Local beekeepers attribute abundance of honey to abundant moisture

Several species of bees and insects enjoyed the wild sunflowers in the city on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

If you need extra proof that this summer brought happy 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 beehives that grow into small businesses and commercial activities. No matter how many hives the beekeeper takes care of, 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’ve 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 need 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 sees a good honey yield.

Last year, Thompson’s hives produced 22 gallons of honey. She knows she will have a lot more than last year because she is only halfway through the harvest and already has 17 gallons.

“I’m at harvest time now,” Thompson said. “I have to pull some honey a little earlier this year because they released it really well.”

Kathy White, who considers herself a backyard beekeeper with a hobby hive, said there was a lot of pollen this year with all the moisture. This is her second year with her hive.

According to Thomspon, it usually takes a year to harvest honey from the hive. Once a colony is established and has enough honey to fill the base 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 she expects to get another 20 pints from her hobby basket. White uses a Flow Hive for her bees, a new beekeeping technology that allows hobby beekeepers like her to start small.

Most modern beekeepers use vertical modular boxes for beehives, which require a different process and more tools to harvest. But White said caring for bees is the same with the Flow Hives as it is with the traditional Langstroth modular hives.

Honey is discharged from a flow cabinet, which differs in the way the honey is harvested from modular cabinet cabinets.
Kathy White courtesy photo

According to White, bees will travel 2 to 6 miles to collect pollen, and her hives are located about 10 miles north of the city near alfalfa fields, wheat fields and the natural landscape of native flowers.

“It’s interesting to watch them,” White said. “They were packaged in two different types of pollen with different colors from the different plants.”

Local commercial beekeepers are busy harvesting honey for their harvest at 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 been during the last few dry summers,” said Bethany Baker, co-owner of Outlaw Apiaries. “Our production has dropped by 70% compared to three years ago, but this year’s more regular rainfall is catching up.”

Most beekeepers try to finish their harvest around Labor Day, especially for the bees that hang out during 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 little cranky, and who can blame them,” White said. “They’ve been working hard all summer, and then you come in and you want to take some of their extra honey that they’re storing.”

Not all local bees will stay in the winter as some commercial apiaries transport their bees to warmer climates after the late summer harvest.

Outlaw Apiaries has about 100 non-migratory hives that hibernate; the rest of the castes migrate to California. Bees from J&J Honey and other local commercial companies all go to the same place as Baker’s bees to help with almond pollination.

By migrating bees to warmer climates, the colonies can maintain their numbers and remain in production all year round.

As for the bees that stay local for the winter, their numbers will decrease and they won’t have such a large cluster to make it through the winter months, Thompson said.

Usually beehives 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 leave all the honey for the bees.

Once scarcity comes, the bees stay indoors and squat down for a few long cold months, but a beekeeper’s work doesn’t stop when the bees move in for the winter.

White got her hive in the spring of 2021, leading to a hot and dry summer. She said she had to throw everything 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 early seasons.

After the silence of winter, bees reappear in spring, which has a special meaning for many beekeepers.

“For me, getting my bees and then seeing them emerge in the spring was really exciting,” White said. “They made it.”

Although bees look for pollen in early spring, White was taught to continue feeding the bees during this time. After living off their reserves for months, bees are most likely to go hungry in March or April while waiting for their first big feast when the dandelions begin to emerge.

“It gave me a whole new perspective on dandelions,” White said. “I used to think they were just weeds.”

After all the work involved in beekeeping, there is also a lot to be gained from it. Thompson said the reason she started six years ago was because she has severe hay fever.

“I took a lot of allergy meds and really suffered,” Thompson said. “Once I started keeping bees and eating local honey, things started to change, and I haven’t been on allergy medication for years.”

Local hobby beekeeper Kathy White placed a few jars of freshly harvested honey on the Flow Hive.
Kathy White courtesy photo

Aside from the harvested honey, people often visit White’s facility to see the beehives and learn how to get started on a small scale. Moffat County does not have a beekeepers association, but people still gather to share knowledge and learn from each other.

While there are different types of operations and different practices, White said the beekeepers all need each other.

“People have such a passion for bees,” White said. “They’re important little creatures.”

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