Beekeeping is Local!
We have lived and worked in the Front Range of Colorado for over 30 years. Our kids were born here. Free Range Beehives is a 2-generation, family-owned business. We serve as board members of local beekeeping associations, support our local beekeeping suppliers, and know our fellow beekeepers.
Beekeeping laws and regulations vary on a county-level basis. Free Range Beehives stays current on local ordinances, and we are working with local governments to help add urban beekeeping to green ordinances, which could lead to allowing businesses to more easily adhere to governmental sustainability programs through corporate beekeeping.
Beekeeping is a very localized practice, because bees forage on different food sources and experience different weather conditions depending on where they are located.
Colorado's climate offers unique challenges to bees. While the sunny aspect of our climate is beneficial to the bees, winters can be very difficult. Bees need to prepare for the worst that Colorado weather can throw at them, but also be able to adjust when we have warm spells during winter months (like the winter of 2020/2021). Usually, in normal winter temperatures that average in the 30's F, the bees will form a tight cluster inside the hive to stay warm. They normally don't need to consume much food while in the cluster. However, in recent years we have been experiencing more frequent warm spells during winter along the Front Range. At those times there are no sources of nectar or pollen for the bees, yet the warm temperatures will lead them to break cluster and become much more active. In turn, they need to eat more of their honey stores to maintain their energy. If a warm spell lasts too long, the bees may consume all their winter stores before the spring bloom. Beekeepers must be ready to respond quickly to changes in the weather and intervene as necessary to stave off hunger. Having successfully raised bees here in our home, we have learned what to do when weather affects our hives.
Plant life is vastly different across different regions of our country. Bees in the southeastern region gather much different food than our bees in Colorado, or bees living in the west coast. While plants such as some flowering trees (various apples, for example) and crops like alfalfa are widely distributed, others are very localized. These local sources are extremely important for the bees - they fill in gaps created when larger nectar sources such as flowering trees taper off. Since plants bloom at different times of the season, it's important to know the major food sources for our bees and when they bloom. In some seasons we can observe that blooming is accelerated or delayed for a variety of reasons. In fact, it's not uncommon to observe periods of dearth, or a relative shortage of available forage, during apparently random times of the season. It's important that beekeepers keep their finger on the pulse of what is flowering, and when, so that if a dearth occurs they can respond and help their hives.
Feeding and Treatments
We believe that humans have caused or exacerbated many of the stresses that honeybees face today. Climate change is one such stress. The spread of disease is another.
During climate-driven periods of stress (warm winter spells, periods of dearth) the beekeeper should intervene and help the bees by temporarily providing food supplements. We don't feed our bees unless it is absolutely necessary, and we never over-feed our bees - we want and need them to gather enough food on their own to thrive. However, we feel it is irresponsible beekeeping to give these colonies a home if we are not going to do everything we need to do to help them thrive. This applies to medications as well. We believe in inspecting our hives more often than most beekeeping services because we want to make sure to catch any disease as early as possible. We aggressively test and treat for Varroa mites, arguably the single most devastating pathogen of honeybees.
We maintain beehives across the Colorado Front Range. We monitor weather patterns far in advance and have proven methods of addressing disruptive weather. Many beekeepers focus on managing their bees to maximize the amount of honey they can get - this usually means over-crowded hives which can lead to swarming. We know how to give our bees the best chance of surviving the winter, what food supplements work best and when, what treatments are working best, and how to manage our bees for maximum survival.
Unfortunately, pesticide use is a common practice across America, and it can have major impacts on all pollinators, including honeybees. Regulations regarding the use of pesticides, and spraying as an application method, vary widely from state to state, and have a major impact on honeybee colonies. Free Range Beehives monitors pesticide application and spraying schedules so we can react quickly to seal up hives in advance of the event.
In summary, there are numerous factors that only a local beekeeper who has been working with these industrious insects in a regional setting will know how to properly address. It takes time, effort, and devotion to learn the minutia of an ecosystem. Here at Free Range Beehives we are dedicated to developing more and more local beekeeping expertise, and applying our knowledge and experience to all of our hives.