EVANSTON —Two local women are doing their part in helping native bees and honeybees survive and thrive.
Barb Martinez and Leanne Hutchinson, who own and operate Good to Grow farms and started the Evanston Thursday afternoon farmers market, are active beekeepers as well.
The two women have ordered bumble bees every spring for their food farm. They added 18 honeybee hives to their farm several years later.
Martinez said they brought in bumble bees from the East Coast in a box to help pollinate the plants in the tunnels they had built for growing vegetables.
Martinez said they can’t release the non-native bumble bees, as there are native bees on the farm and they don’t want the non-native bees to wipe them out.
The box has an extra-small opening, so the queen cannot leave, which keeps the worker bees coming back to the box.
“We only took honey from four of the hives this year,” Martinez said. “We have to leave enough honey to get the [honey bees] through the winter and late spring. This year it was cold until mid-June, so the bees needed the food to survive. If the winters are long and cold, we risk losing hives in May, when they run out of food.”
Martinez said she finds joy in what many view as pests: the season’s first blooming weeds.
“When I see lawns where people have let the dandelions bloom, I celebrate,” She said. “Dandelions are the first food for bees in the spring.”
Hutchinson and Martinez explained that they stack the hives with three boxes, each consisting of 10 frames, which are very deep and filled with honey. On the top they place a “candy board,” which is covered with a mixture of sugar water and essential oils to provide a back-up supply of food for the bees when they have used up all of their honey.
In addition, Hutchinson and Martinez have planted many flowers throughout their farm to provide plenty of food for the bees during the summer months.
“Once it gets cold outside, the bees only eat moving up the hive; if there is honey on the left and right of them, they don’t eat it,” Hutchinson said. “They only go up in the winter; the worker bees, which are female, surround the queen bee to keep her warm and to feed her.”
The two women discussed how bees are very matriarchal and the queen bee is the most important member of the hive.
The female bees have a variety of jobs; some take care of the queen, some leave the hive to retrieve pollen, some clean the hive, some are warriors and protect the hive, and others fill the nests with wax to protect the eggs.
The drones — the males — are only good for one thing, Hutchinson said, and that is to mate with the queen. Then they are rejected from the hive and die.
The queen honey bee lays her eggs in the fall. The queen bee emerges from her cell, where she has been fed royal jelly, 16 days after fertilization, until her cell is capped off with wax produced by the workers.
The workers emerge from their cells after 21 days and drones after 24 days. The entire hive decides when it is time for a new queen.
In a study done by University of Wyoming researcher Christy Bell and published in June 2021, she states that the population of the western bumble bee has declined by 93% in a little over 20 years.
Bumble bees are the general pollinators and the role of bees in food production is essential.
Bees are integral to most plants’ reproduction cycles. The bumble bee is especially good for pollinating blueberries, tomatoes and cranberries.
The queen bumble bee nests underground or in dried leaves and debris. Bell encourages people to leave dead leaves on the ground and to wait until after April to dig up the ground so more bees survive and can reproduce.
She cites climate change, agriculture pesticide use and even light pollution as major factors in the decline of bees.
In Wyoming, the greatest stressor on bees is parasites.
The National Wildlife Federation said there are 4,000 species of bees in North America and that native bees rarely sting unless provoked. Its experts suggest planting a diverse selection of flowering native plants that bloom throughout the season to support bee populations.
For nesting sites, they suggest leaving bare patches of soil and fallen logs or dead trees and never using pesticides. Some recommended plants include penstemon, columbine, honeysuckle, daisies, asters, sunflowers, anise hyssop, showy milkweed, Rocky Mountain bee plant, tickseed, purple prairie clover, lavender, narrow-leaf coneflower and hydrangea.
Also, plants with open or flat tubular flowers with lots of pollen and nectar, along with those with strong scent and color, are beneficial.
The Wyoming Business Council provides information on its website as well.
There are 2,000 apiary locations registered in Wyoming, and honey production is the third largest industry in Wyoming.
Catherine Wissner, horticulturist at the University of Wyoming Laramie County Extension office, said, “Honeybees aren’t endangered; beekeepers are.”
Wissner is referring to the drastic loss of honeybees in Wyoming due to hive collapse. Wyoming beekeepers suffer a 25-65% loss each year.
Causes of hive collapse have been linked to climate change, pesticide use, a loss of flowers and stress.
Just keeping their bees alive is a major challenge for beekeepers. Other challenges beekeepers face are unenforced antidumping laws and international honey flooding the market and driving prices down. Factors contributing to the loss of bees are pesticides that kill wildflowers, a major food source for native bees, and the destruction of the invasive Russian olive trees, whose blossoms are a source of early nutrition.
The good news is that more and more people are raising bees in their backyards. Martinez and Hutchinson encourage people to start with one or two hives, but they stress it is important to get educated about the care and maintenance of hives first.
“People need to plant pollinators and let dandelions bloom for a few weeks,” Martinez said. “Culinary herbs are also a favorite food source for bees. A must is to avoid using pesticides, which kill the bees.”
Martinez and Hutchinson said they would be happy to provide information and assistance to anyone wishing to have a hive of honeybees.
They can be reached online or at the Evanston Farmers Market at Depot Square every Thursday at 3 p.m. throughout the summer. They plan on bringing an observation hive of bees to the market on Thursday, Aug. 18, to celebrate National Bee Week.