Homemade honey a new addition at Round Lake Beach golf pro shop
One of the basic rules of beekeeping is not to approach the hive head on.
"They're very defensive about their front door," explains Sandy Bemis, the superintendent at Renwood Golf Course in Round Lake Beach.
Bemis pursued the project not for the honey the hives yield but as a contribution to the environment.
"We all know we need bees if we like to eat," she said. "It's to help the pollinators in my corner of the world."
She confidently strides toward two hives hidden from view and sheltered from the wind near a tree line east of the putting green to explain the operation to a visitor.
Each hive contains tens of thousands honey bees, many swirling in and around the front door. But the numbers don't faze Bemis, who researched the topic for a year before securing permission to buy and install the hives in April 2019 near an ample supply of goldenrod, asters and other food sources.
"If they were worried about me hurting them, they would probably be attacking me right now," Bemis said.
She has worked at Renwood, operated by the Round Lake Area Park District, for 36 years.
At this time of year, hornets and wasps looking for sweets before fall sets in are the main concern for the bees as they busily prepare to spend winter inside.
"They get a hoarding attitude about their honey," said Corky Schnadt, a Hainesville resident and president of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association. "This is a really traumatic time of year for bees."
Last year, the Renwood bees were settling in and getting to know the queen, who is introduced to the colony when they are shipped. This year, with the operation humming, Bemis has harvested about six gallons of honey.
"We're selling honey at the golf course here -- 10 bucks a bottle. All that money goes back to the bees," Bemis said. Two cases of 24 bottles have been sold and a third is in progress.
The last harvest was in late August and included a surprise take from a third hive installed this year across Shorewood Road near a pumpkin patch by the 8th hole.
"It's pretty good stuff," Bemis said.
But that will be it for 2020 -- honey left in the hives is for the bees to eat in winter.
Besides helping pollinators, Bemis said she wanted to help dispel the reputation of the golf course as a vast manicured space maintained with chemicals.
"They wouldn't be here if we were that terrible about using pesticides," she said.
To support her charges, about 15 acres of previously mowed areas have been let go to their natural state, and an 8,000-square-foot plot of wildflowers has been planted behind the fifth hole green.
Bemis tends to bees as needed after work hours and on weekends.
"I do this on my own time," she said. "You probably need somebody dedicated and a little crazy like me."
Beekeeping has skyrocketed in the past decade. According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, there are 4,916 registered beekeepers in Illinois this year compared to 1,631 in 2010.
Schnadt said the interest was sparked by the news of colony collapse disorder, thought to be caused by the invasive varroa mite and new or emerging diseases.
Bemis said she is still learning and will present Bee-tastic from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Prairie Grass Nature Museum, 860 Hart Road, Round Lake. Cost is $5 per family.