One of the state’s popular honey producers located in Canon City, Burley Bees Apiary is home to more than 150 colonies that produce high quality Colorado wildflower honey. Their bees gather pollen and nectar from 250 Honeycrisp apple trees, other various fruit trees, clover, and native wildflowers.
They produce 600 to 3000lbs of honey annually. This high fluctuation is due to the weather and drought conditions throughout the year.
When Did Colorado Begin Producing Honey?
The Colorado State Beekeepers’ Association (CSBA) was founded in Denver in 1880. Toward the end of that decade, Experiments in Apiary was published in 1887 by a horticulturalist named C. Max Brose.
The Johnston Honey Farm was one of the first commercial honey sellers, and it got its start in 1908 when a beekeeper named Walter Leckenby would sell honey from a wagon parked in front of his house. The farm is still in business today.
By 1923, Colorado was home to over 1,000 honey bee colonies and produced between five and six million pounds of honey per year.
What Are the Main Types of Honey Colorado Produces?
Alfalfa is abundant in Colorado, so many of the local honey producers include alfalfa honey as one of the varieties they sell. Clover is also a common foraging plant. But alfalfa and clover are usually foraging materials for the bees that pollinate larger, commercial farms.
Smaller beekeeping operations sell wildflower honey because their bees are likely to have easy access to those plants.
Is Colorado Honey Produced All Year Round, or Is It Seasonal?
Nectar flow in Colorado typically occurs two times during the year. The more significant flow happens in summer, and a smaller one comes closer to the fall.
Beekeepers usually harvest their honey during August and aim to keep 100 pounds of honey in the hive by the time November arrives, so that the bees can survive during the winter.
Some beekeepers choose to send their bees to a warmer climate during the winter, and many choose California to overwinter their bees. This move has the added benefit of providing California almond growers with more pollinators during November and December.
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Colorado?
Some of the larger bee and honey suppliers in Colorado include:
- Bjorn’s Colorado Honey
- Clarks of Colorado
- Bee Squared Apiaries
- Burley Bees
- Copoco’s Honey
- Highland Honey
- Johnston Farms
- Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey
- Rocky Mountain Bee Supply
Which Species of Bees Create Colorado Honey?
In Colorado, honey bees pollinate 30% of commercial crops. The state relies on the bees to pollinate alfalfa, apples, cherries, melons, peaches, and pumpkins, to name a few.
Speaking with Clark Sloan from Clarks of Colorado he let us know that:
“Alfalfa, at least in Colorado, is a crop that to my knowledge, is not harvested for its seed, but rather its bulk tonnage for feed in the livestock industry requiring no cross-pollination.”
“It does however need to be cross-pollinated if harvested for seed.”
“Unfortunately, many western alfalfa seed producers will use leafcutter bees for cross-pollination instead of honey bees, as they are not efficient pollinators for this particular crop.”
In 2019, Colorado produced 1,472,000 pounds of honey, sourced from 32,000 hives.
While Colorado is home to several native bees, the honey bees used to make honey are not native to the U.S. They were brought here in the 1600s by European settlers.
The bees used to make honey in Colorado are mainly European Honey Bees of Italian descent (Apis mellifera ligustica) and Carniolan bees (Apis mellifera carnica) that are natives of the Balkan region.
Italian bees can be more docile and easy to manage, however, catch any hive of bees at the wrong time and things won’t end well. Carniolan bees are often selected because they are better adapted to cool and wet weather conditions.
Clark told us his opinion on the species of bees used in Colorado:
“I have always chosen to use the Italian strain (of bees) because they build up large numbers quickly which is advantageous in producing honey.”
“This also serves as an advantage in almond pollination due to the fact that almond growers don’t necessarily inspect the hives themselves, but will drive through the orchard looking for bee activity at the entrance of the hive.
“The more bees the grower sees at the front entrance, the more confidence he will have in knowing that his crop will get pollinated.”
