If you need further proof that this summer brings lucky weather, just ask how the bees are doing.
The Yampa Valley is full of different types of bees and different types of beekeepers, from hobby hives to small businesses and hives that become commercial operations. No matter how many hives a beekeeper keeps, their main job is to carefully monitor how the bees are doing.
And it looks like the native bees are doing really well this year.
“One thing I’ve really learned is to be patient,” said Kim Thompson, a local beekeeper. “You can’t rush when working with bees and processing honey; you just need to rest and be with the bees.”
Currently, Thompson has five hives. According to him, how much honey is produced depends on the year. With good moisture this year, Thompson is seeing good honey yields.
Last year, Thompson’s hives produced 22 gallons of honey. He knows he’ll get more than last year because he’s only halfway through the harvest and already has 17 gallons.
“I’m in the harvest right now,” Thompson said. “I had to pull some honey a little earlier this year because they released it really well.”
Cathy White, a self-proclaimed backyard beekeeper with a hobby hive, said there was a ton of pollen this year with all the humidity. This is his second year with the nest.
According to Thomspo, it usually takes a year to start harvesting honey from a hive. Once a colony is established and has enough honey to fill its main boxes, beekeepers can add superstructures or supers to store excess honey that can be harvested.
White’s first crop has yielded 30 pints of honey so far, and he expects another 20 pints from his hobby hive. White uses the Flow Hive for his bees, a new beekeeping technology that allows hobby beekeepers like himself to start small.
Most modern beekeepers use vertical modular boxes for hives, which require a different process and more tools for harvesting. But caring for the bees is the same with Flow Hives as with traditional Langstroth modular hives, White said.
According to White, the bees will travel two to six miles to collect pollen, and his hives are located about 10 miles north of the city near a natural countryside full of alfalfa fields, wheat fields and native flowers.
“They’re interesting to watch,” White said. “They were collecting two different types of pollen with different colors from different plants.”
Local commercial beekeepers are busy harvesting honey this time of year, including the family-owned Outlaw Apiaries in Hayden, which produces commercial products.
“Our bees are doing better than they have been in the last few dry summers,” said Bethany Baker, owner of Outlaw Apiaries. “Our production is down 70% compared to three years ago, but it’s making up for this year’s more regular rainfall.”
Most beekeepers try to finish their harvest around Labor Day, especially for bees that have stayed through the Colorado winter. According to Thompson, bees continue to collect pollen after Labor Day as they build up their honey reserves for the winter.
“Come on, they can be a little grumpy and who can blame them,” White said. “They’ve worked hard all summer, and then you want to come in and take the extra points they’ve put together.”
Since some commercial apiaries move their bees to warmer climates after harvesting in late summer, not all native bees will survive the winter.
Outlaw Apiaries has about 100 non-migratory hives remaining for the winter; the rest of the hives move to California. Bees from J&J Honey and other local commercial operations all go to the same place as Baker’s bees to help pollinate the almonds.
By moving bees to warmer climates, colonies can maintain their numbers and remain in production year-round.
As for the bees that stay locally for the winter, their numbers will start to decline and they won’t have a large enough colony to make it through the winter months, Thompson said.
Typically, beehives need about 30 to 60 pounds of honey to survive the winter, but White said he needs about 70 to 80 pounds in this area. In the first year of a new hive, most beekeepers will release all the honey to the bees.
Once a famine hits, the bees stay inside and hunt for a few long cold months, but the beekeeper’s work doesn’t stop when the bees come inside for the winter.
White bought the hive in the spring of 2021, which led to a hot and dry summer. He said he had to do everything he could to get his bees through the first winter.
Both Thompson and White said having a bee mentor was important to get them through some of the early seasons.
After the winter lull, bees start to appear again in the spring, which is of particular importance to many beekeepers.
“For me, it was exciting to get my bees and then start seeing them come out in the spring,” White said. “They made it.”
While the bees are outside looking for pollen in the early spring, White was taught to feed the bees during this time. After living off their supplies for months, the bees will starve in March or April as they wait for their first big feast when the dandelions start to emerge.
“It gave me a whole new perspective on dandelions,” White said. “I used to think they were just grass.”
After all the work that goes into beekeeping, there’s a lot to take away from it. Thompson said the reason he started six years ago was because of severe hay fever.
“I was on a bunch of allergy medicine and I was really suffering,” Thompson said. “Once I started beekeeping and eating local honey, that started to change and I haven’t taken allergy medicine in years.”
In addition to 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 does not have a beekeepers association, but there are still people who come together to share knowledge and learn from each other.
While there are different sizes of operations and different experiences, White said beekeepers all need each other.
“People have such a passion for bees,” White said. “They are important little creatures.”