The Lurie Garden Bee Hives

So guess what? Judy and I were invited to see the bee hives at the Lurie Garden. We visited during our lunch break last week.

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When we got to garden, we saw that the River of Salvia was foreshadowed by a River of Grape Hyacinthis.

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Funny how we had never noticed this before. They Grape Hyacinths were nicely set off by a bordering mass of white tulips.

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On the boardwalk we ran into Jo ana Kubiak, the Lurie’s Membership and Communications Manager. She led us to a little courtyard where the Lurie Garden office and bee hives can be found. It was an area hiding in plain sight, obscured by hedges and fencing.

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There we saw the hives, which are managed for the Lurie Garden by the Chicago Honey Co-op, a very interesting organization. The Co-op harvests its own honey from roughly three dozen hives located at very urban locations within the City of Chicago.

They also manage hives for the Lurie Garden, the Museum of Science and Industry, the City of Chicago (on the green roof of City Hall) and other clients. For new and aspiring beekeepers, the Co-op offers classes and consulting services.

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This is Jefferson Shuck. He’s a member of the Chicago Honey Co-op who also works part-time for the Lurie Garden, which sounds like a pretty idyllic existence. He was there to introduce us to the bees.

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Jefferson suited me up in my own hat and veil. I think this is a look that works for me.

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Then he started to show us the inside of the hive. Jefferson says you should not stand in front of the hive, the bees consider it to be rude. Instead, you should stand behind or to the side.

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The hive consists of movable boxes. When the boxes are full of honey, they are a very heavy lift.

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Each box is filled with frames.

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In the frames the bees are hard at work. The single queen lays 2,000 eggs a day, which sounds exhausting. The many female worker bees do almost everything else, from foraging to janitorial duties.

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Then there are a handful of male drones, who are good for only one thing. Jefferson considers honeybees to be gentle creatures in general, but the drones don’t even have stingers. He demonstrated by holding one in his hand.

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Here’s a frame that is full of honeycomb. We got to taste a dab of the honey, although I made the mistake of sticking my honeyed finger right into my veil. Eventually I did get the finger to my mouth. Lurie Garden honey tastes unusually light and floral.

Honey is basically concentrated flower nectar. The worker bees bring the nectar back with them from their foraging expeditions. The Co-op harvests the honey in the fall.

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This is Laura Ekasetya, Director of the Lurie Garden, with Program Manager Karen Taira to her right. The Lurie is planning to bring in an entomologist to assess the wild bee species in the Garden.

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The Lurie Garden gang, from right to left: Jefferson Shuck, Karen Taira, Lauren Ekasetya (seated), Jo Ana Kubiak, and public garden apprentice Yaritza Guillen.  Volunteer Manager and Tour Coordinator Melanie Scott was elsewhere during our visit.

After we said goodbye to the bees, Judy and I got to see the Lurie Garden office. It’s an unpretentious space, crowded but cheerful. On one wall a profusion of garden tools were hung with scrupulous care, clear evidence of a tendency to be compulsively organized. (I won’t hold it against them.) A chart with pictures of the Lurie’s 60+ volunteers hangs on another wall.

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On the way back to our offices Judy and I noticed the patches of Daffodils. A pure white variety, ‘Thalia’, was especially fetching.

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As was a very light yellow variety called ‘Lemon Drops’. Laura told us that this is an excellent variety for prolific and long-lasting flowers.

A lunch break with the bees, flowers, and people of Lurie Garden left Judy and I with considerably lighter spirits as we headed back to work.

55 Comments on “The Lurie Garden Bee Hives

  1. Thank you, Jason, for an inspiring post. I visited Chicago years ago before I discovered nature love, now I want to go back to see the parks and gardens. What a cool way to spend your lunch break.

    • Definitely worth coming to Chicago just to visit the gardens: Lurie, Chicago Botanic Garden, quarry garden, Northerly Island, etc.

  2. Nothing like a stroll through a garden and some garden talk to break up a day of work. I bet you were as productive as little bees when you returned to work.

  3. The Honey Co-op sounds like a great organization. Bees are utterly fascinating creatures. We are continually learning that their hive communities are far more complicated than we have realized. Keeping bees can be incredibly addictive. I find that I cannot stay away from my little hive, but visit it throughout the day, just to observe what the bees are up to.

    • Jefferson told me about a book called Bee Democracy which claims that bees are very collaborative in how they make decisions.