Which Native Coloradan Plants Are Attractive to Honey Bees?
|Yarrow - Achillea millefolium||Blue Giant Hyssop - Agastache foeniculum|
|Nodding Onion - Allium cernuum||Serviceberry - Amelanchier alnifolia|
|Lead Plant - Amorpha canescens||Pearly everlasting - Anaphalis margaritacea|
|Showy milkweed - Asclepias speciosa||Winecups - Callirhoe involucrata|
|Harebells - Campanula rotundifolia||Rabbitbrush - Chrysothamnus nauseosus|
|Pasque flower – Pulsatilla patens||Chokecherry - Prunus virginiana|
|Boulder raspberry - Rubus deliciosus||Coneflowers - Rudbeckia species|
|Rocky Mountain bee plant - Cleome serrulata||Blanket flower - Gaillardia aristata|
|Asters - Symphyotrichum species||Goldenrod - Solidago species|
|Wild Daisies - Verbesina species||Common sunflower - Helianthus annuus|
Also, varieties of sage (Salvia), flowering trees (black locust, linden locust), and flowering fruit trees (apple, cherry, peach, plum) are sought out by honeybees.
What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Produce Colorado’s Honey?
Just as in other states, honey production relies foremost on honey bees’ access to foraging material and a reliable water source. But it’s the guidance from government officials that makes it possible to effectively manage a honey operation.
The state of Colorado does not require beekeepers to register, but they must adhere to rules instituted by local municipalities or counties. The laws are there to ensure beekeepers will be responsible hive managers and take steps to protect their bees and be good neighbors.
Hive location must be considered so that bees can easily access plants while not becoming a threat to the community. Beekeepers must make sure that flight paths do not interfere with public roads or sidewalks, and those bees are safe from areas where insecticide use may be substantial.
The Colorado State Beekeepers’ Association includes information about a mapping system that beekeepers can use to inform insecticide spray applicators about their hives’ locations.
Water should be readily available to bees, but it must also be kept clean and mosquito-free. One of the most important reasons for ensuring a nearby dedicated water source is so that bees won’t go searching for water in a neighbor’s hot tub or swimming pool, for example.
While local governments cannot demand that beekeepers keep good records, they advise that the best way to ensure that the bees remain healthy is to conduct regular inspections for pests or mites.
Beekeepers must continue to educate themselves about the potential threats to their bee stock because bee health ultimately affects honey quality. An easy clean-up protocol can help prevent honey-robbing, and beekeepers should follow recommendations for protecting their hives from predators like skunks, raccoons, mice, and bears.
It can be as simple as putting the hives on cinder blocks to raise them above the ground or securing the hive lids with heavy objects so they cannot be easily lifted or blown away by strong winds. But if bears are posing a real threat, it may be necessary to install an electric fence.
Africanized Honey Bees – although not as big of a threat in Colorado as they are in warmer regions – were first found in the state in 2014, and beekeepers must remain vigilant to prevent these aggressive bees from taking over their hives. Beekeepers must also work to prevent or minimize swarming due to its perceived threat to the neighboring community.
Crowding and congestion lead to swarms, so beekeepers must be ready to add boxes for brood rearing. Colorado’s mountainous areas require beekeepers about 8,000 feet to manage their bees differently than the apiaries at a lower altitude. In the mountains, the honey season is shorter, so beekeepers should consider their bees’ winter needs when harvesting honey.
The hives also require insulation and should be wrapped in September. The wrap must protect the bees while also allowing moisture to escape. Beekeepers must be mindful of hive placement during the dormant season, as snowdrifts are a bigger threat in the mountains.
Of course, beekeepers can also choose to “winter” their bees in a warmer location. While honey bees are not as threatened as native bees by an increase in urban and suburban development, honey production has dramatically decreased in Colorado during the past two decades.
Community developers – and local citizens – should continue their efforts to plant gardens whenever and wherever possible.