Iowa Honey

Iowa Honey - Credit: Sweet Endeavors Honey

While it is generally accepted in the scientific community that the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) arrived from England with early settlers, there are also fossil records to suggest that similar honey bees called North America home over 14 million years ago. The modern western honey bee, however, did begin populating Iowa in the 17th century and now supplies tons of pure honey every year.

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    When Did Iowa Begin Producing Honey?

    The state of Iowa was officially founded late in 1846 and came on the heels of the famous “Honey War” between Iowa and Missouri in 1839. By then, bees were well-established as high-volume honey producers in honey trees and nests throughout the Hawkeye State.

    The bloodless fight over the southern border of Iowa began when a Missouri surveyor determined that the boundary between the two states was too far south, giving Iowa more land that it was entitled to. He reset the border, giving Missouri more than 2,000 square miles of additional land, taking Iowa’s southern counties, and making them part of Missouri.

    Southern Iowa farmers did not take kindly to the change, especially when they considered their land was now being taken over by a slave state. When the local Missouri sheriff attempted to collect taxes, those farmers refused.

    The sheriff returned later in the year with several hundred men to back him up, but he was arrested for trespassing. The Missouri governor was compelled to call out the militia. Some groups of angry Missourians chopped down some bee trees, and Iowans began to head south armed with guns, pitchforks, and clubs to face off with those Missourians they considered invaders of their land.

    Cooler heads prevailed, and the Honey War was snuffed out before any real violence broke out between the two groups. The issue was eventually taken to Congress, kicked up to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1851 that the original border would stand.

    Italian Honey Bee Feeding on Bee Balm
    Bee Balm is a native pollinator-friendly plant in Iowa

    How Much Honey Does Iowa Produce?

    Over 80% of Iowa is farmland used for agricultural purposes, with corn and soybeans serving as the two most abundant and important crops in the state. Neither requires bees to pollinate for their success, though soybean plants produce flowers that honey bees love, and corn can provide a large amount of pollen.

    According to the 2021 USDA report, in 2020 Iowa state produced a total of 1,259,000 pounds of honey from 38,000 honey-producing colonies.

    Several factors, including bee-killing insects and damaging weather, contributed to a decrease in Iowa honey production in the last decade. The industry has seen a rebound of late and honey production in Iowa and throughout the nation has seen steady increases in honey-producing colonies late in the 2010s.

    What Are the Main Types of Honey Iowa Produces?

    Iowa’s main floral sources are especially clovers, though there are many other floral sources that contribute to the crop such as Coneflower and Bee Balm. Clover honey has a light color and a pleasant, sweet taste. There are three main varieties of clover that the bees gather their nectar from during the blooming season. Dutch clover, yellow sweet clover, and white sweet clover.

    Which Species of Bees Create Iowa Honey?

    Within the seven known families of bees in the world, six can be found in North America. There are thousands of bee species in the Apidae family that are native to the United States, but there are only seven species of honey bees that produce large amounts of honey in Iowa and throughout the country.

    Carniolan Bee Collecting Nectar
    Carniolan honey bee is one of the popular types of bees used by apiaries in Iowa
    Bee Balm Flower
    Bee Balm Flower

    Which Native Plants Produce Iowa Honey?

    Not all plants are equal when it comes to pollination potential for the honey bees of Iowa. The state has hundreds of native plant varieties and species that are attractive to honey bees and help them do what they do best, creating tons of sweet honey each year.

    Among the native plants that provide pollen and nectar for honey bees in Iowa include:

    Ironweed The perennial plant provides long-lasting blooms that are popular for honey bees, as well as butterflies and moths.
    Coneflower They look like daisies with large seed heads that come in many different sizes that supply large volumes to nectar and pollen for honey bees and butterflies.
    Black Lace Elderberry Producing bright, pink flowers and black-purple berries in the summer, black lace elderberry attracts a wide range of pollinators, from bees to beetles.
    Penstemon More traditionally known for attracting hummingbirds throughout the summer months, bees also find these early white blooming plants with purple seed heads inviting.
    Goldenrod A late-season bloomer, goldenrod is an important plant that helps round out the season for bees and other local pollinators.
    Bee Balm Bees and butterflies love the bright purple and red blooms of bee balm that dot the Iowa landscape.

    Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Iowa

    Here are some of the larger honey sellers and apiaries located throughout Iowa:

    • 3-Bee Farms
    • Ebert Honey
    • Foley’s Russian Bees
    • Hilltop Honey Farm
    • Just Iowa Honey
    • Lappe’s Bee Supply and Honey Farm
    • Peverill’s Apiary
    • Randol Honey Farm
    • Smitty Bee Honey
    • Spring Valley Honey Farms

    What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Produce Iowa’s Honey?

    Most Iowa cities and municipalities would be considered bee-friendly communities, though some prohibit beekeeping outright, while others place restrictions on numbers and location of hives. Beekeeper numbers have tripled in the last decade, many of them in urban areas.

    Beekeepers in Iowa now number in the thousands, producing mills of pounds of honey every year. The honey industry in Iowa produces honey valued at over $8 million. The economic value of honey bees used to pollinate crops in Iowa is estimated to be around $92 million a year.

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