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Beekeepers Fight for Their Hives

By Benjamin Woodard | October 9, 2012 2:13pm
 As Chicagoans complain about neighborhood beehives, Rogers Park beekeepers provide bee education.
Rogers Park Beekeepers
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ROGERS PARK — Pedro Ortiz was stung by his backyard honeybees more than 100 times. Not 100 times over the three years that he's owned bees, but in a single stinging incident.

The beekeeper should blame himself, however, said his wife Barbara Ryan, who laughed heartily.

"[The bees] were pissed," Ryan said.

When this incident happened, a few years ago now, they both were new to beekeeping. And what they quickly learned is at certain times of day — especially around 4 p.m., when Ortiz decided to open the nest — honeybees don't want to be bothered.

The unusually hot summer this year caused the bees to be more agitated than usual, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture has been hearing more than usual from Chicagoans "who have become generally uncomfortable with their adjacent neighbors raising honeybees," according to a letter from the department's beehive inspection supervisor Steven Chard to the president of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association.

Chard also warned the association that conflict in Chicago could bring about an ordinance change that could jeopardize the five beehives that property owners are allowed to have at one time.

Ryan said she and other beekeepers in Chicago had mobilized to help spread the truth of honeybees — that they are not as aggressive as people believe.

Ortiz and Ryan have one beehive, nestled between their garden and the side of their single-family home in the 6000 block of Glenwood Avenue.

When it's above 50 degrees, Ryan said, the bees buzz back and forth from the flowers they pollinate and their nest built inside stacked drawers of mesh frames.

Ryan created a binder full of honeybee facts. She brings the binder to farmers markets around the city to educate people on the difference between yellow jackets, hornets, bumble bees and honeybees.

Ryan said she and her husband picked up their beekeeping hobby after Ortiz retired. In Ryan's words, "To keep him from flirting with girls" in his free time.

And as the beekeeping season came to an end in the last warm days of the year, the couple worked diligently in their kitchen as the bees began to insulate themselves within their nests.

Each nest produces 2 gallons of honey, and several jars already were filled on the kitchen table. Another jar oozed to the top under a spigot connected to a 5-gallon bucket, where honey filtered from honeycomb scraped off the beehive mesh.

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