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Sweet Life of Bees, Year Two

Join us as we follow our new colleagues—the bees—through their second year homesteading in the Rock Creek Valley. The story is in reverse chronological order so scroll down to start from the beginning, or read more about their first year on The Ranch.  

Chapter Two: A Live Hive That Thrives

by Kelsey Bruns, Beekeeper, Master Naturalist and Little Grizzlies Kids Club Coordinator

Spring Turns to Summer

Spring in Rock Creek Valley was quite a dramatic season. This past winter we had an above average snow pack and thus, in return, we have had an extended high water season for Rock Creek. We hope the extra precipitation will mean a healthier eco-system in the long run.

A honeybee on a rosebush. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

Now that the water is down, the fly fishing is up! As spring progresses into summer, the hives are busy, gathering pollen and trying to recuperate from the long winter.

Beekeeper Kelsey fishing in Southwest Montana.

Restorative Treatment

Winter is always difficult for the honeybees. Long periods of cold weather can be stressful for the hive. You could liken it to how humans are susceptible to a common cold in the winter. These harsh conditions can induce disease, which the hive often finds difficult to recover from.

The hive with a pollen patty – a great food supplement for a healthy hive. Photo by Kelsey Bruns. 

Since the arrival of the hives back to The Ranch from their winter home in the Bitterroot Valley, I have managed these setbacks with long visits to the hives to feed them sugar syrup and pollen supplements. These two items are like super foods to the hives, which give them energy and the boost they need in preparation of the nectar flow.

Live Hive at Five

Now that summer is here, the hives are well on their way to produce a new and exciting honey that will be beautifully unique to the 2018 Montana summer. In addition to our honey production, I will be hosting “Live Hive at Five” every Thursday evening. During cocktail hour guests will be able to view our observation hive and chat with me about all things bees as they enjoy a honey-inspired drink.

The Live Hive at Five event taking place every Thursday in the summer. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

A Live Hive at Five cocktail featuring Ranch honey and Willie’s Distillery Montana Honey Moonshine. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

Cheers to summer and to the bees!

Chapter One: Our Montana Apiary Story

Winter is a time to slow down here in Montana. Since my last blog, the snow has flown and settled in our mountains and valleys. Our local ski hill, Discovery Ski Area, has had excellent snowfall. We included downhill skiing and snowboarding in our activities program this year, so our guests have enjoyed the powder and pack for over four frosty months.

Bluebird days at Discovery Ski Area mean that spring is right around the corner! Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

But as our days become longer, the sun will shine a little warmer. The snow will eventually disappear and our bees will be coming out of their winter slumber. Spring means the continuation of one of my favorite facets of our sustainability program.

Wintering the Bees

It turns out our bees are travelers at heart, just like us. Since November an apple orchardist in the Bitterroot Valley has kindly hosted our bees. The bees and I are so grateful for these connections to local farmers.

I visited our bees with my beekeeper friend a few weeks ago. We managed to find a day in March where the sun was shining at about 40 degrees, which allowed us a quick look at the hive population and the food storage weight of the hives. To our delight, the bees are all present and accounted for. They have survived the harshest of Montana winter months, with many negative digit days!

Our bees buzz amongst the apple trees. Hive numbers are great after the winter. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

This visit was reassuring because I now know that I left enough honey in the hive for the bees to survive for four months without a nectar flow! Now, and until the apple blossoms bloom, we will keep our eye on them for food stores and bring them back to the Rock Creek Valley by May.

Rolling into Spring

Now that winter is coming to a close and we are quickly rolling into spring, I am grateful for a successful first honeybee season here at The Ranch. It would not be possible without the support of The Ranch at Rock Creek team and our local farmers.

Having a winter home for the bees in the Bitterroot Valley and the support of a fellow apiarist has been greatly helpful. It has been imperative for the health of our hives, and I’ve had the opportunity to continue learning from a veteran beekeeper.

Visiting the bees in the Bitterroot Valley orchard. A proud moment to find out our hives have thrived!

So the next time you may find yourself at a local farmer’s market, shake your local farmer’s hand and say, “Thanks!” They support our local economy, and they help our communities to be healthy and happy. A heartfelt “Thank You” (and perhaps a produce purchase) will show them that their hard work is deeply appreciated.

Ranchers Myron Weirich and Apiarist Kelsey Bruns escort the bees back home. Photo by Myron Weirich.

This second year will give our honeybee sustainability program a chance to have even greater impact on the landscape, and it will give our Relais & Châteaux culinary team more chances to work their magic with this uber local crop.

Read Volume I to learn more about how our honeybees homesteaded in the Rock Creek Valley.