I love honey. I always think about flowers when I think of honey. How the bees fly from one flower head to the next. It's semi warm and it's totally rainy right now in the city. I thought today, because of the grey, would be a good day to share my little interview with Jana from Bike A Bee. Since I can't stop daydreaming about fields of flowers filled with happy little bees, I thought maybe this interview would take you to that magical place that will, in real life, soon be upon us once again.
I have always been afraid of bees, so having your life surrounded by bees has, in the past, seemed very unpleasant. But last year we had bees at the flower farm that I helped start, Avium Flowers, and I kind of fell in love with the buggers. They were so happy being close to the dahlia and zinnia patch.
I hope that you go out and get some local honey, or plant a bee garden in the spring. I think you will feel much better if you do.
All Photos by Adam Alexander
This Is Jana.
How did you get into bees and honey?
I was interested in honeybees when I was in graphic design school (with your husband!) and for my final project I created a fake company about bee advocacy. 4-, after I decided I no longer wanted to work at the company where I was a designer, I took a class about beekeeping in Chicago. I thought I wanted to get involved with urban farming, but didn't have an interest in growing crops. Bees are the tiniest livestock, so I thought I'd try it out! I was riveted the entire class. After that, I did an apprenticeship out in Eugene, Oregon with a beekeeper and officially fell in love with bees.
What did you do before you started your company?
I worked as a corporate graphic designer in-house at Crate and Barrel's headquarters in Northbrook, IL
Can you give us a brief history of yourself?
I grew up in Wheaton, IL, and lived in the same suburban house for the first 19 years of my life. My Dad encouraged us kids to explore nature and take interest in critters of all kind. Our grandparents owned a house in Oregon, IL, right next to the Rock River where I spent weekends exploring the creek on their property, the adjacent forest preserve, and of course, the river. I was obsessed with tiny complex things, and developed an affinity for frogs, crayfish, and especially caterpillars. Usually we were allowed to bring home whatever critters we could find. I raised countless monarch butterflies and swallowtails, even well into adulthood. I have always loved insects!
What inspires you to keep working with bees?
Probably the bees themselves. Beekeeping is unlike any other sort of pet or livestock. They never get to know you or develop routines with you They're an insect, and to care for them you have to understand them and respect their behavior. I love the amount of critical thinking and learning involved in beekeeping... As my friend Travis once said, "every year is a master's degree."
How important are bees to flowers and flowers to bees? Do you place your bees near flower gardens?
Pollinators and flowers evolved together. The rule of thumb is, if we humans find a flower to be beautiful, they need insects for pollination. Other plants have flowers that humans don't notice, though, and those are wind-pollinated (like ragweed, grasses, or elm trees.) A plant that requires insects to reproduce uses their flowers as a billboard to say "HEY, come help us reproduce!" The bees don't necessarily know that, they think they're getting a free lunch of nectar and pollen. But, bees are essential to the flower's reproduction!
I don't necessarily put my beehives near flower gardens... Bees will fly up to 5 miles around their hive to gather nectar and pollen, so I'm confident they'll find all the resources they need, especially in this resource-rich city.
How do you feel flowers are most important in your world?
They're essential. Without flowers, I would not get honey. Without honey, I would not have anything to sell to keep my business going. A wide variety ensures my bees have a healthy diet, too.
If you were to grow your own perfect cutting garden, what flowers and herbs would be a must? Why? What flowers attract bees?
I would focus solely on native flowers like bee balm, wild bergamot, sunflowers, and purple cone flowers. The Xerces Society does excellent work with pollinators, and even has partnered with native plant nurseries to create flower mixes. Here's a great resource for planting flowers just for native pollinators: The Xerces.
Native prairie plants are some of the best sources of food for pollinators in the country!
Do different varieties of flowers change the flavor of the honey that your bees produce?
Absolutely! When foraging, bees go for areas where there are many flowers of the same type. They're very efficient. A great example of this is a fully grown linden tree, or a black locust tree. On one single tree, there are hundreds of thousands of flowers. Same goes for expansive vacant lots that are filled with white sweet clover, a non-native pasture plant. Linden trees produce one of the finest honeys in the world. So, if you want to help the bees, consider planting a tree!
Can people get involved with your bee keeping? if so, how?
Yes! I always need help. You can sign up for our Volunteer Opportunities mailing list here!
Where can we find you?
Find me at on facebook, and we sell honey at stores listed here! You can also follow me, Jana, on instagram at @janakinsman and @bikeabee
Can you give a recipe/DIY for our readers with honey.. or bees... or bees and honey?
Yes! I always use honey in recipes that call for sugar... it's a 1:1 replacement. For pies and baked goods, honey adds sweetness but also a subtle aromatic flavor that adds that little extra something! With Chicago honey, though, it just tastes so good on its own that my favorite ways to eat is simply with good bread and a lot of butter, or on full-fat yogurt.
As for DIY, I would encourage your readers to help with the pollinators in our country by buying organic food, shopping at your farmer's markets when possible, and letting your lawns grow dandelions! Bees LOVE dandelions!!!