Bee College

Julie Martineau of Fort Collins, Colo., works on creating a bee wax candle during the Wyoming Bee College class with her son Parker, 11, on Saturday, March 23, 2019, at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne. Jacob Byk/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Most beekeepers will, at some point, kill their bees.

Gray-haired, slow-talking ranchers with a few colonies to pollinate cattle grazing lands, young transplants with dreams of starting an organic farm in northern Colorado, working moms with three kids and a backyard hobby hive, wannabe honey entrepreneurs. It could happen to anyone, and it almost always does.

In Laramie County, there are 76 registered beekeepers. In the whole of Wyoming, there are more than 2,000. Chances are, it’s happened to most of them, too. And it’s happened to many of the more than 200 attendees of the Wyoming Bee College, held last weekend at Laramie County Community College.

It happened to Shea Ward last spring. His passion for beekeeping hit fast and hard. He was depressed and searching for something to give him purpose. He read an article about hobby beekeeping and, as if by compulsion, needed to be involved.

“I found comfort in them in a really dark place in my life,” he said.

He set up two hives in his backyard in Casper and got to work. But anyone will tell you, the learning curve for beekeeping is steep; Ward’s bees didn’t make it through the fickle Wyoming winter.

“Normally, they’re quiet during winter,” Ward said. “But it was just a little too quiet.”

One of his hives froze, killing the bees. The other absconded, a not-uncommon occurrence for bees trying to avoid dying from the cold.

Ward felt guilty. He had tried to create a safe space for the bees, and he felt as though he had let them down. But through their deaths, Ward, and other beekeepers like him, see life more clearly. It’s cliché, but it’s true.

David Lewis, secretary of the Southeast Wyoming Bee Association, killed all of his bees his first year, too. So he started paying closer attention.

Beekeepers have to have a keen awareness of nearly every aspect of a bee’s environment: floral resources, what’s planted, what blooms, how the weather might shift, whether neighboring gardeners or landscapers are using chemical sprays. Through stewarding bees, beekeepers become stewards of the rest of the natural world, too.

“You begin by being interested in bees,” Lewis said. “You expand from caring about the bees to caring about the whole environment.”

That’s where the Wyoming Bee College comes in. It’s a three-day conference that just wrapped its sixth year. It hosts international experts, hobbyists, commercial keepers and the tentatively inquiring.

The conference’s founder, Catherine Wissner, said she hopes people leave both excited and more dedicated to their bees’ care. Wissner is the Laramie County horticulturist and has had bees since 1996. She said a little education can go a long way.

“I want beekeepers to be good spokespeople for the bees,” she said.

“It’s animal husbandry; it’s taking care of these little creatures.”

And scientists, agriculturalists and a slew of other experts agree: The bees need it.

Rebecca Masterman ran through the list of reasons bees are important: They pollinate our food, they’re the nexus of a $20 billion industry, and their troubles are the first warning signs of deeper ecological stress.

Masterman is the associate director of the University of Minnesota Bee Squad. She has a Ph.D. in entomology and has studied bees for most of her career. She said bees’ natural habitat has decreased every year since the end of World War II, and it’s beginning to show.

“Bees’ diversity and health reflects how well the environment is being cared for,” Masterman said.

Commercial beekeepers lose 30 percent of their hives, on average, every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s a significant increase from historic sustainable loss rates of 10-18 percent. Native bees are also at risk: An estimated one in four species are endangered or close to it.

The reasons for the losses are many. Increased development means fewer natural food resources, pesticides and herbicides can poison healthy bees, and parasites and viruses are common and easily transferable from hive to hive.

This is where hobby beekeeping can have a real impact.

Wissner said beekeepers introduce more pollinators into the environment and contribute to the overall pollination of food crops. But the beekeepers themselves can affect change, too.

Joe Carson is a multi-generational beekeeper from Alaska. He’s president of Complete Bee, an international company that sells beekeeping products. He also teaches beekeeping courses across the country. He said the risk bees face could be mitigated through hobbyist advocacy.

“Hobbyists vote, they bring awareness to government agencies, they vote with their dollar,” and that advocacy puts a focus on global practices that harm bees, he said.

Many states have adopted laws to protect bee populations, in part because of the growing number of hobbyists and advocacy on their part. Those laws range from requiring nearby beekeepers be warned at least 24 hours in advance of any chemical spraying to requiring all hives be registered and inspected by the state. Wyoming is among the states requiring the latter.

Kelsey Hart, who works in the licensing division of the WDA, said registering hives prevents chemical spraying around hives, and hive inspection ensures bees are being kept healthy and won’t transfer disease to other hives.

Given the benefits of beekeeping, it makes sense that the number of hives in Wyoming has nearly tripled over the last decade, according to the WDA. But beekeeping is not all sunflowers and honey. It’s an expensive hobby, prohibitively for some.

The cost for entry can sit around $1,000 at the low end. Another barrier to entry might be where a person lives. Cheyenne allows honeybees to be kept in the city, but not all Wyoming cities and towns allow it.

Still, if the thought of keeping bees has crossed your mind, there are abundant resources to get you started. If you’re anything like Ward (whose bees survived the winter this year), the bees might give you new purpose and a restored appreciation for the natural world.

