Is Utah, the Beehive State, really the second worst state to keep bees?

It’s an email subject line that will have any food writer sitting upright in their chair: “Utah is the #2 worst state for beekeeping.”

Utah? The state of the hive? Bad for keeping bees?

That’s the reading of the lawn-care chain LawnLove, which sent out the results of its study in mid-June, ahead of National Pollinator Week, June 20-26. Only Nebraska ranked lower than Utah.

(LawnLove, like many companies trying to get some attention amid the internet clutter, regularly sends out ranked lists like this – such as the worst cities for weed allergies and best cities for outdoor weddings.)

The measurements were based on data provided by the US Department of Agriculture, which was only available for 40 of 50 states. Of these, Utah ranked 36th out of 40 for honey yield, 35th for price of honey per pound, 34th for farmers’ markets offering honey, and 27th for number of beekeeping associations.

Julie Arthur, president of the Wasatch Beekeepers Association, reviewed the study’s rankings and said she disagreed with some of its findings.

“The USDA data is mostly from commercial beekeepers, so there really isn’t any backyard beekeeper data,” she said. “So it’s a very skewed data set when you’re talking about Utah beekeepers in general.”

Hobby beekeepers, categorized as those who own fewer than 10 hives, and secondary beekeepers, who own 250 or fewer hives, are among the 3,500 members of the Wasatch Beekeeping Association’s Facebook group. Arthur took an informal poll on the group’s page and said he had heard of a member who had over 500 hives – but more than half of those who responded had between two and four hives.

Hobby beekeepers are encouraged to register with the state, Arthur said, but it’s not a requirement. The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, or UDAF, also does not collect data from backyard beekeepers, she said.

The UDAF, she said, “is really more of a bee health organization making sure beekeepers are good stewards of their hives, not nuisances to their neighbors. … They want to know if there are diseases in the bee population, so we don’t end up with a whole state of dead hives.

(Trent Nelson | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Beekeeper Amber Lawvor inspects bees in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. The hive was moved from the top of the Salt Lake City Public Library’s main building during renovations.

More than making honey

The study also placed Utah at the bottom of the scale because of its hot, dry desert environment, which it said was good for native bees, but a bad place for bees. It’s true, Arthur said, that the flow of nectar depends on how much flowering vegetation the bees can find — but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t keep beehives in their gardens.

Most of the nectar flow in Utah occurs in June, Arthur said, so the honey production season is nearly over.

“You might get a small amount from the fall flowers,” she said. “But because we are so hot and dry in July and August, so many sources of nectar dry up for the bees. But it depends on what kind of spring we have. We hear beekeepers who say they already have three boxes of honey, and then we hear beekeepers who have barely filled a box of honey. A honey box, on average, can hold about 8 pounds of honey.

The location of a beehive is also important, Arthur said. “If you live in an area where alfalfa is still planted, you’ll get a lot more honey than where I live in Draper, where my bees depend on plants that people have planted,” she said.

The LawnLove study, by focusing on honey production, misses the breeding of bees, Arthur said.

“They are such fascinating creatures,” she said. “Any insect that can fly three miles from home in any direction and then come back and communicate to all the other foragers in the hive: ‘There’s a tree three miles southwest of here that’s blooming ; let’s get the nectar’ – how do they do that? Some people [keep bees] Because they believe in pollination, some people do it for the ecological factor. And then some people only do it for the honey.

In Arthur’s experience, she said, those who are only there for the honey usually don’t last long – as they often aren’t interested in caring for the bees in a way that helps them. allow it to thrive.

“Some people are in love with it, and they’re like, ‘Oh, can I have some honey,'” she said. “They go out and buy whatever they need, then they throw bees in there. Then…they call us saying, ‘I have all these problems.’ And you’re like, ‘Have you read a book? Did you visit a website? And they’re like, ‘no.’ “

Training in beekeeping before you have a hive, Arthur said, is “really, really important for bee health – not just your bees, but all of your neighbours’ bees – because once you catch a disease , it will spread like wildfire in a square mile.

Arthur is not against people who appreciate honey from local beehives. She is in favor of it, especially when commercial honey is often bottled from a myriad of sources and is rarely pure, no matter what the label says.

“Buy honey from a backyard beekeeper or a local beekeeper,” she said, “because it won’t be honey that has syrup or sugar water or anything in it. other.”

(Trent Nelson | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Beekeeper Amber Lawvor inspects bees in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. The hive was moved from the top of the Salt Lake City Public Library’s main building during renovations.

How to help bees

Arthur urged Utahns to focus on supporting pollinators, both bees and native species – which are more threatened than ever for their survival.

Take, for example, an unseen side effect of the will, born of water conservation (which Arthur said she supports), to uproot lawns — and with them plants, like red clover, which foraging bees feed on – and replacing them with rocks, gravel and other landscaping.

“It’s hard to pull the weeds that are in the rocks,” Arthur said, “so they use herbicides to kill them. And that’s horrible for the bee populations.

Arthur said drought-resistant perennial flowering plants are good for conserving water and supporting bees. However, she recommended that when buying such plants, especially from large garden stores, check the label to make sure they are not sprayed with neonicotinoids, which are deadly to bees. (They’re labeled “neonic” for short, and as their name suggests, they’re chemically related to nicotine.)

People interested in beekeeping, Arthur said, should do their research first. Start by researching local ordinances regarding beehives. (For Salt Lake City, go to the city’s website, www.slc.gov/sustainability/local-food/beekeeping-in-salt-lake-city.) The Utah Extension Office offers resources for beekeepers (at extension.usu.edu/beekeeping), as is the Wasatch Beekeeping Association, at wasatchbeekepers.org. Utah State University and Wheeler Farm both offer beekeeping classes in the spring, and WBA has just purchased a collection of educational hives and will launch a series of classes in August. (Check the WBA’s website in the coming weeks for more details.)

If a potential beekeeper is still enthusiastic after all this, WBA offers one-on-one mentorship with experienced beekeepers. “They can go online, apply for a mentor at our club, and we’ll match them,” Arthur said. “Our treasurer didn’t have a beehive at all last year, but he was a mentee and learned everything he could. He got his bees this spring — and he’s doing really, really well.

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