There are many great reasons to become a beekeeper! Honey bees are fascinating animals! For some people it is a rewarding hobby and for others it can develop into a small business. However, there are many reasons to NOT become a beekeeper. Before investing in apiary equipment, please consider the following.
Becoming a beekeeper will not help “save the bees”
In Iowa we have over 300 different species of native bees. Honey bees, however, were brought to North American by Europeans and are not native. Honey bees are not endangered or at risk of extinction, but many of Iowa’s native bees are in trouble. One Iowa species on the endangered species list is the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis). Keeping honey bees to help at-risk wild bee populations would be akin to keeping backyard chickens to help declining peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) populations in Iowa.
In Iowa honey bees face many risks to their health including exposure to pesticides, forage habitat loss, and pests and pathogens. Beekeepers lose their hives at much higher rates today than they did 20 years ago. Since honey bees are semi-domesticated, beekeepers can split their hives or purchase new colonies each year to make up for their losses.
If you are interested in restoring Iowa bee populations, habitat restoration is key. Planting more foraging and nesting habitat will not only help native bees, it will also benefit honey bees. Government assistance programs are available for establishing pollinator habitat on a larger acreage, and ISU has handouts available in the extension store with more information on planting for pollinators in your backyard.
It is more work than you expect
As mentioned above, honey bees face many more challenges today than in the past. And the Iowa landscape can be a treacherous one for bees. Since the majority of land across the state in devoted to agricultural production, honey bee colonies may struggle to find abundant and diverse flowering resources to forage on throughout the year. High agricultural activity in the state also makes it more likely that honey bees may be exposed to insecticides. Additionally, honey bee colonies are vulnerable to numerous diseases and parasites that beekeepers must be vigilant to identify and treat.
Regular hive inspections are necessary to ensure colony health. This includes identifying pests and pathogens and treating when appropriate. The most pernicious parasite affecting honey bees in the varroa mite (Varroa destructor) If honey bee colonies are not treated for varroa, they will die. Moreover, not taking action to control varroa and other pests and disease could encourage the spread to neighboring hives.
Beekeeping can get expensive
The equipment necessary for beekeeping requires a significant amount of investment, especially in the first year. Hive bodies, smokers, hive tools, protective gear, honey extraction equipment, and new bee colonies all come with lofty price tags. Moreover, since bacterial and fungal diseases that affect honey bees can live in equipment for years, purchasing cheaper used equipment is not recommended.
Not all Iowa cities allow urban beekeeping
Some municipalities have ordinances that prohibit keeping bees within city limits. A list of Iowa cities and their specific laws on beekeeping has been compiled and made available on the Iowa Honey Producers Association website.