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Northern Colorado buzzes with new, backyard beekeepers (video)

Bees buzz around Gene Wolf as he opens up one of the hives at his home in Greeley. With temperatures slowly getting warmer in Colorado beekeepers across the state are preparing their hives for the spring and summer.
Joshua Polson/jpolson@greeleytribune.com | The Greeley Tribune

Resources

» Swarm Hotline: (970) 213-3099

» Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association — Web: http://nocobees.org/; to volunteer: email volunteer@nocobees.org; to become a member: email ncbamembers@nocobees.org.

» The next association meeting will take place from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Greeley Recreation Center, 651 10th Ave. in Greeley. It will include a panel discussion on hive maintenance and bee health in late winter and early spring.

» Local supplier — Happy Life Gardens, 2000 37th St. in Evans. Phone: (970) 330-9530. It will open after Feb. 27 with a full range of beekeeping equipment available

» Books recommended by Tom Theobald — “Backyard Beekeeper,” by Kim Flottum; “The Joys of Beekeeping,” by Richard Taylor

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Bee-st of the west

Redlands, Colo., resident Jack Moore raises backyard honeybees, but not for honey as many people do.

“I am trying to raise a locally sustainable honeybee,” he said. “Very few bees have been making it through [Mesa County’s] winter due to our inversion,” which traps cold air in the valley, especially after it snows. “I’ve been capturing and collecting swarms, including survivor hives, and I’ve been working on a breeding program for four seasons.”

According to Moore, he currently tends 20 hives from his home, with another 40 hives under his supervision throughout the area. He also teaches a beekeeping class with Western Colorado Community College and he’s active with Western Colorado Beekeepers Association.

“I have been converting my whole yard to western Colorado bee flora for the last three seasons,” he added. “Everything you see in my yard is for the honeybees.”

Moore’s hives are also for sale to other beekeepers through Sticky-Bear Apiary. This year’s crop went to beekeepers whose hives didn’t survive the winter and to new hobbyists.

By Caitlin Row, Grand Junction Free Press

The annual introductory course hosted by Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association is a teacher’s dream.

At 8:30 on a Saturday morning, the seats in Loveland’s Pullium Community Building are full, notebooks are out, and the record 80 students enrolled are already prepared with questions. Many have purchased the recommended course book, “Beekeeping for Dummies,” and others have come with their own selections to share with their fellow beekeeping students.

At break time, the conversation remains abuzz with bees, as students taste honey from experienced beekeepers, examine hive equipment and share questions with the association’s group of volunteers.



“Bees are the new agriculture,” Loveland-based beekeeper Merry Popa says in conversation with a student.

Popa’s assessment refers to the growing urban interest in agriculture.



While typical city dwellers cannot easily venture into most farming activities, they can take on a hive or two. Anyone with a backyard or rooftop and a willingness to learn can likely find space for a hive.

Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association President Bob Boggio, one of many course instructors, said greater press coverage of honeybee disorders, Colony Collapse Disorder and debate over pesticides has inspired a diverse group to give beekeeping a try.

“If you get interested, take the class and get bit by the bug, if you will, it’s not going to matter much what you do in your work time. It’s how you are spending your free time,” Boggio said.

The demographic range of the association’s hobbyists and students reflects another assessment made by Boggio — that no profile exists of the modern beekeeper. The students range from teenaged to retired, urban to rural.

Among the association’s beekeepers are Gene and Geri Wolf, who have kept hives for five seasons outside of their home in Greeley. In the spring, they take their six colonies to a local flower farm. Already association members, the couple, both with a background in agriculture, serve as a resource for new students who venture into the hobby.

Eaton’s David Ellzey, one of this year’s 80 course graduates, became interested in beekeeping after his family exited the dairy business. Fellow graduate Hanmei Hoffman has been tasked with beekeeping to complement the small-acreage vegetable farm she is starting with her family outside of Greeley.

Back in the city, Geoff Schmidt and Darci Hata have taken on the task of educating the urban gardeners they work with about the value of pollinators like honeybees.

Hata works with Ubuntu Community Garden at Greeley’s Family of Christ Presbyterian Church. Bees will help the garden use a greater section of its plot while driving conversation on pollinator health.

“We are thinking of ways to bring new people to the garden and we thought, why not keep bees? We have a garden. We have all of these plants growing, and we need to have more bees there, so that’s why I’m here today, so I can learn how to keep bees,” Hata said at the final beekeeping class at the end of January.

She will take on the legwork for the garden, studying bee best practices and selecting equipment before the spring season begins in late April. Eventually, she hopes the community will become involved and turn the hives into a collective learning opportunity.

At the University of Northern Colorado, Schmidt will guide other environmental studies students in selecting the first ever on-campus managed hives. By speaking with the Facilities Management department, Schmidt earned approval to install a hive next to the Ross Hall permaculture garden in an area removed from direct foot traffic.

“Our garden was fairly productive last year, but we know putting a beehive nearby would just further produce more vegetables for us,” Schmidt said, adding that the garden is open to the entire campus community.

These new beekeepers, as enthusiastic as the may be, will not face any easy task. Boggio points out that many of the worst pests and diseases that affect bees today did not exist when he first began beekeeping in 1979. Varroa destructor, for example, now ranks as one of the most common and damaging honeybee pests in the nation. Before the early 1990s, however, the parasite was unknown to U.S. beekeepers. The disease is just one of many threatening colonies worldwide.

Agricultural statistics illustrate the modern dilemma of beekeeping. While honey operations have increased locally, statewide and nationally, total honey production has declined. In Weld County, 36 operations with honey production and 32 with sales were reported in the 2012 Census of Agriculture. In 2007, 27 honey operations existed in the county and none reported sales. Conversely, total Weld County honey production declined 5 percent to 209,065 pounds.

Nationally, the same trend has held true. Total honey operations, with and without sales, grew 35 percent to 22,827 between the 2007 and 2012 censuses of agriculture. In the same time period, honey production declined 6 percent to just over 143 million pounds nationwide.

Tom Theobald, author of weekly beekeeping column “Notes from the Beeyard,” said many new beekeepers may lack the knowledge to keep their hives thriving. Theobald is active in the Boulder County Beekeepers’ Association and helps teach a course similar to the one held in Loveland.

“Part of the difficulty is we’ve had an influx of new beekeepers, but they don’t really understand what a healthy colony or community of bees should look like because they’ve never had that experience,” he said.

While the camps are divided on what has provoked massive colony losses, Theobald said management has become increasingly difficult, even for experienced apiarists like himself.

While barriers abound, Theobald said hobbyists contribute a critical piece to the future of beekeeping. As feral colonies decline and commercial operators struggle to keep hives populated, the backyard beekeeper has come to occupy an important role in keeping our fields and gardens buzzing.

“We’re up against some very serious challenges but if you’re inclined, it’s a wonderful experience,” he said. “It’s a love affair.” ❖


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