Took a trip to Riverton Wyoming yesterday. I was raised there. And started beekeeping there as well. My brother Don had come up from Colorado and it was a good time to visit and prepare the family home for winter.
Did I say winter? Yes, my other brother Tom, living in western Wyoming, reported this season’s first frost. I’m expecting a cold blast of air to flow down the mountains anytime now and finish off my squash as well.
My brother Don has been a commercial beekeeper. So he knows what good honey tastes like and won’t settle for anything less. I’ve supplied him with honey for decades. But not now. Without bees, I’m also without honey.
So, knowing most of the commercial beekeepers in Riverton, we went looking for some honey.
- Telephone calls yielded stories of dying bees and poor crops
- One beekeeper was going to start extracting in a week and might have some honey by mid-month! I think he was hoping for a late miracle flow
- Couldn’t reach the most well known, largest outfit by phone. Drove over to honey house. No one had been there in weeks. Only a couple of bees buzzing around the place. I wonder if he’s still in business?
Not what I had hoped for. But it wasn’t unexpected.
On the way home I remembered a smaller sideline operation run by a retired teacher. I couldn’t remember his name. But I knew where his small honey house was located a decade ago. Would he still be there?
Much had changed in the decade since I’d last seen it. That honey house sat at the end of a dirt road, on the corner of a field near the grain elevator. Since then the whole area had been developed piece meal, into an industrial park. It took some driving around between the buildings, but we found it. The honey house was still there. And the moment we saw it, we both immediately remember the beekeeper’s name.
And better than just still being there, the door was open. And the screen door was thronged with hundreds of bees trying to follow that glorious honey, hot beeswax odor trail to the treasures inside.
My brother’s eyes got big. That buzzing screen door and those odors revived dormant memories of long ago beekeeping days. He smiled. Got fresh honey? No need to even ask! We knocked on the door and yelled a few times. But there was no response.
That’s not uncommon in a honey house. A beekeeper, working in the bowels of the beast, is often surrounded with noise and is preoccupied with the processes. And the screen door bees keep most of the curious and the idle away. No so for two ex-beekeepers in need of honey. We wandered in.
There we met John. He’s a wiry, 70 year old retiree who throws supers and works commercial bees. And he was smiling and happy. After last year’s disastrous season, maybe the worst season ever according to John, this season more than made up for it:
- The bees were healthy and looking great
- Honey production was significantly better than his best year
- He still had another 30 drums of honey to extract before shutting down in a week or so
It was just like the good old days for us beekeeping brothers as we thought and shared past beekeeping memories. And we bought some honey. I last bought honey in 1976. So, it’s been awhile.
Why the contrast between John’s beekeeping season and the rest of us? Was he doing something different? Did he have a management secret? Were his bees lucky? Or was his experience an anomaly?
I don’t know. His bees pollinate almonds and work Wyoming alfalfa. It appears he runs his bees in a conventional way.
But visiting with John sure infuses my beekeeping with hope. Maybe this episode of CCD or disappearing disease as it was called in the past, has run its course. I hope, like my previous encounter with it over 30 years ago, it will disappear as fast as it appeared, and my beekeeping can get back on track.