Local beekeepers attribute abundance of honey to plentiful moisture
If you need extra proof that this summer brought fortunate weather, just ask how the bees are doing.
The Yampa Valley is full of different kinds of bees and different kinds of beekeepers from hobby hives to hives that blossom into small businesses and commercial operations. No matter how many hives the beekeeper is tending, their main job is to keep a close eye on how the bees are doing.
And it sounds like the local bees are doing really well this year.
“One thing I really learned is to be patient,” said local beekeeper Kim Thompson. “When you work with bees and process honey, you can’t be in a hurry; you just have to relax and be with the bees.”
Currently, Thompson has five hives. She said it depends on the year how much honey is produced. Because there has been good moisture this year, Thompson is seeing a good honey yield.
Last year, Thompson’s hives produced 22 gallons of honey. She knows she’ll have a lot more than last year because she’s only halfway through the harvest and already has 17 gallons.
“I am at harvest time now,” Thompson said. “I got to pull some honey a little earlier this year because they have been releasing it really well.”
Kathy White, who considers herself a backyard beekeeper with a hobby hive, said there was a ton of pollen this year with all of the moisture. This is her second year with her hive.
According to Thomspon, it usually takes a year to start harvesting honey from the hive. Once a colony is established and has enough honey to fill its base boxes, beekeepers can add superstructures, or supers, to store excess honey that can be harvested.
White’s first harvest has so far yielded 30 pints of honey, and she expects to get another 20 pints from her hobby hive. White uses a Flow Hive for her bees, which is new beekeeping technology that allows hobby beekeepers like herself to start small.
Most modern beekeepers use vertical modular boxes for hives, which require a different process and more tools for harvesting. But White said that the husbandry of looking after bees is the same with the Flow Hives as it is with the traditional Langstroth modular hives.
According to White, bees will travel 2-6 miles to collect pollen, and her hives are about 10 miles north of town near alfalfa fields, wheat fields and the natural countryside with native flowers.
“It’s interesting to watch them,” White said. “They were packing in two different kinds of pollen with different colors from the different plants.”
Local commercial beekeepers are busy pulling honey for their harvest this time of year, including Outlaw Apiaries, a family owned apiary in Hayden that produces commercial products.
“Our bees are doing better than they have during the last few drought summers,” said Bethany Baker, co-owner of Outlaw Apiaries. “Our production has been down 70% from three years ago, but it’s catching back up with this year’s more regular rainfall.”
Most beekeepers try to finish up their harvest around Labor Day, especially for the bees that stick around through the Colorado winter. According to Thomspon, bees continue to collect pollen after Labor Day as they build up their honey supply for the winter.
“Come fall, they can get a bit cantankerous, and who could blame them,” White said. “They’ve been working hard all summer, and then you come in and want to take some of their additional honey they are storing up.”
Not all the local bees will stick around for the winter as some commercial apiaries transport their bees to warmer climates after the late summer harvest.
Outlaw Apiaries has roughly 100 non-migratory hives that stay for the winter; the rest of the hives migrate to California. Bees from J&J Honey, and other local commercial operations, all go to the same place as Baker’s bees to help with almond pollination.
By migrating bees to warmer climates, the colonies are able to keep their numbers up and stay in production year-round.
As for the bees who stay locally for the winter, their numbers will start to go down and they won’t have as big of a cluster to make it through the winter months, Thompson said.
Typically, bee hives need about 30-60 pounds of honey to survive the winter, but White said they need about 70-80 pounds in this area. In the first year of a new hive, most beekeepers will leave all of the honey for the bees.
Once the dearth comes, the bees stay inside and hunker down for a few long cold months, but a beekeeper’s work doesn’t stop when the bees go inside for the winter.
White got her hive in spring 2021, which led to a hot and dry summer. She said she had to throw everything she could at her bees to get them through the first winter.
Both Thompson and White said having a bee mentor was essential to getting through some of those first seasons.
After the stillness of winter, bees start appearing again in the spring, which holds special significance for many beekeepers.
“For me, getting my bees and then starting to see them emerge in the spring was very exciting,” White said. “They made it.”
Even though bees are out looking for pollen in early spring, White was taught to keep feeding the bees during this time. After months of living off their reserves, bees are most likely to go hungry in March or April as they wait for their first big feast when the dandelions start popping up.
“It gave me a whole new perspective on dandelions,” White said. “I used to think they were just a weed.”
After all the work that goes into beekeeping, there is a lot to be taken out of it as well. Thompson said the reason she started six years ago was because she has severe hay fever.
“I was taking a bunch of allergy medicine and really suffering,” Thompson said. “Once I started beekeeping and eating local honey, it started to change, and I haven’t been on allergy medicine for years.”
Aside from the harvested honey, people often visit White’s operation to see the flow hives and learn how to get started on a small scale. Moffat County doesn’t have a beekeepers association, but there are still people coming together to share knowledge and learn from each other.
Even though there are different sizes of operations and different practices, White said the beekeepers all need each other.
“People have such a passion around bees,” White said. “They are important little creatures.”
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