Part of a series on local food and suburban farming.
We can thank the honeybee for four of every 10 bites of food we eat, so for area beekeepers, their efforts aren’t just about the honey. Many beekeepers feel they are doing their part in helping the survival of what is likely our most important domestic species.
The Lou Marchi Total Recycling Institute at McHenry County College (MCC) hosted a screening of the documentary Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us? Oct. 25, followed by a panel discussion with beekeepers from the Northern Illinois Beekeepers Association.
The critically-acclaimed film by Taggart Seigel tells the story of the mysterious disappearance of bees through stunning photography, humorous animations, and some very entertaining and colorful beekeepers.
The film looks at the 10,000-year history of honeybees as a domesticated species, from ancient times when honeybees were considered sacred to today’s corporate agriculture practice of shipping honeybees thousands of miles in flatbed trucks to pollinate almond groves in California and blueberries in Maine.
In recent years, honeybees have been disappearing mysteriously; America has lost millions of colonies. The sudden death of honeybee colonies is called Colony Collapse Disorder. Beekeepers and scientists in the film point to chemical pesticides, single-crop farming or monoculture, and the industrialization of beekeeping as reasons for CCD.
“Their crisis is our crisis. It’s colony collapse disorder of the human being too,” said Gunther Hauk, a biodynamic beekeeper who operates Spikenard Farm, a honeybee sanctuary in Virginia.
Experts in the film see bees as a barometer of the health of the world. Queen of The Sun refers to Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner who predicted the collapse of honeybees in 1923. “The mechanization of beekeeping and industrialization will eventually destroy beekeeping,” Steiner predicted.
“We have to wake up early enough to make a change,” said biochemist and beekeeper David Heaf, in the documentary.
The film considers reasons for the crisis and presents solutions as well. Helping the honeybee survive can be as simple as growing bee-friendly flowers, shunning pesticides, and buying local, raw honey. Those really interested in helping honeybees should learn beekeeping.
“I really think that small time beekeepers are one of the solutions to the problem,” said Larry Krengel, a McHenry County beekeeper and panelist after the screening. Krengel is a member of the Northern Illinois Beekeeper Association and teaches beekeeping at MCC and other area colleges.
Whether they attribute it to CCD or not, Illinois beekeepers have seen significant loss of hives, he said. “We haven’t figured out what CCD is and I think the CCD diagnosis is by default, but there is still trouble with bee losses,” Krengel said.
Like chicken keeping, many suburbs don’t allow beekeeping. However, big cities like Chicago and Milwaukee do allow both backyard chickens and beehives. Chicago’s City Hall even has beehives on its rooftop garden.
The future could be brighter for suburban beekeepers though. Local food is a priority in the . Lake County Senior Planner David Husemoller said planners will be making policy recommendations to the Lake County Board, which could include changes to zoning laws for backyard chickens as well as for beekeeping.
In the meantime, aspiring suburban beekeepers should know that there are opportunities to keep hives, regardless of where you live.
Beekeeping is one of the few agricultural ventures that is not land dependent, Krengel said. Josef Magyar, one of the panelists, said he has 12 hives on a 100-by-400-foot lot in unincorporated McHenry County.
Some beekeepers keep their hives with agreeable landowners who have agriculturally-zoned land. There is even a bee yard near Woodstock where members of beekeeping associations can keep their hives.
Anna Evans said she uses the bee yard and enjoys getting to know other beekeepers when she checks on her hives.
“If you think you can’t keep bees because you don’t have the property, that’s inaccurate. Join the club,” Evans said.