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Iowa's Beekeeping Boom Prompts New Website of Local Laws

The boom in beekeeping prompted one Iowa bee enthusiast to create a new website to keep track of local laws on the topic. (Iowa Agriculture and Land Stewardship Office)

The boom in beekeeping prompted one Iowa bee enthusiast to create a new website to keep track of local laws on the topic. (Iowa Agriculture and Land Stewardship Office)
January 25, 2016

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa - When Julia McGuire of West Des Moines started keeping bees five years ago, she began connecting with others on the Internet for help. She quickly found the number one question was whether it was legal to keep bees in a certain city, which ultimately led her to create a searchable website.

Beelaws.org contains information about all city ordinances in Iowa concerning backyard beekeeping. McGuire says she began beekeeping as an extension of her daughter's hobby, and has found neighbors to be supportive.

"We've had a graduation party in our backyard and nobody even realized the bees were that close to them," says McGuire. "A lot of people decide, 'Oh, you have bees, I'm going to try to help them by planting something that's going to be blooming when nothing else is blooming.' So, it's been really positive."

Some 77 cities across Iowa are included on the "beelaws" website, which is funded by the Iowa Honey Producers Association and a USDA Specialty Crop block grant. There are nearly 4,500 beekeepers in Iowa, triple the number from a decade ago.

McGuire says it's necessary to think about bees in a different way than other animals raised for food.

"People tend to think of bees in terms of traditional livestock where you have a certain, like, 'I've got 200 head,'" says McGuire. "You don't really do that with bees. With bees, they're purchased by the pound. There are approximately 9,000 bees per pound."

She says the average backyard beekeeper has four to six pounds in a colony, meaning some 50,000 bees.

McGuire adds she isn't surprised there's been heightened interest in beekeeping.

"And I always tell people that bees are just the perfect, perfect animal because you don't have to feed them, you don't have to water them," she says. "You don't have to round them up to roost at night; they do all of those things on their own. And they make a surplus that you can harvest for yourself at the end."

The website also includes a list by city of where beginning beekeeping classes are regularly held.

Jeff Stein, Public News Service - IA