Meet the Millennium Park Beekeeper, Chicago

20 Jun

Nestled in Chicago’s Millennium Park hides a sliver of nature’s wild heart called The Lurie Garden. It’s an unruly place with prairie grasses and purple coneflowers, butterflies and cottontail rabbits. There in the gardens, tucked behind a tall double hedgerow, is an even bigger surprise — two bee hives.

Today I was lucky enough to interview the willowy keeper of these hives — Laura Young, horticulturist and beekeeper for Lurie Gardens. We tasted honey, talked VIP hive watchers, and dropped the scoop on a new cocktail made with Lurie Garden honey.

Lurie Garden, in Chicago’s Millennium Park

So, madame beekeeper, are these bee hives controversial?

Not so far. People are becoming used to the idea of honeybees in our community and so they’re not so concerned. We were able to capitalize on the existing hives at City Hall and the Cultural Center, so there’s momentum for supporting honeybees.

Many of our plants here in Lurie Garden are pollinator magnets, so we’re quite open to the idea of bees on our plants and so is the public.

Do most people know about these hives? Have you been written up anywhere?

We got our first hive in April 2011, so this is still a somewhat new program. Some people are hearing about it through social media like our Facebook page for The Lurie Garden.

No, the bee hives at Lurie Garden haven’t had any press but Michael Thompson from the Chicago Honey Coop (who helped us get started) talks about us every chance he gets.

Let’s talk honey. How does yours taste? More importantly, can people buy some?

We haven’t harvested yet this year, but last year’s honey tastes lemony, minty, and a bit like linden trees which grow in nearby Grant Park.

At the moment, we don’t sell our honey. We just give it to garden volunteers and our board. Rumor is though that Terzo Piano, the restaurant across the street at the Art Institute, will start mixing a drink on Thursday nights made with our honey. You can call to find out more from the mixologist.

Have any VIPs visited your hives yet?

Yes! Ann Lurie! We didn’t open the hives, but she wanted to come up close and see them.

Tell me about the notorious Chicago winters. What did you do to winterize the hives?

Nothing, actually! We just left the bees about 50 lbs of honey (2 extra shallows) and used an entrance reducer. That’s it. And the hive from last year was so strong this spring, we had to make a split.

What do people say when you tell them you’re a beekeeper?

Most people ask, “Oh have you ever been stung?”

Increasingly, people are getting excited about beekeeping. It used to be just a fact among facts about oneself but now it’s something people are interested in when you tell them.

Coneflower and honeybee in Lurie Garden

Thanks to Laura Young and the Lurie Garden. You can reach Laura at laura.young3@cityofchicago.org.

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2 Responses to “Meet the Millennium Park Beekeeper, Chicago”

  1. Camille Cunningham June 21, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    Chantal, excellent article. I always look forward to your posts. It’s heart warming to read about what other cities are doing to support bees. Have you ever considered giving a photo workshop for the Abq bee keeps? Your photos are gorgeous!

  2. Christie June 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    This is really great to read. I grew up on the south side of Chicago, and I have loved seeing the city transform over the last 20 years or so – bee hives in Millennium Park is an amazing next step (and, in my humble opinion, in the right direction). Great write-up!

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