Monday, November 8, 2010

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

Many people are much more focused on outdoor air and water pollution as potentially harmful to their health, but indoor air pollution is a daily risk in our homes that gets little attention.  Indoor air pollutants are particular damaging because they become trapped inside a home, thus pose health risks for longer periods of time than those to which we are typically exposed.  For example, if we swim in polluted water, we are exposed to harmful contaminants for the length of the swim; but if we live in a home with sources of indoor air pollution, we spend hours and hours breathing in the pollutants, without any awareness that we may be posing great health risks to our bodies.  Known sources of harmful indoor air pollutants are:

  • dry cleaned clothing
  • household cleansers
  • paints and paint strippers
  • wood preservatives
  • aerosol sprays
  • moth repellants
  • air fresheners
  • car fuels and products
  • hobby supplies
  • pesticides and hydrocarbons tracked in by shoes
  • formaldehyde / pressed wood products
  • smoke and tobacco products
  • stoves, heaters, fireplaces and chimneys
All of these products should be used with caution inside your home, and eliminated if possible.  The United States EPA recommends that we bring only products that will be quickly used up into your home; keep pollutant sources away from children; take extra measures to ventilate areas exposed to indoor air pollutants; and establish effective ventilation through hvac systems and fans to ensure that pollutants spend little time inside your home.  In some cases, you can eliminate the use of harmful products from your home (switching to green cleaners and household products).  In other cases, you can take very effective steps to drastically reduce exposure.  For example, taking the bags off dry cleaning and allowing them to aerate outside your home before taking them inside will significantly cut your exposure to those chemicals, and adopting a “no shoe” rule will drastically reduce the amount of pesticides and hydrocarbons that enter your home. 

Many times, home owners are so focused on making their homes efficient by installing airtight windows and doors and installing high-efficiency insulation, that they forget to ensure that pollutants can find their way out.  Check to ensure that your home is properly ventilated – through open windows, fans, and an hvac system that regularly flushes out old air and injects new air. For more on indoor air pollution sources and solutions, please see

Carol Jones

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Top Bar plans or hive can be purchase at

2009 was my first year beekeeping. After much research, I purchased my bee-healthy top-bar hive and went looking for bees to install in it. I was told that I had missed the timeframe (early spring) to purchase bees, so I should go out and catch a swarm, which is the only way to start a hive according to the purists, such as one of my heroes, the bee-whisperer, Corwin Bell in Boulder, CO.
 My immediate thought was that we don't have swarms in Chicago, and as an untrained urbanite, I am ill-equipped to catch a swarm if I had a clue as to where to find one. But then, problem solved! I was gifted a traditional Langstroth hive full of gentle Italian bees. So gentle that they allowed me to care for them without using protective gear that I decided to settle in for the season with these bees and leave my top-bar hive empty in my basement.
 Then, in late July, I got a call from my bee teacher, Craig Bowles, who said that my own mother needed a swarm of bees removed from a building on her property. Would I join him in cutting them out of the building and capturing the bees which we could put in my top bar hive?  Now how could I refuse an opportunity such as this?
 So we met at 6:30 am, 40 miles west of Chicago, donning full protective gear including the burka-like head covering, to capture the bees.  Craig, a beekeeper of five years, had set up scaffolding to help us cut open the eaves to find the queen. Craig had assisted in catching a swarm on one other occasion, so this made him the seasoned expert.  We stepped up onto the scaffolding and tore off the siding. Craig sprayed an herbal preparation into the interior of the eaves, and suddenly we were amidst 30,000 bees as they flew from the eaves, bees filling the air. The buzzing sound was incredible, enveloping us in waves, potentially overwhelming.  But if I wanted an adrenaline rush from dealing with nature, here it was!
 Craig was in the eaves, tearing out insulation looking for the queen when she stepped out right onto his finger!  He left the scaffolding and walked 15 paces to place her into my top-bar hive, and then her attendants began to follow, landing on the side of the hive, fanning her scent out into the air.  As we raced around collecting bees, we began brushing the 100s of bees landing on the wall into a bucket, then placed the bucket on its side near the hive, and the bees formed a single file line and WALKED into the hive.
 These bees were slightly more aggressive than my Italians. Their combined buzzing was too loud for us to hear each other speak, so when I got too hot and needed a break from my bee suit, I signaled Craig, who brushed the many bees off my back before I walked away.  But it took walking a couple hundred feet away before the bees stopped chasing me.  (They weren’t pleased that we were pulling them out of the eaves, it was probably equivalent to a Viking invasion of rape and pillage).
 Craig finished by vacuuming up all the stray bees that hadn't made their way to the hive by the third hour. It seemed I had about 20,000 bees in my hive. We duct-taped the openings to the hive, he stacked both the hive and the vacuum cleaner on its side in my trunk, and I began my hour drive home on the expressway in weekend traffic.
 Having borrowed an SUV from Elizabeth Wenscott, my beekeeping partner in crime, it had a cargo area but no enclosed trunk, so we separated the cargo area from the passenger area with a highly sophisticated arrangement of plastic sheeting taped to the interior roof with duct tape to act as a barrier between me and the bee (or two) that might escape.
 Ten minutes into the trip, I noticed an opaqueness of the rear window, so I pulled over to see what was going on. There appeared to be about a hundred bees gathering on the back window, so I pulled into a parking lot, opened the window and drove around in circles hoping that these loose bees would blow out the open window.  Not a chance! They all seemed to have held on for dear life.
 So I continued my drive on the highway with my back window getting darker, filling with more bees. Thank goodness for the plastic sheet between us.  Well these turned out to be famous last words, since that vacuum cleaner lying on it’s side was rolling in the stop-and-go traffic and hitting the plastic sheeting, which had begun to pulled the duct tape away from the ceiling.  And with each hit of the plastic, a couple more bees popped out of the vacuum cleaner.  As I broke into a sweat, I imagined myself driving down the highway with bees swarming around my head!
 I finished the trip while stopping four or five times to reattach the duct tape to the ceiling.  By the time I reached my house, there were approximately 300 bees loose in all areas of the car, leaving little sticky bits of honeycomb, honey, or propolis wherever they landed, but not bothering me.  Still, Elizabeth wasn't going to be happy with bees flying loose in her car.  Let me now mention she wasn't in favor of a second hive in our first year.  I called ahead, and being the forever-good sport, Elizabeth greeted me in full protective gear, ready to air the bees out of the car.  I was attempting to be discreet about the bees’ arrival with our neighbors, but it was hard not to notice her driving her car mid-Sunday afternoon in full bee gear, including helmet and veil with windows down and 300 bees holding on for dear life!  Again, not a bee departed, so she had to vacuum up the bees to get them out of the car. 
 We set up the top bar hive in the yard, with the two bee-filled vacuums next to it, the yard turned into a bee-flying festival for two days.  My understanding is that the bees chart the area in flight to learn their new territory!  Catching that swarm, or more accurately, cutting out those bees from the eaves was one of the highlights of my summer!  It was an incredible experience to watch the bees cooperate and communicate; and I was in awe of the raw power of a hive swarming!
 Unfortunately, my bees left the top-bar hive in November (colony collapse or mutiny against inexperienced management?).  Seeing the number and size of honeycomb tongues made, it seemed pretty clear that they wouldn't have made it through the winter.  My sweet, (but perhaps weak?)  Italian bees died in December, which ended our first year of beekeeping.
~Lisa Hish

