Iowa Ideas
Iowa Ideas

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Backyard beekeeping is on the rise in Iowa

Jul 17, 2019 at 6:00 am
    Martha Terry of Iowa City helps install sliding units of a bee house during a beekeeping field day course at the Indian Creek Nature Center near Cedar Rapids, IA on Saturday, April 20, 2019. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)

    The number of apiaries — collections of honeybee hives often found in amateurs’ backyards — in Iowa has steadily increased over the past decade.

    The upswing comes on the heels of higher-than-normal rates of colony collapse that hit hives around 2006.

    “Media attention around the mysterious bee loss really opened people’s ears to the importance of bees as pollinators,” said Andy Joseph, state apiarist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture. “We’ve seen an uptick especially in hobby beekeeping. It’s safe to say numbers of beekeepers across the state have tripled.”


    He estimates about 4,500 Iowans are actively beekeeping. The department collects self-reported data from the amateur apiarists, he said, and data in mid-May showed nearly 2,000 apiaries registered in the state.

    As folks have become more interested in backyard bees, Iowa State University Extension Entomologist Randall Cass said the rate of hive loss also has increased.

    “If anything, beekeeping has become a lot more challenging in the last 10 years,” Cass said. “The nice thing about bees is, if we lose a hive, we’re able to purchase a new hive and a new queen fairly easily.”

    In a healthy hive, the queen bee is the only bee that lays male and female eggs. Her eggs produce worker bees — the females who forage for pollen — male drone bees — who help her reproduce and then die — and new queen bees. A hive maintains one queen.

    The learning curve for new beekeepers can be steep. Cass said anyone with a hive quickly becomes a scientist — making mistakes, learning and adjusting for next year.


    “People are brewing their own beer,” he said. “Why not keep their own bees and make their own honey?”

    While the prevalence of colony collapse has dwindled, beekeepers still need to worry about their queen’s genetics, their bees’ pesticide exposure, parasitic mites and their access to flowering plants and trees.

    “We’re still experiencing very high losses,” Joseph said. “But a lot of these are not mysterious colony collapse.”

    Maintaining healthy gardens, or prairie lands, can be a boon to both honeybees — a European import — and Iowa’s 200 to 300 native bee species.

    Second- or third-year beekeepers — who know what went wrong in years past and adjust — he added, are in a good spot. Their next hive will benefit.

    “To new beekeepers — get involved, get registered and get active in local groups,” he said, noting the Iowa Honey Producers Association has local chapters, with information at “That’s where all the learning takes place — beekeeper to beekeeper.”

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