Bee conservation has become increasingly important in contemporary society — that means in southern Colorado, too.
Honeybee populations have recently seen a severe decline that could have serious consequences for the human population, with honeybees contributing nearly $14 billion to the value of U.S. crops according to a statement on the NW Honey Bee Habitat Restoration website – a nonprofit education and research foundation committed to the protection and preservation of honeybees.
This epidemic of honeybee population loss is known as “Colony Collapse Disorder.” It happens due to a variety of environmental factors, including: loss of habitat, disease, and climate change. Arguably the most contributing factors, however, are herbicides, chemicals, and pesticides.
Pueblo’s economy, like several in southern Colorado, depends on pollinators like bees, as agriculture is one of Pueblo’s major industries.
Diminished pollination activity caused by the decline in bee populations has put conservation efforts in a position of paramount importance to the city’s future. Thus, Pueblo has joined the “save the bees” movement by launching some of its own efforts to conserve bee populations.
The Pueblo Zoo recently opened a pollinator exhibit earlier this year, made possible by grants awarded to Pueblo County’s Colorado State University extension office and 4-H programs.
The exhibit houses over 60,000 bees in a series of “smart” hives that feature various sensors that monitor the beehive’s humidity, temperature, weight, and activity. That data is then reported to local and national bee health registries to investigate the direct causes of Colony Collapse Disorder more in-depth, and promote healthy bee populations. The exhibit also includes a pollinator garden, and plans are in progress to use the remaining money from the grants to create hands-on educational programs for youth and adults alike.
Pueblo locals are also making profound efforts toward the conservation of bee populations.
Most notably are those by Nicole Gennetta and her husband, Patrick, who own and run Heritage Acres Market LLC – the first Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) apiary in Pueblo West.
CNG certification is granted to farmers and beekeepers that don’t use any synthetic chemicals or GMOs to produce food for their local communities. The hives at Heritage Acres Market LLC earned their CNG certification by being completely treatment free, meaning no chemicals are used to treat for disease or to maximize honey production. This commitment to all natural caretaking is a key combatant against Colony Collapse Disorder.
Heritage Acres also only houses bees captured from feral swarms, and even offer a free swarm removal service. The purpose of this, according to their website, is because wild bees have already proven they can survive without any treatment, and are thus naturally disease and mite resistant. The foundationless frames of every hive allow the bees to draw their own comb. This kind of structure makes the transition for bees from the wild more fluid because their environment in the hives at Heritage Acres mimics the environment to which they are already accustomed.
Gennetta, originally from Colorado Springs, has been running Heritage Acres Market LLC for about a year and a half now. Her interest in bees dates back to her childhood, but her passion for beekeeping emerged relatively recently.
“I just kind of jumped in with both feet,” said Gennetta. “For Christmas a couple years back my husband bought me a hive…The following summer I caught my own wild bees and put them in there. He bought me another one for my birthday that year, and it’s just kind of spiraled out of control since.”
Gennetta says the climate in this region is particularly suitable for her practice because it’s warm enough for certain helpful species of bees such as the honeybee to thrive, but still too cold for the more aggressive species of “Africanized” bees that are known to be a nuisance.
She notes that the milder winters that the Southeastern Colorado region experiences are also better for the success of the hives.
“As long as they’re dry, the cold doesn’t bother them very much because they can keep warm,” she said. “Ventilation is really important to keep condensation off of them. So we have measures to keep the condensation down.”
Gennetta adds that the biggest issue for maintaining her hives over the winter is the Varrora mite – a parasitic mite that attaches to and attacks the bees and their brood.
“When the bee populations decrease and the mite populations increase over the winter, then that can really bother the bees.”
Along with raising her own hives at Heritage Acres, Gennetta has also made strides to include the community in her practice by launching a Host-A-Hive program wherein individuals can rent their own beehives for their homes or commercial locations. The first year of the program’s operation saw major success.
“We didn’t have enough beehives!” Gennetta said with excitement, quickly adding: “Which is a great thing!”
Gennetta currently oversees fourteen hives spread out all around the Pueblo and Colorado Springs area. She hopes to be up to fifty hives by next year.
The Host-A-Hive program includes five different packages that differ in levels of involvement, ranging from hives that are fully managed by the Heritage Acres team to hives that are independently owned and managed. During harvest season, participants are able to reap the all natural raw honey, honeycomb, and beeswax produced by their hives. Additionally they get the hands-on opportunity to learn valuable sustainability practices, as well as actively contribute to the conservation and preservation of honeybees.
“I wasn’t sure what the interest level would be,” she said. “And it’s been huge! It’s been so awesome. I get so many people that say, ‘oh this is great, I’m glad you’re doing this,’ and that’s just really nice.”
Educating the public is important to Gennetta not only to promote her business, but also to emphasize that bee repopulation will be more successful as a combined effort.
“There’s a quote I like and I can’t really remember who said it, but it goes: ‘The future of the bees is not one beekeeper with 60,000 hives, but 60,000 beekeepers with one hive,’” she said. “I feel like if I can help people become beekeepers or spread my own beehives around, then I can help those populations directly and teach people to do the same.”
Gennetta has one teaching hive in place at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and hopes to open a second one at the Pueblo Nature Center possibly toward the end of August.
Heritage Acres Market LLC provides services beyond beekeeping such as guinea fowl sales, poultry consultation, egg incubation, and more. For details about their products and services, or if you’re interested in learning more about hosting a hive, visit their website at www.heritageacresmarket.com.