Hyde Park resident’s backyard buzzes with bees

“I don’t consider myself a beekeeper; I consider myself a bee host.”

By Tamar Honig

Local resident Greg Lane’s backyard is buzzing, and one need not look far to discover why in this Hyde Park hive of activity. Founder and leader of the Chicago Honeybee Rescue, Lane removes unwanted bee colonies from people’s homes and relocates them to various locations, including his own yard and community gardens around Chicago. The colonies are rehabilitated in beehives Lane makes himself from reclaimed Chicago lumber.

“What first got me into bees was a customer of mine—I’m a woodworker—who asked me to build a hive,” Lane explained. “That prompted me to do some research into what aspects of hive design are important for honeybees, and that led to a lot of contradictory or incomplete information, and finally realizing that the vast majority of hives used in the United States today are of a design that is very bad for honeybees.”

Upon discovering the negative consequences bee colonies suffer due to poor hive design, Lane began building hives “of a much more sympathetic design.” His design is based on the “People’s Hive” design developed by French monk Abbé Émile Warré in the early 20th century for sustainable and productive beekeeping. It features a size and shape that make the hive easier for honeybees to heat, which is important for honeybee survival because they are cold-blooded.

Although Lane has two colonies at his home and several dozen more at other locations, with each colony averaging 60,000 bees, he does not identify as a “beekeeper.”

“I don’t consider myself a beekeeper; I consider myself a bee host,” he said. “The reason I say that is because I believe commercial beekeeping management practices are bad for bees.”

“If you have backyard chickens, you would not ask Frank Perdue how to house and manage them, because Frank Perdue’s interest is the exploitation of the chickens for money,” Lane continued. “It’s the same with honeybees. The beekeeping management techniques that are practiced by 98 percent of beekeepers are commercial, factory-farming techniques, and they’re bad for bees. They may be good for making money but they’re bad for bees.”

In his work, Lane encounters many misconceptions and unfounded fears regarding bees. One major misconception is that bees are disappearing due to Colony Collapse Disorder, an affliction of unknown causes.

“No bees are disappearing nor have bees ever disappeared, and the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder has been known definitively, scientifically, since at least 2008,” Lane said. “The obfuscation of these issues is the work of the public relations arms of large chemical pharmaceutical companies that produce the pesticides that cause Colony Collapse Disorder.”

“Bees have died, but dying is not disappearing,” Lane clarified. “It’s a very important distinction because if you say bees are disappearing it shrouds the issue in mystery and makes understanding inaccessible. But if you say instead that honeybees are dying it leads to a very clear step-by-step analysis of why, which leads to a cause, which leads to a cure.”

Another issue to address is nervous neighbors who may be uncomfortable with the nearby presence of so many bees. According to Lane, education is key to raising awareness of the docile, non-predatory nature of honeybees.

“Honeybees simply won’t bother people unless there’s some kind of aggression toward or attack on them,” Lane said. “They fly in and out of their nest, they’re around us all the time, pollinating flowers and foraging for nectar, and the vast majority of us rarely get stung. There’s no corresponding increase in the number of stings due to proximity to a honeybee hive. There’s no correlation there.”

Lane emphasized the advantages of raising bees in urban areas, and specifically in Chicago.

“Illinois is a vast wasteland of industrial farming, primarily seed corn and seed soy—genetically modified, heavily pesticided, acre upon acre upon acre. This is an extraordinarily hostile environment for any living creature. So Chicago is arguably the best environment in the entire state for honeybees.”