Spotted! Honeybees

The days are finally warming after a cool, wet spring and here at the ranch we’ve been spending more and more time outside; working the garden, hiking, horseback riding, and generally getting to know the land. Flowers are blooming everywhere. Dandelion, golden banner, blue flag iris, bush honeysuckle, chokecherry, and gooseberry are in bloom along with their more domesticated (but no less beautiful) cousins – lilacs, snapdragons, and old homestead apple trees. Abundant moisture, longer days, and the warm caress of the sun have turned the valley into a lush paradise.

 

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In this warm weather, our time outdoors is always accompanied by the pleasant and industrious buzzing of one of our favorite pollinators – honeybees. Honeybees were likely brought to this valley with the original homesteaders. They eventually escaped domestication and made their homes here with each successive generation becoming more acclimated to the climate and seasonal rhythms of our high mountain valley. We have at least one wild hive on the ranch, ensconced inside a large cottonwood tree with a small entrance in the bark near ground level.

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The bees are busiest in the spring and summer of course, and we’ve noticed a significant increase of activity in this wild hive as they ramp up for their ‘busy season’. During the fall, beehives drastically decrease their numbers in order to survive a long, cold winter on the stores of honey they’ve set aside. This means they have to ramp up quickly in early spring in order to replenish the honey and pollen stores over the course of the summer months.

 

Bees are in the news frequently these days as a large amount of commercial pollinator hives are lost every year to a mysterious disease that seems more and more likely to be linked to particular pesticides, including many common ones sold at your local hardware or garden store. It’s a scary thought - that our primary pollinators could die out – and it’s not just honeybees that are at risk. Bumble bees, carpenter bees, and other bee species are also suffering from population declines, as are butterflies. Without these humble, hardworking pollinators we could be facing a challenging dystopian future.

 

There are a surprising number of small beekeepers here in the Valley, doing their part to support local bee populations and raise delicious local honey (often for sale at the summer farmer’s market), and our own ‘Rosita Mary’ makes wonderful honey-based personal care products that can be found in many local stores. It seems there is frequently a new beekeeper asking around on Facebook community pages for some advice and guidance as they set up new hives, capture wild swarms, and begin their foray into beekeeping.

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The Valley’s vast, still intact open spaces – tens of thousands of acres of which are preserved forever from development – continue to offer a stable and welcoming home for our bees and other local and migratory pollinators. The diversity and abundance of wild flowering flora that is able to exist here as a result of this community’s commitment to conservation gives me hope that perhaps at least in our small corner of the world the bees will thrive.

 

We’ve kept bees ourselves in the past, and hope to start our new hives this spring and join our beekeeping friends in supporting and nurturing the local bees. We’ve pulled our empty hives out of storage and prepared them, hoping for a swarm we can move back into domestication on our own small homestead. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to the buzz of ‘our’ wild bees as they work alongside me in the garden, harvesting from our wind-breaking hedge of chokecherry bushes, currently in full beautiful bloom.

 

About the author: Patty Reagin is a freelance writer and a volunteer for San Isabel Land Protection Trust. She lives on and manages Humboldt Peak Ranch, one of the many Valley properties protected by a conservation easement held by SILPT. Spotted is her monthly contribution to the SILPT blog highlighting the beauty of the flora and fauna in our region.  When Patty's not behind a computer working she can be found outside, taking in the beauty of the Wet Mountain Valley with her dogs and horses.

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