The Keeper of the Bees

Story by Jonathan Facio
Photos by Jayde Vogeler


Ian McKenzie is many things; a runner, environmental science major, and a beekeeper.

It all started after taking a class with professor Clint Meyer.

“There was a lecture where we talked a lot about beekeeping and he mentioned that the Indianola Beekeeping Association puts out a class every winter,” he said.

The class talked about the conservation and endangerment of bees at a national and global level. Ian, and another student, took the 8-week course, ordered bees online from California and started two hives in early April of 2017.

IMG_0313According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, bees pollinate around $15 billion in U.S. crops. A mix of factors such as global warming, pesticides, parasites and habitat loss are contributing to colony collapse disorder and the bee population is the lowest it has been in 50 years. These are the reasons Ian decided to go out to make a positive difference in the world.

“It’s easy to say ‘Oh, I want to be a tree hugger, I want to be somebody who recycles all the time’, but if you don’t do anything about it then you’re not really helping the situation. I decided, ‘okay I’m going to do something about the state of our world and try to help it out and make a positive change’,” he said.

Ian checks the bees every three to four weeks. The first year of beekeeping is often difficult because beekeepers learn when and how to tend to their hives according to him.

“We (Ian and Meyer) actually started out with two hives and then one swarmed, which means they left the hive. We only have one now so there’s a lot of issues that you just deal with but a lot of it is just learning and the next year. You just do better and you just keep learning, and learning and learning,” he said.

Ian has high hopes for his hive and plans on adding another one in the spring. Ian said a healthy beehive can be productive for 20 to 30 years with multiple different queens. According to him if the hive is managed right nothing is stopping it.

Since he’s a senior, he’s discussed continuing the hive with Meyer. To keep the project alive there may soon be a Simpson beekeeping club.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of students that may be interested in doing a beekeeping class, starting a club, and doing more hives, building it and making it a successful club on campus.”

But if honey is what you’re after you’ll have to wait a while. Ian said beekeepers don’t usually collect honey in their first year, and the bees will need what they have currently to get through the winter.

Every time he goes to check on the bees he has a specific goal in mind, check for honey, how many eggs are there, feeding the bees, etc.

On a chilly October day, Ian hopped into his silver Nissan Sentra, and after a 12-minute drive, with a country music radio station playing, we arrived at the home of Ron Warnet. He walked through the home’s backyard of sporadically growing plants and trees. Behind some thorny bushes was the hive.

The goal for today’s visit was to make sure his hive of around 25,000 bees were still alive and well, and prep them for the coming winter.

Ian pried open the frames, and the bees stirred. Some were agitated. He noted the bees were densely gathered on one side of the hive, leaving some frames empty.

He began measuring and cutting a long sheet of roofing mat to insulate the hive. Ian wrapped the mat around the hive. As he went to staple the mat to the hive there were bees about to be squished which wouldn’t move. Ian got irritated. “I’m trying to save your lives, stupids!” he said.

It was time to pack up after about 45 minutes, head back to the car, and the visit to the bees ended.

It seems so simple but the impact goes deeper. The more bees people keep, the better our world gets.

Can one person save the world? Maybe, maybe not. But people like Ian are trying to do their part, and that’s pretty buzzworthy.


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