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Bee Trail Project

Bee Trail Project within the Northcenter Neighborhood

Join the Bee Trail Project
In 2009, Elizabeth Wenscott and Lisa Hish from the Tai Chi Center of Chicago joined the growing movement of backyard beekeepers by keeping hives. The goal of the Bee Trail Project is to have as many interested households and gardens  within the 3 mile radius from the hives make changes that support the health of the honey bee.

Actions promoting bee health:
• Join the Bee Trail Project by choosing one or more of the below suggestions. Send us an email stating your commitment level, and we will put a corresponding triangle on the 3 Mile Bee Trail Map (see above). Get a RED triangle for 1 committed change, YELLOW triangle for 2 committed changes and a GREEN triangle for 3 or more committed changes! Maintain your own hive and and we will give you a star! This is a fun way to see how both you and the neighborhood are impacting the Queen's Domain.

• Plant bee-friendly plants and trees in your yard. Consider plants that bloom not only in the summer flowers and late flowers but but also consider bee-friendly spring blooms: the bees need the spring pollen to make food for their young.

• Bees love dandelions, clover and plantain. Consider changing from a perfectly manicured chemically-laden lawn to a bee and bird friendly lawn.

• Bees need water just like any other creature. Water helps to maintain the hive temperature and humidity level. Water is needed for thirsty growing bees. Some honeybees' main task in life is carting water. Each bee may make typically 50 trips a day, each time collecting about 25 mg of water. When the colony is very short of water other foraging bees are diverted from collecting nectar and pollen to join in the effort. Consider providing a clean source of water such as a fountain. Once honeybees have located a good source of water they tend to continue using it, even when other sources become available.

• Buy raw, local, honey. If available, buy honey from bees raised organically or biodynamically. Honey is the only food that has no expiration date: it doesn't spoil.

• Eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden. Bees need food without poison for themselves and their hive just like we do!

• Eliminate the use of dryer sheets. The chemicals on those sheets are released into the air when heated in the dryer, potentially interfering in the bees ability to "smell" pollen flows. The same is true for other strong scented laundry detergents etc.

• Sign up to host a hive on your property, when swarms are caught and additional hives become available.

• Become a beekeeper yourself. For the real enthusiasts, start your beekeeping career with a topbar hive, which is healthier for the bees.

• Support local and national beekeepers. Example: Join the bee guardian movement run by our hero, Corwin Bell, Bee Guardian.