Julie Foley

Northwest Iowa farmer Julie Foley started with two hives, and that number has grown. Honey has replaced sugar in nearly everything Foley cooks. 

QUIMBY, Iowa — Julie Foley started raising bees as a way to enhance her garden. Fifteen years later, she has turned those two hives into an enterprise that involves producing juice and other honey-based items.

Foley and her husband, Jack, farm in Cherokee County, Iowa. They have six grown children and two grandchildren.

She says the bee hives grew out of a desire for more color in the garden.

“I knew having the bees there would make a huge difference with pollination,” the northwest Iowa woman says. “I also have a lot of fruit trees and knew it would help with that.”

Foley started with two hives, and that number has grown. Last year, she and Jack harvested 17 hives, but cut it back to seven this year because her work as a Certified Nursing Assistant also keeps her “pretty busy.”

“Taking care of 17 hives is a lot of work,” she says. A couple of the hives are near their home, but the others are part of a pollinator program.

“The government pays someone to plant a certain flower seed mix,” Foley says. “We set up the hives in the spring. Most usually harvest the hives in late August, but sometimes it runs later.”

Honey has replaced sugar in nearly everything Foley cooks. She says her kids always enjoyed homemade bread and other baked goods.

“Using honey is better for you, and it keeps everything more moist,” Foley says.

When the hive production was at its peak, Julie used to sell honey and other items at local farmers markets.

“People loved my homemade bread, but with my job and the other things we have going on, I pretty much make things for family and friends now,” she says.

Julie uses the beeswax to make things like candles and lip balm. She says there is a reason for all the products she makes from harvesting the hives

“You can probably call me a health nut,” she says with a chuckle. “I believe honey is much better for you than sugar, and it tastes very good as well.”

Foley says harvesting the hives and turning the honey into various items takes a lot of work, but she enjoys it.

“I think it’s fun,” she says. “I love having the bees around, and I love how my garden looks every year.”


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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.