Summer bee college in Rifle provides space to explore the bee world |

Summer bee college in Rifle provides space to explore the bee world

Melissa Maness with Colorado Mountain Honey helps customers at the Glenwood Springs Downtown Market. Beekeepers and honey marketers from all over the state will converge on Rifle this weekend for the annual Bee College sponsored by the Colorado State Beekeepers Association..
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

This weekend at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle, Colorado beekeepers will gather to learn more about their sweet trade at the annual Bee College. The weekend will include talks from three bee experts, a banquet and two outdoor visits to the world of the bees.

“It’s a kind of gathering of the tribes,” said Ed Colby, president of the Colorado State Beekeeper’s Association, who organized the weekend. The Bee College begins Friday at the Colby Farm with an informal potluck and mixer, and then the learning will begin on Saturday, beginning with a talk from Meadery of the Rockies’ Hillary Eales.

Eales will teach the attendees about the art of making mead, or honey wine. Mead, like honey, comes in various flavors and colors.

“It’s the wine of kings,” Colby said. “Like all wines, it can be anywhere from sweet to dry.”

Different meads will be paired with each course of the Beekeepers’ Banquet, which will take place on Saturday evening.

Bill Collins, a chemistry professor from Fort Lewis College, will speak about plant-based cures for different bee diseases, while Utah bee inspector Stephen Stanko will give a talk on major bee diseases such as American foulbrood and Varroa mites.

Varroa mites are pinhead-sized ticks that sit on a bee’s stomach and suck its blood, much like a flea on a dog. Foulbrood is a disease that is fatal to developing bees. It can kill an entire hive of new bees, but it is also highly contagious. Bees from other hives will find the honey left behind by the infected hive and consume it, thinking it is still good honey, and then they will become infected themselves and die.

“I hope to bring people together who have an open mind and are interested in learning about bees and how to keep their bees alive,” Colby said.

He said that many new beekeepers buy packages of bees in the spring and raise them through the summer, but the bees often don’t survive the winter. An issue this year’s Bee College will focus on is how to keep bees alive during the winter months.

“Pretty much all bees get these Varroa mites,” Colby said. “One of the things we’re gonna talk about is how to do tests, so that you can figure out if your bees have a lot of Varroa mites, or just a few Varroa mites and the variety of things you can do to knock those mite numbers down so that your bees have less stress in them.”

American bees are especially vulnerable to Varroa mites because the species was brought over from Europe, along with the people and other animals who crossed the Atlantic. Varroa mites can coexist peacefully with Asian bees, but European bees are an entirely different species. These ticks and foulbrood are becoming increasingly dangerous to bees, but there are ways of preventing them from infesting hives.

This weekend’s Bee College is open to anyone who has an interest in learning more about beekeeping. The three experts, who each have two years to a lifetime of experience in the field, will be giving a roundtable talk on Saturday at the fairgrounds. For more information, visit or call Ed Colby at 970-984-0419.

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