A surge in beekeeping interest made an annual event at the University of Montana’s bee yard even more frenetic Friday.
For old and new members of the beekeeping culture, it was time to pick up colonies to either restock hives lost over the winter or to fill new hives.
It was also a good time to bone up on technique, to make sure little of the precious cargo would go to waste.
Each year, Rick Molenda of Western Bee Supplies in Polson goes to California to stock up. UM bee researcher Jerry Bromenshenk meets him in Polson and picks up enough colonies to supply hobbyists and others from the Missoula area.
Then comes the get-together at Fort Missoula.
So-called bee whisperer Scott Debnam from UM both entertained and instructed, as veterans and rookies watched, how to properly transfer the swarming colonies into their new homes.
The process involves removing a food can from the cage, transferring a queen bee safely into the new hive, and literally pouring the remaining bees in behind her.
Bromenshenk, for one, is excited about the upsurge in beekeeping interest.
“Beekeeping in the United States was rapidly shrinking,” he said. “We went from 11 million colonies when I first started to about 2 1/2 million, and we were starting to get hard-pressed to meet pollination needs.”
Bromenshenk credited the most recent outbreak of colony collapse disorder in late 2006 and the awareness it caused for much of the resurgence in beekeeping interest.
Sebastian Stan lives in the Butler Creek area of Missoula and is new to beekeeping; he got involved partly because his father loves honey and “it’s always good to have another hobby.”
Stan, 20, attends college in Arizona and thinks it’s fascinating the way a single queen can control an entire colony of bees.
“Try getting people to behave like this,” he laughed. “It’s interesting that we’re shaking them up and doing all manner of things to them and they’re not particularly angry, so they seem pretty tolerant.”
Generally not fond of things that fly and sting, Stan admitted he “kind of likes bees.” He is starting out with a pair of hives and may add more in the future if things go well.
Also in the audience was Steve Thompson of Alberton, another newcomer to beekeeping.
“I’ve been stung a few times, but have never been a collector,” Thompson said.
Thompson is trying to get a garden going on his property near the Cyr put-in on the Clark Fork River and finds it “fascinating that these things can pollinate and provide sustenance and honey and beeswax (as) just a natural process.”
He also likes honey and plans to start out with one or two hives.
“There’s plenty of knapweed in the area that they will love,” he said. “That way I can justify having some purple flowers on the property.”
Thompson also plans to involve some nephews and cousins who are involved in Scouting and other activities in his project.
“One of the requirements is to work with bees so that would help them,” he said. “I grew up in the city and never had this opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Bromenshenk continues to look for the cause of CCD.
“Contrary to reports last fall and early winter that it was on the decline, this year it came back with a vengeance,” Bromenshenk said, adding that some large bee operations in California have lost as much as 90 percent of their colonies to the malady.
Bromenshenk and fellow researcher Rob Cramer at Montana State University in Bozeman, along with others, think they have found a possible cause and will publish a report on their findings soon.
“From our perspective, it’s definitely a contagious disease,” he said.
Reporter Bill Schwanke can be reached at 523-0493 or at email@example.com.