Beekeeping much more than filling a jar with honey
August 10, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Beekeepers have their reasons for harvesting their buzzing friends, and it goes well beyond seeking the next jar of honey.
But the simple truth is that beekeeping in the 21st century looks a lot different from the way it did 25 years ago.
Today, there are only half the number of beekeepers — commercial or hobbyists — than there were a quarter-century ago, and only a third of the number of beehives.
Beekeeping is a hobby and a job that dates back 4,500 years, the National Honeybee Day website states. National Honeybee Day is Saturday, a celebration to promote beekeeping, educate the public about its values and make the public aware of honeybees’ environmental impact.
These days, phenomena such as colony collapse disorder are causing bees to dissipate rapidly.
Dave Truly is optimistic, though, as he checks on his seven hives Sunday that can carry as many as 60,000 bees apiece.
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Truly is a hobbyist, like the other 95 percent of beekeepers worldwide. The Honeybee Day site states that only 1 percent of beekeepers are full-time commercialists.
The vast majority find it as a passion, purchasing hives by the three-pound package, creating their own swarms and letting them thrive anywhere — farms, balconies, rooftops or, in Truly's case, backyards.
"My wife was interested in it, and I said, 'Well, I will help you with it,'" Truly said.
The roles have flip-flopped for the Trulys.
Dave spends a few hours every Sunday tending to the couple's hives, which help facilitate their flourishing garden between the bees and their home near Stagecoach.
It started last May when the Trulys purchased two hives in Denver, standing in line with roughly 300 others interested in making it their hobby, too. Some rookie research with a “Beekeeping for Dummies” book has helped the Trulys maximize the bees' pollination efforts, a role that can't be undersold from the species, Dave Truly said.
"You have to get a feel for the bees to understand what's going on with them," Truly said. "I'd like to see a lot of people in Steamboat have bees. It's good for everything: pollination, trees and flowers. It's great for the environment."
Despite the National Honeybee Day's report of a decline in beekeepers and bees worldwide, Truly said the sustainability-minded and eco-friendly residents of the Yampa Valley have bought in, with a number of commercial keepers and hobbyists like him.
Colorado Mountain College even has launched a beekeeping club, hosting its first hives on campus in the spring. The club also held a workshop in the spring with a beekeeping expert, which drew an even larger crowd than Truly expected.
"I think there were, like, 50 people there, some beekeepers and some just interested students," Truly said.
Former CMC Beekeping Club President Alex Orton said the intimacy that goes with beekeeping gives outsiders an inside look at their impact on the environment.
And strapping on white suits with net helmets, Orton said, gives even those with the least amount of experience in beekeeping a deeper appreciation for bees' work.
"Obviously, most people think bees and honey," Orton said. "It's much more than that. They teach you about the interconnectivity with the ecosystem. Just handling bees, putting on a suit and opening frames and having them crawl all over you, it's very exhilarating."
For Truly, his hives are growing, more than tripling since he started his venture, with about 400,000 buzzing in his yard. The next few months will be the last of the year for his Sunday ritual, as he closes up their hives for the winter to not expose them to the temperatures of 50 degrees or lower.
As his hives grow, he just hopes others on the brink of becoming beekeeping hobbyists follow suit.
"There is far more to learn than I ever thought there was," Truly said. "I was lukewarm to the idea, and now I'm passionate and kind of obsessed with them."