Beekeeping is intriguing, exciting and challenging – and is an important way to support the environment. Can you imagine a world without flowers, fruit and much of the food we eat? Pollinators such as bees are necessary for things to grow and flourish. You can help from your own backyard and enjoy sweet, golden honey for your efforts.
This article is merely an introduction to bee-coming an apiarist because it is not easy. There is more involved than just buying hives, stocking them with honeybees and collecting their amber deliciousness. Before you spend a penny, educate yourself by attending local bee association classes. Watch beginner videos on the internet. Talk with other beekeepers who can offer valuable advice.
Beekeeper Anne Wiper, who has six hives at her home in rural north Boulder and sells the honey to friends, agrees. She recommends starting small and educating yourself. “I got into it because I love growing food and flowers and have always wanted to support pollinators. As time goes on, it just amazes me how the life systems of honeybee colonies work,” she said.
One fun part of beekeeping also increases the beauty and value of your home — creating a diverse landscape that makes a homey bee habitat. An acre of blossoming trees, shrubs and flowers is recommended for the bees to thrive. They need water, whether it’s a natural water source, birdbath or shallow tray filled with gravel and water. A combination of plants that bloom from spring through fall is critical. A windbreak near the hives protects them from our Rocky Mountain gusts. And most importantly, reduce or eliminate pesticides, which have caused a decline in pollinator populations. Dandelions are just dandy for bees!
The time commitment to beekeeping is seasonal. Wiper said the busiest time is the spring, when managing the hives can take several hours every other week. In the summer she just checks them every couple of weeks to monitor the bees’ health. “The fall is when we extract the honey, which is a lot of fun with friends. Then I am generally making sure the hives are thriving, to go into the winter strong. I treat them for mites at Winter Solstice and then leave them be!” said Wiper.
If keeping hives is too much to undertake, you can still help by protecting native bees. There are 950 species in Colorado, and more than 550 of these are in Boulder County. According to Deborah Foy with the BeeChicas organization in Boulder, the honeybee has been a great mascot for building awareness and education around the importance of pollinators and pollinator decline.
“Native bees, however, are crucial pollinators of our native plants and vital for the health of our local ecosystem,” said Foy. “They have co-evolved with native plants, making them well suited to our changing environment. Supporting native bees can be as easy as planting native plants that provide blooms from spring through fall and nesting sites in your garden.”
How do you differentiate native bees from honeybees? “Native bees come in an incredible variety of colors and sizes, from black and yellow to blue and even bright green! They can range in size from as small as a grain of rice to a bumblebee that is as large as your thumb,” Foy explained. Honeybees are easily recognized by their orange and black stripes.
Whichever bee species you opt to support, know that you are making a big impact, not only on your local ecosystem but on the planet as whole.
• Bees and Trees, beesandtreesinc.com/bee-services.html
• Beechicas, Beechicas.com
• Boulder County Beekeepers, bouldercountybeekeepers.org
• Boulder County, bouldercounty.org/open-space/management/agriculture/pollinators
• Colorado Beekeepers Association, coloradobeekeepers.org/resources
• Highland Bees, highlandbees.com/resources-for-beekeepers.html
• Xerces Society, xerces.org
BeeChicas’ top Foothills native plants for pollinators:
• Pasqueflower (pulsatilla patens)
• Showy Fleabane (Erigeron speciosus)
• Golden banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa)
• Golden Currant (shrub) (Ribes aureum or Clove Currant, Ribes odoratum)
• Serviceberry (large shrub/small tree) (Amelanchier alnifolia)
• Penstemons (Penstemon virens, whippleanus, strictus, eatonii)
• Blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata)
• Chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
• Sulphur Flower (Eriogonum umbellatum)
• Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Cleome serrulata)
• Gayfeather (liatris punctata, l. ligulistylis)
• Goldenrod (Solidago nana)
• Brown-eyed Susan (rudbeckia triloba)
• Western Aster (Aster ascendens, now Symphyotrichum ascendens)
By Susan Eastman, Live West Realty. Susan is a Realtor with Live West Realty in Boulder.