CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — A beehive is a tightly run system managed almost entirely by female worker bees. While the main purpose of the male bees, or drones, is to mate with the queen to fertilize eggs, the worker bees take care of those eggs and larvae, collect pollen, make honey, and do all the other work required to maintain the hive.
Four of these female-led beehives can be found just behind the Anchor Center for Women in Cedar Rapids, where the bees are raised and cared for by another group of hardworking women.
The Anchor Center is a rehabilitative center for women who are on their way out of the criminal justice system. The women at the center participate in many different classes and programs, which are determined based on the risks, needs and strengths of each individual.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports the beekeeping program has been offered at the center for about three years now. The bees arrive at the beginning of the spring, and the women have the opportunity to help tend them throughout the year — with the help of professional beekeepers — until the honey can be harvested in the fall.
The beehives at the Anchor Center are kept in stacked white boxes, some of which have been painted by center residents with pictures of bees, flowers and nature.
Each week, the women go out to check on the hives to see how the honey production is coming along and to make sure everything is running as it should.
Mary Nelson arrived at the Anchor Center in early February of this year, and started working with the bees as soon as they arrived for the year. Nelson left the Anchor Center two weeks ago, but she comes back to visit when it’s time to check on the hives.
“I take a lot of pride in telling people that I do beekeeping, and a lot of people are interested in it,” Nelson said. “I really enjoy doing it, so as long as (the bees) are here, I’ll be here too.”
As she’s learned more about beekeeping, Nelson has taught other Anchor residents. She said she’s glad she has the opportunity to come back to keep helping with the bees and to see her friends from the center.
“Working with bees is surprisingly relaxing, and it’s just really nice to be out in nature,” Nelson said. “Just watching (the bees) and how they interact together, and learning what to look for with them. They’re kind of cute, too. They’re really cute and fluffy. It’s just really relaxing.”
Jessica McDanniel has been at the Anchor Center since June, and she’s been working with the beekeeping program since her arrival.
McDanniel said she finds the beekeeping relaxing as well, and she’s thought about getting her own hives to take care of after she leaved the center, which she’s set to do in October.
“It’s different. Every time I go out there, I see something new,” McDanniel said. “I would love to try it myself. I don’t know if I’d ever accomplish it, but it’s a pretty fun activity and I want to learn and be able to do it someday — especially for free honey.”
The women are currently preparing to harvest this year’s crop of honey from their hives. It should be ready within the next few weeks.
After the honey is harvested, the women in the Anchor Center will get to decide what to do with it. Some will be kept for use at the center, and the rest will be donated to an organization of the residents’ choice. In previous years, the honey has been donated to the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program.
McDanniel said she’s excited to harvest the honey and see the results of the work she’s put in throughout the year.
“It’s taught me how to just be patient,” she said. “Time goes on and if you just be patient, stuff is going to actually happen. You can achieve great things just by working towards it.”