A monthly planner that combines phenology and beekeeping to improve honey production and native foraging habitat

Final report for FNC21-1289

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $9,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Julia McGuire
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Julia McGuire
Julia McGuire
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Project Information

Description of operation:

I have up to ten bee hives on a flower farm that specializes in lavender production and produce comb and liquid honey. I carried out sustainable practices before this grant by raising my own queens, ensuring yearround forage, and overwintering in Iowa.


In Dec. 2019, Iowa had 1,330 registered beekeepers (20 commercial) with 2,353 apiaries and 14,174 colonies. The proposed planner will support all beekeepers, especially new ones. It will also address the benefits that sustainable agriculture and my beekeeping practice stand for. It is ecologically sound as it sustains the flora on which beekeeping depends by using phenology, raises awareness of the interconnectedness of beekeeping and the flora around the hives, and possibly leads landowners to increase the amount of native pollinator plants to fill in forage gaps for the bees. The planner will make operations economically viable as the user makes note of phenological events that can maximize nectar flows, manage for swarms with explosive forage bursts, and possibly harvest specialty monocrop honeys at higher prices. It could also be a future source of income for the proposer. Lastly, the planner will be socially responsible. In my five years as a beekeeping instructor and ten as a club leader, I have not found Iowa-specific beekeeping reference materials. By crowdsourcing data, the statewide community would become stakeholders. The planner can especially assist beekeepers without a mentor as its practical nature could lead them into better management for a sustainable apiary.

After using the Planners for a season, 22 users completed a survey and 6 users agreed to an interview about how well the Planner worked for them. These results were then workshopped at the Iowa Honey Producers Association Annual Convention, which led to the creation of A Beekeeper's Year (prairie edition) Calendar. This new Calendar combines relevant phenology events with beekeeping chores.

Project Objectives:
    1. Increase an individual’s floral awareness with relation to dates by crowdsourcing in 2021
    2. Share data by distributing planners to individuals and magazine editors in 2022, then measure planner effectiveness by asking users:
      • How many native plants could you identify or notice before using the planner?
      • How many native plants could you identify after using the planner for a season?
      • Will you add more native habitat to your apiary/talk to your landowner about same?
      • Was this planner an asset to your practice (bigger harvest, captured swarms)?
      • Would you share more?
    3. Share answers at state Honey Producers convention
    4. Create and distribute new Calendar to assist beekeepers in correlating phenology events with beekeeping chores.


Materials and methods:

Content: From experience, publications, crowdsourcing. Bell adds queen rearing information. Lane pulls dates on swarm calls. I combine her swarm information with mine and add crowdsourced data. Visually on the left side, the planner has a bee to-do list and phenology for a particular month. On the right is a calendar and area for notes. The value of this planner has been affirmed by 100% of the community leaders asked.

Crowdsourcing: Photographers may increase their phenology skills, become invested in the planner, and establish the date and geographic ranges of each species. Photographers have their name printed in the planner’s credits and receive a free planner, thus building investment in the project. Submittals are validated by geolocation and date stamps and sent by email only.

Promotion of planner: Email and presentations explaining the project to existing beekeeper lists.

Editing, book design, printing of planner: By beekeepers who understand community needs.

Distribution for planner: USPS Media Mail. Option: a digital copy on my website for printing at home.

Measuring effectiveness for planner: A tiered approach. First tier is a digital survey. I have created online surveys for years, people are accustomed to them, and results export for easy analysis. Second tier has two options. Option 1: the survey ends with the participant checking a box for me to call them for more feedback or leave a longform comment. Option 2: I set up virtual meetings with bee clubs for feedback.

Outreach for planner: Virtual presentations. I introduce the project, crowdsourcing, how to use the planner, present results and get feedback. A review copy will be sent to the Iowa Honey Producers Association newsletter editor. The planner will also be presented as a model for other states by sending a copy to trade magazines.

Adding on for 2023

Content for calendar: Data submitted for the planner was used for the calendar with the addition of my own submissions for the months of Oct. - March. One side is more visual and low text with the look of a Gantt chart. The top and right margins contain beekeeping chores and the space below shows bloom times with colored bars, inspired by the State Department of Transportation's Blooming Prairie poster. The reverse side has the same information in table form with only words. On the left is a table for phenological events and on the right is a table for beekeeping chores. Both tables are in chronological order.

Crowdsourcing: The attendees of my breakout session at the State Honey Producers convention workshopped the calendar's final form in regard to size, folding, and paper selection.

Promotion for calendar: Social media, email to beekeeping instructors.

Editing, book design, printing: By beekeepers who understand community needs.

Distribution for calendar: in-person with users, club leaders, and beekeeping instructors; or other arrangement.

