bees

Fred Boyle and Vicki Hawse inspecting partially developed honeybee colonies known as ‘nucs’ (for nucleus colonies) on their arrival at the Ridgway Community Apiary. (Photo courtesy of Angela Hawse)

They arrived not one-by-one, but by the thousands upon thousands.

Ridgway local Angela Hawse, whose idea it was to start a new community apiary, said more than 100,000 honeybees are now in residence in a group of hives just down the way from the Ridgway Community Garden.

In the short time since the bees have been here — they arrived in mid-May, supplied by hive master Fred Boyle, who has been tending bees for decades — they’ve garnered a group of enthusiastic followers on Facebook: members of the Ridgway Community Apiary, who hope to raise awareness of the importance of these pollinators on Earth, and more specifically, in this region.

The bees are small, just half-an-inch or so in length, but they have an outsized purpose. Pollinators are critical to agriculture, ecosystems and the global food supply. It’s been estimated that one out of every three bites of food relies on pollinators, according to the multinational chemical company BASF, “including many of our favorite fruits, vegetables and nuts.”

Ridgway’s apiary will not use chemicals in the cultivation of either the bees themselves nor any surrounding plants.

“Our style of bee-hosting is treatment-free,” Hawse said, “which is along the lines of the town,” which does not permit the use of chemicals in its parks.

Hawse’s sister, Vicki, who also lives in Ridgway, raises bees. The more Hawse watched, and observed the satisfactions of raising these industrious insects, the more she not only wanted to raise bees herself, she also came to believe the community would benefit from having an apiary. When she proposed the idea last September, the reply was swift, and enthusiastic: If you can sublease the space from the Ridgway Community Garden, “the town said they would be thrilled,” Hawse recalled.

That was the easy part. The more difficult bit has come recently: preparing a space for the hives, which has involved electric fencing (to keep wayward black bears away) and then adding yet more fencing, to protect curious humans from being shocked by the electric fence.

Along with founding members Fred Boyle and Judy Hazen, the Hawse sisters worked with the Southwest Institute for Resilience, which is based in Telluride, to gain nonprofit status for the new venture. Visitors are welcome at the new apiary, but you need a community member to let you in. Pets must remain outside.

“The high school helped us with post-hole digging and fence posts,” Hawse said. A generous local, Dana Ivers, donated fencing. Even the fence posts are recycled: “They’re from a bridge that the town is replacing planks for” in Cottonwood Park, Hawse said. “It took us three solid weeks of fence-building — measuring, and digging posts,” and portioning out space between hives.

The bees that reside in these hives, mostly Apis mellifera carnica, better known as Carniolan honeybees, were selected specifically for what in a human might be considered exemplary Ridgway citizen behavior: They have mellow temperaments, and thrive in harsh winters (Wikipedia describes the species as “extremely gentle in its behavior toward beekeepers” and “not … prone to rob honey” from others).

“I don’t know anything about bees, and I won’t have a hive, but I support the apiary,” Ridgway resident Beth Jones said. “We have a lot of bees in our yard, but we don’t think about what’s happening to bees globally.”

National agricultural statistics show a 60 percent decline in honeybee hives between 1947 and 2008, and a nearly 50 percent decline in bumblebees.

The good news: As the number of bees has declined, there’s been increasing interest in planting gardens to attract them. The Wilkinson Public Library will host a discussion for “beekeepers and would-be beekeepers” on this subject, titled “Hive Mind,” later this month.

Ridgway’s apiary is starting small, with just a handful of bee abodes (nevertheless home to tens of thousands of tiny residents, flitting in and out). “There’s not a lot to see right now,” Jones said frankly, “except for the structures in the apiary” which serve as hives. “But if you can let your mind wander and fast-forward three years, the landscaping will be built out, and it will be a pretty place to walk by.”

Well before that, Hawse envisions it as a place of education, not only about pollinators’ crucial place in the global habitat, but also as a spot to observe the behavior of the insects themselves.

“There’s so much to learn,” she said.

“There are endless things,” founding member Judy Hazen agreed. “Fred has tended bees for over 50 years, and he says there are no absolutes with bees. There are only possibilities. You watch them, and you learn about what you can do to help them survive. If we don’t have bees to pollinate our food sources, we’re in big trouble.”

Hazen has been beguiled by the bees’ behavior. “I grew up allergic to stinging insects,” she said. “It turns out it was wasps and hornets that stung. Honeybees are unique; they’re generally very sweet and not aggressive. Everybody has their job; everybody does their job; they all get along like one big happy family. We need them desperately, and they’re in danger. We all need to do every thing we can to help the bees.”

To learn more about the Ridgway Community Apiary, become a member or make a donation to the apiary’s Wish List, visit Ridgway Community Apiary on Facebook.