Gardeners buzzing about change in law
By MAKAYLA TENDALL
Swat carefully this summer.
The buzzing sounds filling your ear could very well come from a honey bee instead of a fly as the city of Jefferson considers allowing beekeeping within city limits.
While the city has not yet given the first reading of the bill at city council — council members will continue to discuss the issue at their next meeting on June 10 — the possibility of allowing beekeeping is very real as cities like Scranton have already relaxed the law on beekeeping.
Cail Calder knows firsthand how beekeeping within city limits will affect residents. He convinced Scranton city officials in recent years to allow beekeeping.
Calder owns Bee Mindful, where he travels to farmers’ markets and sells raw honey and beeswax products like lip balm and corn cob-shaped candles in local shops.
Calder, who said he really ventured into the beekeeping business in high school, moved back to Scranton to revive his business after a beekeeping hiatus.
Calder said he purchased his beekeeping building on Stanton Street, in the heart of Scranton, when the city dug deeper into the books and found that an old law prohibiting animals within city limits also prohibited bees.
Calder now takes the bees he raises across Iowa and even the country to pollinate.
Public and private landowners allow Calder to keep a specified number of hives on their land, something that Calder said is beneficial for both him and landowners.
“Roughly every third bite of food you take is dependent upon pollination,” Calder said about the importance of honey bees’ work. “The honey bee is unique in the fact that you can set them out there and when they go to a food source, the whole hive will work that food source until it’s gone.”
Calder said he found that every $1 spent on pollination returns about $42 in increased crop production merely due to the work of the pollinators.
The USDA confirmed that honey bees are responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop production a year.
Honey bees can also sweeten flower pots and bring a bumper crop to vegetable and fruit gardens in Jefferson, Calder said.
“Some of the large garden growers over there want the bees now,” Calder said about Jefferson residents already buzzing about the possibility of expanding their gardens. “They can’t wait another three months.”
Jefferson residents are feeling the sting of this spring’s unusual weather, Calder said. If the city allows beekeeping, he’s already in contact with residents in Jefferson who would allow him to keep a few hives in their yards to pollinate gardens.
Michael Cooley, coordinator of the Greene County office of Iowa State University Extension, doesn’t foresee many negatives if the city allows beekeeping.
“My prediction would be that you’ll have a handful of people that actually go set up a hive in their backyard. It’s not going to increase the overall bee population that much,” Cooley said. “There really just aren’t a whole lot of negative side effects as far as hobby beekeepers in the city limits.”
Those who are concerned about being stung can rest assured knowing that honey bees are social insects that rarely sting without being provoked.
Once a honey bee actually does sting, it most often dies because the stinger gets stuck in the skin.
“With honey bees, you’ve really got to do something to them to make them sting. Most people don’t realize that,” Calder said. “Even though they only have nine brain cells, they still have that self-preservation.”
Cooley said beekeeping could also cut down on the amount of feral bees that make their nests in the yards of local residents. Honey bees are home-based insects that would return to a designated hive at night as opposed to the bees that now return to a lone nest.
Cooley said the only real change would be that the change in law would produce a few more hobby beekeepers, who are beneficial for many reasons.
One is the growing popularity of honey as an alternative sweetener in the culinary industry. Honey is also growing in popularity as a natural curative for sicknesses and as a metabolism booster.
Calder said he has more and more customers that use honey in place of sugar.
“It’s got an indeterminate shelf life. They pulled the honey out of the pyramids in Egypt that’s still good,” Calder said. “It’s anti-bacterial. It’s anti-fungal. It’s anti-microbial.”
The most important reason to encourage the growth of honey bees is because of the colony collapse.
Cooley said the environment depends on pollination, and the recent phenomenon of colony collapse is endangering the main natural pollinators in our agriculture system.
The cause of colony collapse — the sudden collapse of part of a bee colony that results in the rest of the colony leaving the hive — is largely unknown.
“A bee colony is a very intricate system. Something, somewhere along that system, fails. And just causes a collapse,” Cooley said. “Whether it’s something to do with the queen or the worker bees, some of them die and the rest leave, no one knows how or why it happens.”
Cooley said there has been a recent push in agriculture to educate about pesticides that may harm bees.
Calder said he often fights mites that attack honey bees. Even though bees groom themselves and he has crossbred bees with Russian honey bees that have an innate resistance to mites, he still uses a pesticide to kill the mites, which admittedly is a dicey game to put a pesticide meant for small insects on larger insects.
Overall, both Calder and Cooley agree that all ecological systems benefit from bees.
“Bees are pollinators, and so they are really important to the overall ecological environment. To have healthy plants, even some crops rely heavily on bees,” Cooley said.