Outreach for calendar: Presentation at Practical Farmers of Iowa conference and my beekeeping classes. Review copy sent to the editor of the American Bee Journal.

Measuring effectiveness for calendar: With time constraints and prior affirmation from the planner, feedback will only be sought in person to person interactions that occur in the PI's natural life. No formal interview sessions or surveys have been scheduled.

Research results and discussion:

Forty-one bee farmers submitted dates of bloom to me during 2021. These were recorded and used to find differences in bloom dates for the same species across the state such as north vs. south and east vs west. Differences were found to be minimally spaced on the calendar. 

Twenty-two people took the survey as users of the planner and their responses are shown in the tables below in percent. Overall, the planner led to increased identification skills and incorporating more native habitat to bee yards.

Q1+2: How many native plants could you identify or did you notice before/after using the planner?

  0 (1-10) 10+
Q1. number identified before planner 18.18 40.91 40.91
Q2. number identified after planner 9.09 40.91 54.55

Q3: Will you (or landowner) incorporate more native habitat to your apiary in 2023/2024. Examples include moving hives to a different setting, planting more natives in current bee yard, etc.

yes no
90.91 9.09

Q4: Was this planner an asset to your operation (floral awareness led to bigger harvest, informed queen rearing, made splits, swarm control, avoided dearth, etc.)?

yes no
63.64 36.36

Six users also agreed to an interview for longform feedback. The genesis of this planner project came from years of community desire to tie plants to beekeeping chores, and that idea persisted into the interviews -- users wanted recommendations for beekeeping chores that strongly correlated to the calendar. This is something I had always hesitated to make because beekeeping is very local depending on each individual bee yard's environment. Instead of giving times of the year based on months in a calendar, I would base my recommendations on bloom time. However, after examining the data from the participants in 2021, I saw examples such as gaps in budburst for the same tree in different parts of the state that were two weeks or less apart. This gave me confidence in giving general instructions based on months in a calendar and led to the creation of A Beekeeper's Year (prairie edition) Calendar.

Participation Summary
41 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

700 Farmers participated
5 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Pre-publication information. I presented the research stage of the project to 3 bee clubs  and 2 classes of beekeeping students via zoom and was mentioned at 1 regional club event, had one state apiary inspector review a draft of the planner, and had 41 people submit data for the planner. The planner was mentioned in newsletters -- twice for a statewide club and twice for a regional club.2021 12 BeelineIHPA   Buzz summer 2021 In addition to the 2021 issues included here, both clubs have information in their current newsletters (January 2022, no digital file available to date). I published numerous social media posts about gathering data to my followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Post-publication information. To date, I have distributed or given commitments to distribute 300 planners through 6 club leaders and instructors of 5 classes (priority round 1) and 50 to individuals (round 2). Recipients of the planner understand that I will send a survey by email in Oct. about their use of the planner with respect to native plants and colony management. Two trade magazines, the American Bee Journal (ABJ) and Bee Culture have committted to publishing a review (ABJ is expected in April, as book reviews are quarterly, unknown date for Bee Culture), and I am currently swapping my planner for another with an interested leader/instructor in Missouri. I have published numerous social media posts about the published product:

showing 3 posts about the phenology planner

The next step of this project is to conduct a user survey.

Update 1/23/2023: Staying true to the project’s crowdsourcing roots, the State Honey Producers convention audience workshopped the user survey feedback with me to create a new piece of reference material for beekeepers. Inspired by an Iowa DOT poster, one side would have phenology shown graphically; the reverse side would have two tables containing only text with the same information. This one pager would be handier than the two known honey plant textbooks (Honey Plants of North America and American Honey Plants) and very accessible to most learners. Using the 2021 data from the planner, a visual designer (also a former beekeeper) and I created a new calendar entitled, A Beekeeper’s Year (prairie edition). Similar to the decisions made for the webpages and planner, introduced species have been included because of their widespread presence, the impractical nature to eradicate them (especially trees), and their importance to honey bees (honey bees themselves are an introduced species).

A draft of the Calendar was then reviewed by the state apiarist and two local queen rearer-beekeepers. One convention audience member, the sister of a beekeeper, worked at the print shop down the street from my house and helped me get 700 copies printed on heavyweight, water resistant card.

By January 23, 2023, the Calendar and remaining Planners were distributed to my local bee club members, attendees of my presentation at the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) annual conference as well as from passersby at the SARE table (where I was graciously allowed to share tablespace), and students enrolled in my beekeeping courses. One of the reviewers got a reserve of 75 copies of the Calendar for anyone picking up their nuc order from her in April. After running in to an extension specialist and university faculty researcher at PFI, arrangements are underway to distribute Calendars at the Iowa State University Pollinator Festival in June 2023, perhaps as bag stuffers. 