For more news from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, visit https://www.wyomingnews.com/.

CHEYENNE – Most beekeepers will, at some point, kill their bees.

Gray-haired, slow-talking ranchers with a few colonies to pollinate cattle grazing lands, young transplants with dreams of starting an organic farm in northern Colorado, working moms with three kids and a backyard hobby hive, wannabe honey entrepreneurs. It could happen to anyone, and it almost always does.

In Laramie County, there are 76 registered beekeepers. In the whole of Wyoming, there are more than 2,000. Chances are, it’s happened to most of them, too. And it’s happened to many of the more than 200 attendees of the Wyoming Bee College, held last weekend at Laramie County Community College.

 

It happened to Shea Ward last spring. His passion for beekeeping hit fast and hard. He was depressed and searching for something to give him purpose. He read an article about hobby beekeeping and, as if by compulsion, needed to be involved.

“I found comfort in them in a really dark place in my life,” he said.

He set up two hives in his backyard in Casper and got to work. But anyone will tell you, the learning curve for beekeeping is steep; Ward’s bees didn’t make it through the fickle Wyoming winter.

“Normally, they’re quiet during winter,” Ward said. “But it was just a little too quiet.”

One of his hives froze, killing the bees. The other absconded, a not-uncommon occurrence for bees trying to avoid dying from the cold.

Ward felt guilty. He had tried to create a safe space for the bees, and he felt as though he had let them down. But through their deaths, Ward, and other beekeepers like him, see life more clearly. It’s cliché, but it’s true.

David Lewis, secretary of the Southeast Wyoming Bee Association, killed all of his bees his first year, too. So he started paying closer attention.

Beekeepers have to have a keen awareness of nearly every aspect of a bee’s environment: floral resources, what’s planted, what blooms, how the weather might shift, whether neighboring gardeners or landscapers are using chemical sprays. Through stewarding bees, beekeepers become stewards of the rest of the natural world, too.

“You begin by being interested in bees,” Lewis said. “You expand from caring about the bees to caring about the whole environment.”

That’s where the Wyoming Bee College comes in. It’s a three-day conference that just wrapped its sixth year. It hosts international experts, hobbyists, commercial keepers and the tentatively inquiring.

The conference’s founder, Catherine Wissner, said she hopes people leave both excited and more dedicated to their bees’ care. Wissner is the Laramie County horticulturist and has had bees since 1996. She said a little education can go a long way.

“I want beekeepers to be good spokespeople for the bees,” she said.

“It’s animal husbandry; it’s taking care of these little creatures.”

And scientists, agriculturalists and a slew of other experts agree: The bees need it.

Rebecca Masterman ran through the list of reasons bees are important: They pollinate our food, they’re the nexus of a $20 billion industry, and their troubles are the first warning signs of deeper ecological stress.

Masterman is the associate director of the University of Minnesota Bee Squad. She has a Ph.D. in entomology and has studied bees for most of her career. She said bees’ natural habitat has decreased every year since the end of World War II, and it’s beginning to show.

“Bees’ diversity and health reflects how well the environment is being cared for,” Masterman said.

 

Commercial beekeepers lose 30 percent of their hives, on average, every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s a significant increase from historic sustainable loss rates of 10-18 percent. Native bees are also at risk: An estimated one in four species are endangered or close to it.

The reasons for the losses are many. Increased development means fewer natural food resources, pesticides and herbicides can poison healthy bees, and parasites and viruses are common and easily transferable from hive to hive.

This is where hobby beekeeping can have a real impact.

Wissner said beekeepers introduce more pollinators into the environment and contribute to the overall pollination of food crops. But the beekeepers themselves can affect change, too.

Joe Carson is a multi-generational beekeeper from Alaska. He’s president of Complete Bee, an international company that sells beekeeping products. He also teaches beekeeping courses across the country. He said the risk bees face could be mitigated through hobbyist advocacy.

“Hobbyists vote, they bring awareness to government agencies, they vote with their dollar,” and that advocacy puts a focus on global practices that harm bees, he said.

Many states have adopted laws to protect bee populations, in part because of the growing number of hobbyists and advocacy on their part. Those laws range from requiring nearby beekeepers be warned at least 24 hours in advance of any chemical spraying to requiring all hives be registered and inspected by the state. Wyoming is among the states requiring the latter.

Kelsey Hart, who works in the licensing division of the WDA, said registering hives prevents chemical spraying around hives, and hive inspection ensures bees are being kept healthy and won’t transfer disease to other hives.

Given the benefits of beekeeping, it makes sense that the number of hives in Wyoming has nearly tripled over the last decade, according to the WDA. But beekeeping is not all sunflowers and honey. It’s an expensive hobby, prohibitively for some.

The cost for entry can sit around $1,000 at the low end. Another barrier to entry might be where a person lives. Cheyenne allows honeybees to be kept in the city, but not all Wyoming cities and towns allow it.

Still, if the thought of keeping bees has crossed your mind, there are abundant resources to get you started. If you’re anything like Ward (whose bees survived the winter this year), the bees might give you new purpose and a restored appreciation for the natural world.

 
 

Morgan Hughes is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at mhughes@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3181. Follow her on Twitter at @morganhwrites.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.