The Buzz on Julia’s Bees
Greetings urban farmers! My name is Julia, and I keep bees in the middle of Des Moines, Iowa. When we first got honeybees, we had four kids ages 8 – 14 years in our average suburban house. We have neighbors on all sides and have an average sized yard. We have had a graduation party and picnics in our backyard, and the bees are very productive while being barely noticeable.
In 2008, my daughter won a youth beekeeping scholarship from our state’s honey producer association. Although she harvested honey that year and the bees lived over the winter (our peers had a 30% winter survival rate), I was really impressed by our fabulous strawberry harvest. Our strawberries, tracing the border of our driveway, barely produced in the two years prior and were now giving us a quart every other day. I was an immediate believer in the pollination factor of honey bees. When my daughter left for college, I kept the new bee hobby alive. Since I stuck my head into a box of bees, I have found it hard to walk away from them. They are such fascinating creatures that I believe that almost everyone can and should keep bees. Here is our story.
It’s August 2007. With the possibility of getting bees the next year, we talk to our neighbors. Mostly, we talk about placement of the hive and the fact that honey bees are not domesticated. I can’t call them and have them return home like a dog, they sting, they are sensitive to chemical lawn controls, etc.
It’s November 2007. We find a hobby bee club to join. We order a package of honey bees, woodenware, and equipment – today, the total would be about $300, and $200 of it is reusable hardware.
February 2008. My daughter takes a beginning beekeeping class. The woodenware arrives unassembled and provides a good winter activity.
Late April 2008. The bees arrive in late April for Iowans. She installs the bees quickly and they thrive over the next few months.
September 2008. Our mentor shows us how to harvest the honey. This was an extremely satisfying experience that could be remembered every time we used honey until the next harvest.
Today, 2014. I keep 7 bee hives. None of them are at my house, but rather on four private properties. One property belongs to a friend; one belongs to someone who had a ‘want ad’ with a bee club – he wanted bees for his garden. The other two properties had “bee trees” fall down in a storm. The owners called me to relocate them, and I asked if I could hive the bees there.
One nice thing about beekeeping is that start-up costs are low, the equipment lasts for many seasons, and everything has a good resale value. It is also possible to go low-cost and make your own woodenware since the internet has a plethora of patterns. There could be more savings if you catch a swarm or “cut out” honey bees from a structure rather than buy a package of bees.
Our bees give us plenty of things to talk about and share as a family. I still have to call my daughter for beekeeping assistance from time to time, and my husband has moved from moral and verbal support to hands-on support during hive inspections and bottling. Urban bees have been a great hobby for us.
Julia McGuire keeps bees and loves to talk about them. She maintains her bee clubs’ websites and edits their newsletters. She serves the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network as a Media Assistant, has used her DIY rain barrels for her urban farm since 2000, and forages in the parks every now and then for fruit and nuts. Sometimes she talks to herself about bees on her blog, which can be found at http://juliecache.com.