All 650 copies of A Phenology Planner for Beekeepers had been given away as of January 21, 2023.

I promoted the Calendar pre-publication via social media (Instagram Reels and LinkedIn posts are not shown) below. 

social media posts showing new Beekeeper's Year Calendar
social media posts showing new Beekeeper's Year Calendar

Post-publication promotions include a feature in my monthly newsletter (75 subscribers) in January 2023. A copy has been sent for review to the American Bee Journal.

Distribution is being done in person, and I am targeting beekeeping instructors and club leaders who could take Calendars in packs of ten for their students and members. If I have remaining calendar inventory, I may send digital copies to Midwest beekeepers who are social media influencers as a way to get physical calendars in to the hands of different audiences. The calendars will not expire, and can be used when new students enroll in the next year of beekeeping courses.

I will ask for feedback in my natural course of living in February 2023 rather than run a survey or hold interviews because of time constraints and the fact that I am targeting instructors and leaders rather than end users.

Update July 14, 2023

I asked a few beekeepers whom I rarely see in person to complete a survey as a quick pulse check against the beekeepers that I do see in person. 

Has the Phenology Calendar increased your floral awareness with respect to calendar dates?

Has the Phenology Calendar increased the number of native trees and plants that you can identify with respect to beekeeping?

Has the Phenology Calendar been an asset to your beekeeping?

Anything else?




The phenology calendar was fascinating and I've learned so much about identifying the variety of bloom in regards to beekeeping awareness. Thank you!












I like what is coming up next in the bee world!

All remaining Calendars were taken by attendees and presenters of the Central Iowa Beekeepers Association winter event. In fact, demand exceeded supply as I continue to have beekeepers ask if I have a Calendar for them. I’m hoping to get another batch of Calendars printed in time to distribute at the Nov. 2023 state beekeepers (IHPA) convention. The ISU Extension staff were extremely excited to have an Iowa resource to give to Iowa farmers. They have committed funds for a future printing. East Central Iowa Beekeepers Association gave money and an FFA instructor has committed funds toward a future printing. 

Update Sept. 24, 2023

ISU Printing has fulfilled one smaller print order of the Calendar, most of which will be distributed at the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network  (WFAN) annual conference in Oct. 2023. The data from the Planner and Calendar will also be used to create a new ecological calendar project for a grant that WFAN currently holds jointly with American Farmland Trust. ISU Printing is in the process of fulfilling a second, larger order for the Calendar. The Iowa Honey Producers Association will stuff bags for their expected 350 conference attendees in November. I will also be asking the 4 States Beekeeping conference to distribute the Calendars, also in November in Joplin, MO. (The four states are Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.) Distributing the remainder of the order will be targeted toward similar events as well as club leaders and instructors.

National trade magazine Bee Culture, Sept. 2023 issue featured the Calendar and entire press release that I sent, which emphasized learning styles as a way to inform the presentation of the data on the Calendar.

display of phenology calendar in double page spread

Learning Outcomes

60 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

The nuc supplier who gave a Calendar with each order (mentioned above) wrote, “They’ve been really well received by my customers this spring at nuc pickups. Thank you!” A winter seminar participant was very enthusiastic and foresaw a lot of reference to the new Calendar because it wasn’t text heavy.

The visual designer and I were unable to get copyright. While the Calendar itself is the first of its kind to combine beekeeping chores with phenology, it is essentially a data set. Perhaps in 2024 we could add elements to make the Calendar copyrightable.

My goal was to encourage beekeepers to identify their native forage and plant more of it as a way to build a sustainable business and rebuild a sustainable natural environment. In speaking with Calendar users to assess for effectiveness, I’m observing that we have beekeepers in different pools and each pool has a different approach to adding phenology to their practice.

One pool contains beekeepers who need to first be confident in their animal husbandry skills. Once they gain confidence in their skills, they can focus on observing native habitat that coincides with the bees’ instincts. Another pool of beekeepers were native habitat stewards before they were beekeepers. Once this group of people began keeping bees in their habitats, they gained a new understanding for the way honey bees interacted (or did not interact) with the different trees and forbs and could use the Planner and Calendar the way I intended. The third pool of beekeepers are those who will look only at the Calendar's dates and bee chores and ignore the bloom time information. I predict this group will miss nectar and pollen flow and swarms.

A few users have really dived into identification. However, the webpages that I created for beekeepers to use as a reference were not widely used. Book users turned to paper field guides and mobile users turned to existing apps. Because of this, I removed all the webpages intended for plant identification with no comments from users. This leads me to assume that people will use the reference guide of their choice and focus on timing of beekeeping chores with either the Phenology Planner or their own recordkeeping method. This project has been a success in raising floral awareness and tying it to beekeeping chores.

Project Outcomes

20 Farmers changed or adopted a practice

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.