Grand Junction residents raise honeybees for business & fun
ABOUT WESTERN COLORADO BEEKEEPERS ASSOCIATION
Western Colorado Beekeepers Association serves western Colorado, from Ridgway and Hotchkiss all the way up the I-70 corridor to New Castle and Glenwood Springs. The club formed four years ago as a way to link new and experienced beekeepers across the region.
“Most of our members are in the valley itself,” WCBA member Jack Moore said.
According to Moore, the club hosts meetings every second Wednesday of the month at Mesa County Fairgrounds’ Jockey Club building, or at a member’s apiary for hands-on learning.
“We have a lot of fellowship, camaraderie and mentorship,” WCBA president Mary Graves said. “It’s a place where you can come once a month and talk about your bees and what’s trending in the valley.”
It currently hosts about 45 active members and 465 Facebook fans. Individual membership costs $25 a year, or $40 for a family.
For more information, find WCBA on Facebook.
— Caitlin Row, Free Press community editor
Redlands resident Jack Moore raises backyard honeybees, but not for honey as many people do.
“I am trying to raise a locally sustainable honeybee,” he said. “Very few bees have been making it through [Mesa County’s] winter due to our inversion,” which traps cold air in the valley, especially after it snows. “I’ve been capturing and collecting swarms, including survivor hives, and I’ve been working on a breeding program for four seasons.”
According to Moore, he currently tends 20 hives from his home, with another 40 hives under his supervision throughout the area. He also teaches a beekeeping class with Western Colorado Community College and he’s active with Western Colorado Beekeepers Association.
“I have been converting my whole yard to western Colorado bee flora for the last three seasons,” he added. “Everything you see in my yard is for the honeybees.”
Moore’s hives are also for sale to other beekeepers through Sticky-Bear Apiary. This year’s crop went to beekeepers whose hives didn’t survive the winter and to new hobbyists.
HONEYBEES COMPLIMENT GARDENING
Bee populations, including honeybees, have long been important to home gardening.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council: “Bees are one of a myriad of other animals, including birds, bats, beetles, and butterflies, called pollinators. Pollinators transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant so it can grow and produce food. Cross-pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of our wild plants to thrive.”
Plus, for those interested in a more hands-on experience, honey and beeswax can regularly be harvested from hives for personal use.
“Without honeybees we would not be able to grow cantaloupe, cucumbers, watermelons and squash,” Colorado State University Extension’s western Colorado entomology expert Bob Hammon said. “Other local fruits dependent on bees include apples, cherries, raspberries and some vegetables.”
Grand Junction resident Mary Graves began raising backyard honeybees five years ago for just that reason.
“I went through a master gardener program and I’ve been madly gardening ever since,” she said. “You get a better yield if you have bees.”
At this point Graves only tends two hives on her eight-acre property, though she thinks she could likely enjoy up to four. As president of Western Colorado Beekeepers Association, Graves said she “has many irons in the fire” so hive maintenance is kept to a minimum.
“Keeping bees doesn’t have to be time consuming,” she said. “It just depends on how much you want to work your bees. Some people work them all the time. Some don’t.
“If you ask 10 beekeepers how to do something, you’ll get 11 or 12 answers,” Graves added, laughing. “That’s what’s swell about beekeeping. There’s a whole gamut — from the commercial scene to hobbyists — and all kinds of levels.”
Redlands resident Gary McCallister also uses backyard beekeeping as a way to improve his garden. What started as a hobby 10 years ago eventually turned into B-B Ranch, a small business selling honey and beeswax at local farmers’ markets. He currently runs 13 hives from his yard, which is down from 20 in 2013.
“As my grandchildren got older, it became harder for kids to get work,” said McCallister, a recently retired Colorado Mesa University biology professor. “We started beefing up the bee business and we’d pay them for that” as a way to teach responsibility. “It takes a certain amount of courage to work with bees swarming around and to get stung.”
Tara McCallister, Gary’s daughter-in-law, additionally raises honeybees with her husband, Zane, and four young children.
“It was really for educational experience,” she explained. “And, hello, honey is awesome!”
On top of honey harvests, Tara enjoys working with beeswax to make candles, lip balm and bars of soap, which she gives as gifts to friends and family.
“There’s a significant amount of work and expense to beekeeping,” she noted. “You have to be sure you want to do it. … We purchased a starter kit costing between $300-$400. Then for harvesting in fall, there are a few more pieces of equipment needed, like a hot knife” used for honey harvesting.
That’s why many people just getting started choose to join a club like Western Colorado Beekeepers Association.
“Beekeepers are unique people,” Moore said. “We love to help each other and we love to help others, kind of like the bees.”
Tara agreed — “Once you get into beekeeping, people are really nice about sharing. The community of beekeepers is a nice little group.”
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