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Beekeeping 101 with Art!

Bees are nature's best "creative re-users" -- they take pollen and nectar and make honey, wax, propolis and more. We humans can learn a lot from them, which is is why CCRx invited Art Helbig -- a long-time Chicago Public School art teacher and 5 year beekeeper, to share the ins and outs of beekeeping for teachers who are interested in starting their own hives at their schools.

The world’s bee and pollinator populations are rapidly decreasing and several species of bees have been added to the endangered species list. Keeping and maintaining bee hives at your school or in your backyard is one way that we can help improve gardens, food supply and our communities. Bees also provide us with products -- honey and wax that can be utilized in a multitude of ways.

Several Chicago Public School teachers, a librarian and a CPS administrator attended this first session -- all fascinated by bees. Art explained how bees and beekeeping can inform many aspects of education from science to art, social studies, geometry, math, business, cooking, medicine and civics. He also discussed how to work with your principal to get authorization to keep bees at school.

Art has 2 hives, each with about 20,000 bees at peak season, that he has kept on the roof of Linne Elementary School on the near north side of Chicago since 2014. His art class in multifaceted, including culinary and hydroponic gardening, so bees are a great addition.

He started by showing us examples of two different types of hive starter kits that can be ordered online and explaining how all the components work. We saw his tools and equipment, including his beekeeping suit, and learned about getting stung (inevitable!). He passed around some honeycomb and one of the beautiful candles that his students make.

It was fascinating to hear stories about his time as a beekeeper, from why and how he got started to all the trial, error and joy he has found in the process. While keeping bees in definitely an investment, Art explained that he supports the material cost of his hives by selling honey and candles. His students help extract and jar the honey and make candles from the beeswax mixed with fresh herbs from their school garden.

After the presentation, we climbed up to the roof to check out the actual hives and see first hand what they look like and what kind of set up is needed for them. Art cracked open a hive for a quick inspection and it was not a surprise that there were many dead bees on this blustery February day, but plenty of time to order more for the new season.

Our top takeaways:

1. Why should we do beekeeping? Beekeeping benefits both students and the world. Beekeeping is a hands-on way to learn more about math, agriculture, the environment and endangered species.

2. Bees are master producers and there are many things that can be made from what bees provide. Art showed us some beautiful hand-made candles made from just beeswax and herbs from the garden

3. How to get started on your own beehive. We learned where to find beekeeping starter kits, where to get bees and how much it costs to get everything you need.

4. Caring for your bees: what they eat, safe handling and how to watch out for the health of your hive by protecting them from diseases, pests and the environment.

5. Harvesting and extracting honey. Honey is one of the many benefits of beekeeping because it is delicious, full of nutrients and happens to be one of the only food that never spoils!

6. Bees are not an aggressive species. Beekeeping may sound intimidating at first but after this workshop you will soon learn that just like any living thing, if you know how to respect and care for them they are not scary.

There are 2 more Beekeeping 101 with Art workshops this year. The second session will be on April 6 from 10am-12pm at Carl Von Linne Elementary School. This session will focus on what to do next after you have ordered the bees and have all your equipment. You will learn how to set up your hive and install the package of bees into the hive and how to assist your bees in developing a thriving and healthy hive. The third session, on July 13. will discuss when to expand your hive and how to prevent common issues that happen in the hive. You will also be taught when and how to extract honey.harvesting honey and preparing for winter.

A workshop on Making Creative Reuse Hives for Native Bees and Pollinators will be taught by Thad Smith of Westside Bee Boyz on March 30.

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