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Springs moves closer to allowing more beehives

Honey, honey

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An allowance for more hives means more pollinators. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • An allowance for more hives means more pollinators.
Every third sip of coffee and every third bite of food is a gift from the bees, concerned local Kevin Bright told the Independent following a recent Colorado Springs City Council meeting. So Bright has something to smile about: This summer, there may be a few more pollinators finding their way around the city.

The city’s beekeepers are buzzing about an amendment to an ordinance that passed its first Council vote unanimously on Jan. 23. The second and final vote will take place at the Feb. 13 Council meeting. The amendment strikes the city’s previous allocation of one hive per property and expands it to two or more hives, depending on the size of the property. The amendment also creates more guidelines for beekeepers. For example, a fresh water source must be located 5 feet from the hives, and flyway barriers must be installed within 5 feet of the hive entrance.

Jill Gaebler, president pro-tem of Council, was instrumental in passing the amendment. “I have cared a lot about local food production and about increasing the accessibility of our own yards for use in food production,” she says.

In her years on Council, Gaebler has also helped pass ordinances that allow residents to keep goats and sell home-grown and homemade food from their front steps.

A single hive can be a huge source of local food, able to produce about 35 pounds of honey, or more than 3 gallons, in an average year, depending on our moisture levels.

Beyond supporting local food production, Gaebler sees this as a way to help the overall bee population. Since the amendment was introduced, Gaebler says she’s been trying to persuade her husband to get their own hive.

“I don’t think a lot of our community realize how scarce the bees are,” Gaebler says. “They are losing in numbers around the world. It really is important for us to be supporting our pollinators.”

Having more than one hive is important for beekeepers to ensure their hives are thriving, says Mike Halby, secretary of the Pikes Peak Beekeeping Association, the organization that pushed for the amendment. With two colonies, a beekeeper can compare to see if a colony may need additional support when it falls behind.

Halby says that hives are fairly small. The stacked boxes measure approximately 19 inches by 13 inches. However, depending on the time of year, colonies can play host to tens of thousands of bees.
Though they are not considered to be endangered, Halby says that due to mites, natural predators such as bears or wasps, the use of insecticides and the loss of habitat, bees are under pressure.

“We need to help keep the population up to pollinate the flowers, plants, vegetable gardens and crops,” he says. “We need to boost the numbers to help the species.”

Almost all produce depends on bee pollination. According to local beekeeper and owner of Black Forest Honey, John Hartley, California’s almond pollination alone requires 1.9 million hives.

Hartley says beekeepers in Colorado face the additional challenges of higher elevation, difficult winters and predators. The bears and skunks common to the Front Range eat bees, not just their honey. Bee larvae have more protein than honey, making them nutritious for animals able to brave the stings.

Still another threat to bees is people’s fear of them. Halby knows that people are afraid of bees, but believes that their fear comes from a lack of education. Bees are not aggressive until they deem something is a danger to their hive.

“Honey bees don’t have the best of interest in stinging you,” Halby says. “After they sting you, they may fly away, but they will die soon after.”

Part of the problem is that people mistake a sting from a similar-looking insect for a bee sting. Colorado State Extension Service published a study that showed that 90 percent of stings in Colorado were due to yellow jackets or wasps, not bees.

Though local beehives are typically not a nuisance for nearby households, Halby encourages beekeepers to be good neighbors.

“A jar of honey over the back fence is always good public relations,” he says.

Not everyone who supports the city’s growing acceptance of beekeeping, and urban farming in general, is personally involved.

Bright, who enthusiastically attended Council’s Jan. 23 meeting and thanked the board for their initial approval of the beehive amendment, has no beehives of her own. She says she fell in love with the insects after watching them dance around Russian sage plants on South Academy Boulevard in 2015. Since then, she has dedicated her time to researching bees and advocating for them through education and even paid advertisement on a metro bus stop.

Though she lives in an apartment and cannot afford a hive of her own, she does her own “beekeeping” by spreading awareness.

“All I was doing was appreciating their wildness,” Bright says. “I eat food and I drink coffee, so I am a beekeeper. We are all beekeepers.”

Wondering how many hives you can have? It depends on the size of your property.

  • Less than 10,000 square feet: two hives
  • Between 10,000 square feet and 1 acre: four hives
  • Between 1 and 2 acres: five hives
  • Between 2 and 3 acres: six hives
  • Between 3 and 4 acres: seven hives
  • Between 4 and 5 acres: eight hives
  • More than 5 acres: unlimited hives

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