stamina-boosting benefits. They experience the honeybee’s fascinating social structure. And they support mankind’s existence, as bees pollinate nearly one-third of the food supply.
The Harts and other Illinois beekeepers advise beginners to read a how-to book, talk to experienced beekeepers and take a class.
Many classes or programs are offered throughout the state, says Bill Buckley, president of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association. Visit the association’s website at www.isba.us to learn more or to find a local association that may sponsor a class.
The popularity of beginner beekeeping classes throughout the state indicates managed hives are again on the rise, says Steve Chard, apiary inspection supervisor for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. About 1,350 beekeepers managed 20,000 hives in Illinois in 2009.
Do keep in mind that there’s more to it than just buying some bees. Wannabe beekeepers within city limits should first check regulations in their communities. Most cities allow beekeeping, so begin to educate your neighbors about the benefits of beekeeping and the docile nature of honeybees, says Buckley, a 38-year beekeeper who lives in the Chicago suburb of Willowbrook.
Sharing honey helps, too, he adds.
After some education, start with two hives, the Harts say. Each hive will hold one colony of bees. Beekeeping suppliers, such as Illinois-based Dadant, offer kits for beginners that include everything from the hive to the head veil. Then, plan to order a package of bees for spring delivery.
Another option is to buy a nuc. A nuc includes several frames from a working hive; thus, it contains bees, a queen, honey, pollen, eggs and larva. Once your colony is established, register it with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, as required by law.
Various year-round hive management activities will include monitoring brood chambers, bee behavior, food supply, diseases and pests. Honey harvest can begin as early as summer. The Harts collect honey several times from June to September. Some beekeepers harvest once in the fall.
Extracting honey from the honeycomb can be as basic as a hand-crank extractor in a newspaper-lined kitchen. The Harts have graduated to a state-inspected extracting room and now share their original extractor with local beginners.
Honeybees in Illinois produce an average of 82 pounds of honey per hive, says Danny, whose goal is 100 pounds. The bees will need 50 to 60 pounds of that to last through the winter. The rest is the beekeeper’s reward, which provides plenty for a nightly spoonful.