Wednesday, March 14, 2018 has been recognized as Honey Bee Day in Iowa, a new proclamation signed by Governor Kim Reynolds earlier in 2018.
I purchased bees in Spring of 2016, with plans to become a hobby apiarist. It has indeed been a fun and rewarding hobby for our family.
Prior to the arrival of our bees (the first round came via USPS to our local post office, in special cages!), I attended a Beginning Beekeeping Class at NICC in Peosta. The class was taught by a professional, local apiarist and gave me a great background before starting my hives.
I was an early adopter of the Flow Hive, which at the time was seeking funds via Kickstarter (watch their pitch here). We also use Langstroth hives with pre-built frames. The Flow Hive and Langstroth really are quite similar; the Flow Hive uses Langstroth philosophy with some additional technology when it comes to harvesting honey.
Several weeks of early spring our first year were spent building and preparing the hive bodies. The biggest amount of preparation, however, has been in planning and maintaining our food source.
While I do enjoy honey, the largest contributing factor in my quest for bees was getting involved in something that would improve our local environment. Honey bees require pollen, and pollen comes from flowering plants, whether fruit, vegetable, tree, shrub or weeds. We inventoried the pollen sources in a half-mile radius and determined where we should add more food sources; in some situations, this was a simple decision to stop mowing or spraying goldenrod, clover, dandelions or other naturalized sources that already existed.
Our efforts to provide an ample source of food for our honey bees has also prompted an increase in our bumble bee and butterfly population, including monarchs.
Iowans have just a few species of honey bees available that can tolerate our cold winters; I started with both Russians and Italians. My Italians have surprisingly overwintered better each year, and enter Spring with full and healthy hives. It has also been my experience that the Italians are a little gentler, which is important when children are involved in our beekeeping chores. That do require some extra winter preparation, but it has been worth it to not lose an entire hive over the winter.
It has been interesting talking to others in my community about honey bees; the media has definitely created a buzz regarding honey bee population decline and bee population decline in general.
Last summer, I received a text message from a friend of a friend of a friend, asking me if I could help remove some honey bees from their yard. I texted back a couple questions to verify that they were honey bees, but the verdict was unclear. I grabbed my swarm supplies and my bee suit and headed into town to take a look. They were yellow jackets, which we both had a good chuckle about. I was thrilled, though, that the home owner preferred to re-home the (alleged) honey bees instead of spray with insectiside.
Just a few weeks later, we had a swarm land at our house. We prepared a hive box with some lemongrass oil, sprayed down the honey bees with sugar water to distract them, and started placing scoops of honeybees inside the box. Once we found the queen and scooped her into the new hive box, the rest of her workers eventually followed.
It is also important to note that honey bees are not native to Iowa, nor the United States. They arrived on ships with early settlers and slowly spread across the Country. Many scientists were worried about colony collapse disorder just a few years ago, but worries have now shifted to the impact of farming honey bees – both for honey and as a targeted pollination tool. In large honey operations, bees are moved strategically to accommodate various pollen schedules of species like almonds, avocados, and blueberries. Farmers insist that honey bees are the best, most consistent pollinator for large plantings of flowering crops.
I am excited to celebrate Iowa’s Honey Bee day with a little private label honey in my coffee and on my toast, but am more excited to keep improving our local habitat for honey bees and all pollinators.