What’s the Buzz? Beekeeping Returns to Plymouth Place

Led by Master Beekeeper Lori Harris (left), Stella Solliday, Werner Patterson, Alice Chin, and John Frye are ready to welcome the new colony.

There’s a buzz around Plymouth Place in La Grange Park, Ill., and it’s not just conversations among residents and staff. Some 40,000 bees have taken up residence in two beehives on the campus, and they’re currently hard at work making the new hives home.

The project is part of Plymouth Place’s Horticulture Committee, a resident-led effort to bring Farm-to-Table foods to the community. The Beekeeping Subcommittee is comprised of four volunteer trainee beekeepers: Alice Chin, who also is chair of the Horticulture Committee; and residents John Frye, Werner Petterson, and Stella Solliday. These four future beekeepers are learning how to maintain the hives under the supervision of Lori Harris, a certified Master Beekeeper long connected with Plymouth Place.

“My mother-in-law was in memory care at Plymouth Place and received such compassionate care the last year of her life,” said Harris, who also is a member of First Congregational UCC in Western Springs, Ill. “We were fortunate to have her there.” 

The new hives mark the second time Plymouth Place has had beehives, and Harris has been involved the entire time. Seven years ago, while visiting her mother-in-law, she learned that the community was interested in hiring a beekeeper. Already a butterfly farmer, Harris decided to learn beekeeping and volunteered for the role at Plymouth Place. Unfortunately, COVID shut down many things, including the bee program, and the bees eventually flew off. The relaunch began in late April of this year.

“When the Horticulture Committee wanted to add honey as part of our Farm-to-Table offerings, I sought out Harris to start it up again, but this time she wanted to train volunteers to run it in the future,” said Chin. The bees “have been super busy. Beekeeper Lori Harris and the Horticulture Committee beekeeping trainees conducted the first monthly inspection in June. The beehives received the stamp of approval: no mites were found and honeycombs were filling with honey. The trainees watched baby bees emerge from the combs. They lifted the frames out to check the formation of honeycombs and felt the weight of the oozing honey.”

Alice Chin checks the hive to ensure the health of the bees.

“It is hard to capture the heaviness of the frames filled with dripping honey from the wax combs!” Chin added. The team wrapped up the inspection “with a finger dipped into the luscious golden nectar.” They declared that the floral taste of Plymouth Place honey is “sweeter than wine.”

The trainees are learning how to conduct monthly inspections of the hives to ensure activity, monitor for mites, and provide necessary care for the bees and their home. In June they planted 100 native plants for the pollinators and Monarch butterflies to help the bee colony thrive.

According to Harris, each hive has a queen who is in charge. All of the worker bees are her daughters. Surprisingly, some 90 percent of the bees are female, and cover a wide range of jobs: cleaner, nurse, wax builder, undertaker, guard, and forager. The foragers collect the nectar and pollen.

“These bees came with their own queen, so they were already functioning as a family,” said Harris. “The foragers need to learn their new surroundings. They practiced exiting the hive and re-entering many times before taking off to Plymouth Place grounds to start collecting nectar and pollen.”

The bees are safe in their new hives.

The bees will work until September or October, making enough resources to survive the winter months. The Beekeeping Subcommittee will not collect any honey until the bees have amassed 60 pounds of honey — the amount that will ensure that the bees continue to thrive. 

“As a responsible beekeeper, it’s all about putting the bees first,” Harris added. “I do have to say, though, that of the 15 hives I manage, the Plymouth Place honey has been the best tasting.”

It’s fair to say that the entire Plymouth Place community is excited about the new bee colony, and all thanks to a handful of committed volunteers. As Chin wrote in a recent article in the Plymouth Place online blog:

“The return of beekeeping to Plymouth Place embodies our spirit of community, stewardship, and environmental responsibility. Once the bees have an abundance of honey, it will serve as a delightful addition to our exceptional Farm-to-Table program.”

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