Archives For beekeeping

We’re not afraid to geek out on all things eco-friendly (looking at you, backyard chickens and organic leafy greens), but World Environment Day gives us an excuse to devote a full day to greening the planet.

Dave Cantwell at World Environment Day

June 4 is your chance to meet Garden scientists and horticulturists, and get all your questions answered about roses, lawn care, composting, and more.

Join the global day of action—with people in more than 70 countries—in a daylong celebration of free events and activities (plenty for the kids) on Saturday, June 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Chicago Botanic Garden (parking fees apply). World Environment Day is the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the environment.

Bonus points if you use the day to recycle, add a pollinator-friendly plant to your garden, or consider your ecological footprint by walking, biking, carpooling, or taking public transportation to the Garden (a trolley will be available from the Glencoe Metra station from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; fee applies). Post a picture of what you did for the planet: #CBGWED and #WED2016.

Here are ten free ways to dig the planet on World Environment Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden:

Tom Skilling.

Tom Skilling

1. Ask Tom Skilling.

Bring questions for WGN-TV chief meteorologist and Garden board member Tom Skilling on climate change and more. Skilling will give his climate and weather update at 1:30 p.m in the Plant Science Center.

2. Go to the movies—on us.

The Living Green movie

Director Carey Lundin introduces her award-winning documentary, Jens Jensen The Living Green. Discussion follows the 10 a.m. film; preregistration required.

Shifting Sands on the Path to Sustainability movie

At 3 p.m., catch a screening of Shifting Sands: On the Path to Sustainability, a documentary on the Indiana Dunes.

3. Get the buzz on pollinators and bugs.

Mason and native bee houses.

Learn how to raise bees from beekeepers, and talk to horticulturists about which insects are good for your garden.

4. Score a planet-friendly freebie

Pick up a free butterfly weed plant to grow in your garden to help attract monarch butterflies.

5. Sing, dance, talk up a scientist.

Get your groove on with live music at the Family Entertainment Stage and enjoy Family Drop-in Activities—but don’t forget to leave time for the kids to talk to Garden scientists about plant conservation.

6. Get fresh with us.

Windy City Harvest farmstand.

Windy City Harvest sells fresh, organic produce harvested from the Garden and its urban agriculture sites. While supplies last, pick up a free Costa Rican sweet pepper plant.

7. Be kind to the landfills.

Bring unused prescription medicines for a “medication take-back” sponsored by NorthShore University HealthSystem.

8. Don’t be chicken.

Two young girls pet a chicken and learn about raising chickens at home.

Learn how to bring chickens to your home roost, and learn the real meaning of “fresh eggs.”

9. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Recycle plastic plant pots, and bring vases for re-purposing by Random Acts of Flowers, which delivers flower arrangements to people with health challenges.

Sustainable eating.

Sustainable eating

10. Think farmers’ markets

Chef Cleetus Friedman of Caffè Baci shows you how to cook with seasonal, organic, and locally grown produce from the Garden’s Windy City Harvest program.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

On September 19 and 20, the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden hosted a fantastic Harvest Weekend for a crowd of enthusiastic visitors eager to learn more about extending their harvest and preserving the fruits of their labor. 

As an interpretive programs intern, I was lucky enough to run a honey-tasting demonstration that introduced many guests to the breadth of flavor, color, and aroma of a favorite sweetener. By extension, I was able to add yet another check mark to the long list of reasons we should actively participate in the protection and conservation of honeybees. 

Getting the goods with a hand-cranked honey extractor

PHOTO: View inside a honey extractor.

Tasting  A view inside the top of a honey extractor. Centrifugal force is used to “spin” the honey from the frames into an attached receptacle. Photo by Audriusa (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Harvest Weekend was favored with two beautiful fall days—breezy and clear, with plenty of sun—and I was stationed next to our wonderful beekeepers, who oversee the popular display and free-standing hives.

They brought along authentic beekeeping gear for curious individuals to try on and a hand-cranked honey extractor (generously loaned by Windy City Harvest), positioned near the tent. On Sunday, we featured a live honey extraction demonstration, much to the delight of the onlookers.

Once the visitors had chatted with our beekeepers, they could then engage their palates and senses by tasting three very distinct types of honey: basswood, wildflower, and buckwheat.

The Color of Honey

PHOTO: Basswood (Linden flower) honey.

Basswood (linden flower) honey

Basswood is made from the blossoms of the basswood, or linden tree (Tilia americana). It is especially light in color and very sweet, with a delicate floral aftertaste. Overall, it was the most popular flavor of the weekend.

PHOTO: Wildflower honey.

Wildflower honey

Wildflower honey refers to any honey derived from a mix of flower blossoms, that is—distinct from a monofloral crop such as clover or orange-blossom honey. As such, the flavor is more complex and the color is darker than basswood honey, though not as dark as buckwheat.

PHOTO: Buckwheat honey.

Buckwheat honey

Interestingly, the majority of our Sunday visitors found this flavor to be their favorite. Derived from the nectar of buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) blossoms, buckwheat honey is one of the darkest available, and perhaps the most polarizing—people either really liked it or they really didn’t. Our visitors described it as “molasses-y,” “malty,” “smoky,” “yeasty,” and according to one visitor, “like an animal”—gamey.

Want to make your own very local honey?

PHOTO: Bee life-stages models.

Learn more about bees and beekeeping: take our upcoming Beginning Beekeeping workshop!

While lining up for samples, recipes were exchanged: honey mixed with sesame seeds for energy and promoting childrens’ growth, several tonics of honey and cinnamon to soothe sore throats and coughs, and a tangential recipe for cooking buckwheat grains with salt or mushrooms as a side dish. Visitors had questions too, like how to ensure a pure single-blossom crop (hive location and timing), or what makes honey “raw” (the minimal steps used during processing). I heard loads of stories illustrating how visitors have interacted with bees, from the fellow who grew up on a farm with hives to the guests who were just expanding their understanding of bees as hardworking, fastidious insects.

Discover liquid gold.

PHOTO: Tasting honey takes all this small boy's concentration!

Honey tasting requires focus and concentration! Find out more about honey varietals from the National Honey Board.

The Garden visitors also proved to be very adventurous tasters, with most of them sampling each variety of honey. Unsurprisingly, basswood and wildflower were the predominantly favored flavors, although buckwheat tended to be preferred by adults with a penchant for molasses and, surprisingly, by several children with impressively sophisticated palates. Happily, guests were also adventurous about the bees themselves—even the occasional wandering honeybee, drawn by the hopes of a quick meal, was greeted more with humor than apprehension and provided yet another learning experience in what has been a season full of education and outreach!

Things have quieted down for the bees over here at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden as the cooler weather sets in, but I hope that visitors to the Garden will have as much fun as I did, and will take the time to learn from our hardworking and tireless volunteers, and admire the occasional honeybee going about her day.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org