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Bees producing honey atop building in Marion

Posted at 6:06 PM, Sep 17, 2022

MARION, Iowa (AP) — Kevin Conley is the proud owner of what may be the first urban rooftop bees in Iowa.

His hives are located right in the middle of Uptown Marion, on top of the building that houses boutique Scout and apartments.

“Bees are seriously addictive for me. You start learning about them and what they do,” Conley said.

“We need them. Without them, we perish.”

Conley, a program manager at BAE Systems, has been working with bees for 20 years, starting in Mount Vernon before coming to Marion five years ago.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports he sells his Rooftop Honey brand at Scout, Fine Lines in Coralville and the Marion Farmers Market. Though Conley has launched a website that includes pricing for his honey products, he’s not yet taking online orders.

Conley also keeps busy making barrel-aged maple syrup in the basement of the 1870 building.

He has four hives on the roof of the Scout building, 725 11th St., and each hive has 50,000 to 60,000 bees. In Mount Vernon, he had around 20 hives on an acreage where his children — now in college — helped him.

Conley had to get permission from the city to have the bees on the Uptown roof. A city ordinance typically allows for up to two hives at ground level, but Conley has the OK for up to six hives.

“We went and got our official permit and asked for this setup. We showed the city our planned setup, and they said sure,” Conley said.

“A couple years later, we asked to expand.”

While there are some challenges to raising bees on an urban rooftop versus a rural acreage — he can’t use a smoker, for example, to help calm the bees — Conley said there are advantages.

“The flowers here stay around longer. There isn’t as much frost as out in the country,” he said. “And that helps the bees really thrive.”

The biggest challenge is the use of chemicals on nearby lawns.

“The worst thing is Roundup,” he said, referring to the Monsanto-manufactured herbicide. “It will kill the bees instantly.

“But people around here know we’re up here so they’re pretty good about letting us know about lawn treatments and when they are happening.”

Conley said the busiest times for beekeeping are the spring and fall. Spring means it’s time to get the season started, and fall is for harvesting honey and getting the bees ready for the winter months.

During the summer, Conley monitors the bees, which means entering the maintenance closet on the second floor of the old building, suiting up in his beekeeper attire and climbing a little ladder onto the roof that overlooks the new Central Plaza and boasts a view of City Square Park.

“You have to make sure that when the honey box gets full, you get a new one,” he said.

“Because if it’s full, that’s when they want to swarm. That’s bad. I’ve caught outside swarms of up to 20,000 bees before.”

During a windstorm earlier this summer, a swarm of bees made its way into Uptown Marion and swarmed a light fixture on the new Central Plaza. The city called Conley to gather them.

Right now, those bees are quarantined at a Conley friend’s farm east of Marion. If they make it through the winter, they will join the Uptown roof hives.

It turns out Conley’s own bees are pretty resilient. During the August 2020 derecho, the hives didn’t move an inch, and the bees were OK.

“Somebody called me saying there were boxes flying on a neighboring roof and they thought it was my hives so I was worried,” Conley said. “But I went up there and sure enough, they hadn’t moved.”

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