Kayne Pyatt Uinta County Herald via Wyoming News Exchange
EVANSTON — Two local women do their part to help native bees and honeybees survive and thrive.
Barb Martinez and Leanne Hutchinson, who own and operate Good to Grow farms and started the Thursday afternoon Evanston Farmers Market, are also active beekeepers.
The two women order bumblebees for their food farm every spring. Several years later, they added 18 beehives to their farm.
Martinez said they brought in bumblebees from the east coast in a box to help pollinate the plants in the tunnels they had built for growing vegetables. Martinez said they can’t release the non-native bumblebees because there are native bees on the farm and they don’t want the non-native bees to exterminate them.
The box has an extra small opening, which prevents the queen from getting out, so that the worker bees keep coming back into the box.
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“We’ve only taken honey from four of the hives this year,” Martinez said. “We must leave enough honey to make the [honey bees] through winter and late spring. This year it was cold until mid-June, so the bees needed the food to survive. If the winters are long and cold, we risk losing hives in May, when they run out of food.”
Martinez said she takes delight in what many consider pests: the first blooming weed of the season.
“When I see lawns where people have made the dandelions bloom, I celebrate,” she said. “Dandelions are the first food for bees in the spring.”
Hutchinson and Martinez explained that they stack the cabinets with three boxes, each consisting of 10 frames, which are very deep and filled with honey. On top, they place a “candy plate,” which is covered with a mixture of sugar water and essential oils to provide food for the bees when they’ve used up all their honey.
In addition, Hutchinson and Martinez have added many flowers to their farms to provide enough food for the bees during the summer months.
“When it gets cold outside, the bees just eat the hive; if there’s honey on their left and right, they won’t eat it,” Hutchinson said. “They only go up in the winter; the worker bees, which are female, surround the queen bee to keep her warm and nourish her.”
The two women explained how bees are very matriarchal and that the queen bee is the most important member of the hive.
The female bees have different jobs; some take care of the queen, some leave the hive to get pollen, some clean the hive, some are warriors and protect the hive, and others fill the nests with wax to protect the eggs.
The drones — the males — are only good for one thing, Hutchinson said, and that’s to mate with the queen. Then they are cast out of the basket and die.
The queen bee lays her eggs in the fall. The queen bee emerges from her cell, where she has been given royal jelly, 16 days after fertilization, until her cell is covered with wax produced by the workers.
The workers come out of their cells after 21 days and drones after 24 days. The whole hive decides when it’s time for a new queen.
In a study conducted by University of Wyoming researcher Christy Bell and published in June 2021, she states that the western bumblebee population has declined by 93% in just over 20 years.
Bumblebees are the general pollinators and the role of bees in food production is essential.
Bees are an integral part of the reproductive cycles of most plants. The bumblebee is especially good for pollinating blueberries, tomatoes and cranberries.
The queen bee nests underground or in dried leaves and debris. Bell encourages people to leave dead leaves on the ground and wait until after April to dig up the ground so that more bees can survive and reproduce.
She cites climate change, the use of pesticides in agriculture and even light pollution as important factors in the decline of bees.
In Wyoming, parasites are the biggest stressor for bees.
The National Wildlife Federation said there are 4,000 species of bees in North America and native bees rarely sting unless provoked. Their experts suggest planting a diverse selection of flowering native plants that bloom all season to support bee populations.
For nesting sites, they recommend leaving bare patches of ground and fallen logs or dead trees, and never using pesticides. Some recommended plants include penstemon, columbine, honeysuckle, daisies, asters, sunflowers, anise hyssop, showy milkweed, Rocky Mountain bee plant, tick seed, purple prairie clover, lavender, narrow-leaved coneflower, and hydrangea.
Also, plants with open or flat tubular flowers with a lot of pollen and nectar, along with those with a strong scent and color, are beneficial.
The Wyoming Business Council also provides information on its website.
There are 2,000 beekeeping sites registered in Wyoming, and honey production is the third largest industry in Wyoming.
Catherine Wissner, a horticulturist at the University of Wyoming Laramie County Extension, said, “Honeybees are not threatened; beekeepers.”
Wissner refers to the drastic loss of honeybees in Wyoming as a result of the hive collapse. Wyoming’s beekeepers suffer a loss of 25-65% each year.
Causes of the hive collapse have been linked to climate change, pesticide use, flower loss and stress.
Just keeping their bees alive is a major challenge for beekeepers. Other challenges beekeepers face include unenforced anti-dumping laws and international honey flooding the market and driving prices down. Contributing factors to bee loss include pesticides that kill wildflowers, an important food source for native bees, and the destruction of Russia’s invasive olive trees, which have been a source of early nutrition for their blossoms.
The good news is that more and more people are growing bees in their backyards. Martinez and Hutchinson encourage people to start with one or two hives, but they emphasize that it’s important to be educated about the care and maintenance of hives first.
“People should plant pollinators and let dandelions bloom for a few weeks,” Martinez said. “Culinary herbs are also a favorite food source for bees. A must is not to use pesticides that kill the bees.”
Martinez and Hutchinson said they would be happy to provide information and assistance to anyone wishing to have a hive.
They can be reached online all summer or at the Evanston Farmers Market in Depot Square every Thursday at 3 p.m. They plan to launch an observation hive of bees on Thursday, August 18 to celebrate National Bee Week.