      • Yes, the book is by Tom Seeley and he spoke at the Maine Beekeepers annual meeting last year. He’s a neurobiologist at Cornell and just published an article called “Darwinian Beekeeping” that I suspect will cause a stir among many beekeepers. He advocates a less-interventionist approach to beekeeping–which is anathema to many. Beekeepers are an opinionated bunch. In any case, Seeley’s research is fascinating and he and others are teaching us how incredibly ignorant we are in understanding the biology and dynamics of bee colonies.

  4. When I moved here in 1972, there was a beekeeper up on the corner. My garden hummed with activity for many years until he moved. Now, bees are few and far between. And I was just commenting to someone that if the deer eat all the flowers, what will the pollinators have left?

  5. That was some lunch break. So wonderful to read about such goings-on in a big city.

  6. What a great way to spend your lunch break! I’ll get to the Lurie some day, it’s on my bucket list.

  7. What a tremendous way to take your lunchbreak. The hives look very healthy and productive already. Lurie Garden seems like a great place to spend time.

  8. What I had not noticed until this year was that the grape hyacinth form a river that is coincident with the salvia river that comes later in very close to the same color. Very cool! Also cool is having your own bees. Yay for Lurie!

    • We hadn’t noticed it until this year either. We asked the Lurie staff about it. They said that it has been there for years, but it is very lush this year in particular, much more noticeable.

  9. Hello Jason, that sounds like a great experience. We’ve been thinking about a small hive for when the garden is filled out and there’s enough food all year round for the bees. The idea of “honey on tap” is very tempting.

    • I was really against the idea of beehives until we saw this one, up close and personal. Now I would say, go for it!

  10. The beehives appear to be thriving. The co-op sounds like a great idea.
    The grape hyacinth “river” preceding the River of Salvia is lovely. Happy lunch!

  11. I love this! Thanks so much for posting. I’ll have to check this out – I’m sure I’ve sort of seen the hives at times but was too busy looking for birds to recognize them. Also nice to know all those bees are likely Lurie’s.

  12. I think this is my favorite on your blog I’ve read yet. My sister participated in a similar honey coop in Baltimore when she went to college today. It’s so beautiful to see the geometry and symmetry of a bee colony’s hard work.

    These guys’ CSA is something I’ve been considering joining for quite some time, if only to support their work. Of course the quality of honey is much different than the cheap stuff you’d buy at the store.

  13. What a wonderful way to spend your lunch hour! I did notice that Jefferson wasn’t wearing gloves when he picked up the frame – I’m guessing clunky gloves aren’t conducive to picking them up with the proper amount of care.

  14. What a surprise to find this hidden at Lurie. I’ve not yet explored the link to the Chicago Honey Co-Op, but will. This truly is the perfect set-up, flowers + bees. If more of us raised bees, I wonder if it would make any difference in their decline?

    • That’s a good question. I’m not really sure. Though it would only help with the honeybees, not with the wild native bees.

  15. Not at all sure how I missed this post, but yay for you and Judy and big kudos to Lurie for adding beehives. I’ve seen other public gardens doing the same. You mention that the honey was “floral” in taste. Our honey is the same, remarkably different from what the ‘store bought’ honey is. I think it’s because the bees nectar from a greater variety of sources, it’s just very different tasting than the honey from a single source plant, like apple or almond trees. Great post–the veil becomes you! 🙂

    • Thank you – I’m thinking of getting several veils in different colors. The Lurie folks had an analysis done of their honey and it did indeed have nectar from many plants – the largest percentage were from the beech trees.

  16. Thank you for the tour, and glad to hear they keep bees!

    I have a couple of Thalia daffodils. They are beautiful and delicate.

  17. That sounds like the perfect lunch hour to me. How interesting, I didn’t realize that the drones had no stingers. I do like those Thalia daffs. I must look out for some this autumn.xxx

    • I didn’t know that about the drones either. Though I guess you’re not too likely to meet one, they mostly lounge around the hive.

  18. Thanks for sharing! What an inspiration. Such a large space dedicated to flowers and bees! Its sad to think so much bee habitat has been taken for urban development world wide. It truly is wonderful to see that cities can be sustainable and can provide a biodiverse ecosystem where an abundance of life can prosper! It’s important people are educated on the crucial role bees play in the pollination of not only one third of the food we eat, but also most of our plant diversity. We need to do everything we can to help the pollinators of the world! By simply planting pesticide-free blooming flowers we can provide bees with nutritious nectar. In Australia, we have a lovely meadow in Melbourne that acts as an oasis for many animals and insects! Would love to see more spaces like this around every city! p.s Gald you eventually got to taste the honey! (nothing better than fresh natural honey)

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