FUNKS GROVE — If you get up close and personal with wildflowers on your walks, you’re likely to encounter a bee. There’s no need to bee — I mean, be — afraid.
“The bees do not attack you,” said Patti Koranda of the Central Illinois Beekeepers Association. “She only does it defensively.”
If a bee comes close and “investigates” you, stay calm and don’t wave your arms around frantically, advises Koranda. “That makes them nervous.”
Instead, she said, “If a bee is checking me out, it’s on my hand or on me, I can just slowly walk away,” or stand still as it walks on you and wait for it to fly away.
Bees are more aggressive if you are around their hive or if there is a “dearth,” a time when food and nectar are not readily available, Koranda explained.
In other words, hungry bees can get “hangry.”
But, right now, lots of flowers are in bloom, making for happy bees.
I spent about two hours around honeybee hives as members of the Central Illinois Beekeepers Association were checking hives they placed in one area, called an apiary, at Sugar Grove Nature Center, and I wasn’t bothered at all.
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Granted, I was wearing a beekeeper’s jacket and hood, but my hands were exposed so I could shoot pictures and video. And I’ve been close to them while taking pictures of the bees themselves and wildflowers with no stinging encounters.
Bees are quite beautiful when you take the time to look at them. You may even see little pockets of pollen on them. Plus, their flying skills are amazing.
Koranda said there are more than 400 species of bees in Illinois and 4,000 species in the Americas.
Honeybees — the only bees that make honey — are not native to the United States but are not invasive, said Koranda. In fact, the honeybees, along with our native bees, play crucial roles in pollinating plants that are food sources for many animals as well as humans.
“Pollen is their protein. Nectar is their carbohydrates,” said Koranda.
Honeybee queens can live two to five years, she said, but our native bees live about a year, and only the queen lives through the winter.
You can help native bees by being a “messy gardener,” said Koranda, leaving leaves under which native queen bees will be protected while they hibernate.
The Central Illinois Beekeepers Association offers a class in winter, usually in January, for people interested in beekeeping, and mentors beekeepers throughout the year. The winter workshop gives people enough time to prepare and get the necessary equipment to get into beekeeping, said Koranda. For more information on the group, check out their website, cibabees.org.
When I accompanied members of the group to the demonstration apiary at Sugar Grove, they were checking on the health of the bees, looking for such things as mites that could carry diseases harmful to bees, while also seeing if the queen bees were still at their hives and finding which trays were ready to be temporarily removed from the hives to extract honey. They wound up with seven gallons of honey for their work — and the bees’ work.
“You go in with a plan and they change it for you,” said Koranda
“You really have to roll with the punches,” added Izzy Harms, another member of CIBA.
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Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota