All the buzz: urban beekeeping

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Class at Hudson Gardens points out the many sweet rewards of keeping a hive

By Ramsey Scott

It might seem counterintuitive, but for many beekeepers, taking care of a hive isn’t just about the sweet reward. 


Instead, it’s born of a fascination with a creature that so much of our daily sustenance depends upon. 

Bees, along with other insects and birds, pollinate 35 percent of the world’s food crops. Yet the number of bees in the world has dropped drastically in recent years.  

The decline made Joanie Bock want to put a beehive in her Littleton backyard. 

“I started hearing about ‘colony collapse disorder,’ and I’ve just always had a fascination with bees and beekeeping,” Bock said. “I’m just really concerned about the state of our environment.”

This year Jeffco joined the ranks of cities and counties that allow urban beekeeping. 

Bock joined several other future beekeepers at Hudson Gardens’ beginner beekeeping class on Nov. 13. 

While the class seemed like the perfect place to find honey lovers, students instead were concerned about the possibility of a world without bees. One worker bee in its two weeks as a forager will travel 400 miles and touch thousands of plants. 

“I’m really concerned with the environmental impact on bees,” said Jen Perunko. “This is the first time I’ve had a yard to raise bees. … I wanted to lend a hand. Having a hive is something good I can do.”

Bill Shiflet, head beekeeper at Hudson Gardens, said bees are under attack by the increased use of pesticides and genetically modified foods. An emphasis on breeding bigger bees has only worsened the problem, Shiflet said.

“Seems one of every three bites of food we can thank the honeybee for. Pollination by bees makes for better flowers, fruit and vegetables,” Shiflet said. “Bees are in trouble, and managed hives can help replace the many wild hives that no longer exist.”

While bees typically aren’t active until late April in Colorado, Shiflet said next year’s hives need to be planned this year. 

“The most important thing is to order bees before they sell out. Beekeepers should target delivery no earlier than the third weekend of April,” Shiflet said. “Asking for equipment and tools make for good presents.”

Shiflet said the bees cost about $100, while hive set-ups start at $350. 

In addition to the environmental benefits, Shiflet said, keeping a hive has a more spiritual reward. He described the mind-set of a beekeeper as one of “zen mojo.” 

“Working with bees — if your energy is ‘off,’ they sense it and react. So it helps me to be in control and have positive energy,” Shiflet said. “When you have a positive impact on living things, it is pretty rewarding. Also, being part of sustainable agriculture at the local level helps the community, which ripples outward.”

That aspect is also what drew Bock to beekeeping. 

“It just sounds like a zen experience,” Bock said. “While it wasn’t my major motivation, it sounds like a very connecting experience.

“And if I get a little honey out of it, I won’t mind.”

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.