SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | For years, Duane Bajema was able to tend to his bees and hives in peace.
The Dordt College agriculture professor maintained a few hives on campus and kept learning more and more about the bees and beekeeping.
"I was really very comfortable of taking care of my bees and minding my own business," Bajema said.
Then about 13 years ago, Bajema gave in to requests from several local residents who wanted him to teach them how to keep bees.
That was it until about five years ago. Since then, there's been a lot more buzz about honeybees, and more people have come to Bajema, seeking his expertise.
So much so that he's taught eight classes in the past five years, teaching more than 150 people the beekeeping basics.
As Bajema will tell you, one never stops learning about bees or seeking better ways to keep them around. With so many new beekeepers asking so many questions, Bajema didn't have the time to answer all of them.
"I was training students and felt like I abandoned them after they were done," he said. "They didn't have anywhere to go with more questions."
Thanks to a recent $35,000 grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, the king bee will be able to recruit more workers to help spread the knowledge.
The grant money will help Bajema train former students and experienced beekeepers as technicians who can serve as resources for new beekeepers. Using a sports metaphor, Bajema will teach the fundamentals, the technicians will help the students sharpen the finer skills.
That constant learning involved in beekeeping has kept Bajema interested in bees for more than 40 years. He discovered beekeeping while working in Mexico with a Christian relief organization that was helping people find new ways to make a living. One of those new ideas: keeping bees and producing honey and wax. With no beekeeping background, Bajema did a lot of reading and found someone to mentor him while he taught his Mexican students.
Bajema kept up the hobby after returning from Mexico.
"It really kept me learning," he said. "You're always learning, and that's something I really enjoyed."
Since arriving at Dordt in 1977, Bajema has maintained as many as 30 hives on campus over the years, but public interest has grown recently with an increase in media reports about the disappearance of honeybees and the negative effect that losing pollinators could have on agriculture.
Consumers also have become more concerned about knowing where their food comes from, and raising bees gives those people the peace of mind knowing that their honey contains no artificial preservatives.
Once they started asking Bajema to teach them how to keep bees, he couldn't say no.
"I find great joy in helping people do things and do them well," he said.
His students come mostly from a 75-mile radius in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Many harvest honey to sell at farmers markets or give to friends. Others use the wax to make candles, lotions and lip balms. Bajema also has taught new beekeepers whose only reason for maintaining bees is to sit near the hive and observe their actions and behavior.
No matter a student's reason for getting into the hobby, Bajema said it's fun to see the buzz about beekeeping.
With grant money in hand, Bajema hopes more knowledge can be shared with new beekeepers. Hundreds of people in the region keep bees, and they've formed the Siouxland Beekeepers Association, a group that meets monthly to talk about bees and share information. More than 50 people attended the last meeting, Bajema said.
"Once they're started, it's fun to watch them continue to learn, continue to explore and get better," he said. "Once they start, they really get excited, they really get committed."
It's kept Bajema busy as a bee. And the satisfaction he's gotten watching people get excited about bees has been as sweet as honey.