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Colorado Mountain College beekeeping club prepares for hives on campus

Michael Schrantz
Alex Pond
John F. Russell

— By the time the Colorado Mountain College beekeeping club in Steamboat Springs gets its first taste of honey, it will have been a project three years in the making.

What started as a student’s final project for a degree in sustainability studies evolved into a club that is in its second year and is building and installing the infrastructure for bee hives at CMC’s Alpine Campus for years to come.

On Thursday, members of the beekeeping club and students from a general biology class were planting mountain lupine and purple coneflower (echinacea) seeds throughout the campus to provide food for the bees, which should arrive during the spring.

Tina Evans, a sustainability professor and adviser for the club, said the echinacea is a late bloomer and will provide something for the bees toward the end of the season.

The planting has to be done now because the lupine seed has a hard shell and needs the freezing and thawing cycle of winter to break that shell, Evans said.

The students spread throughout the campus with small envelopes of seeds and Popsicle sticks to assist their planting.

Evans told the group to lightly press the seeds into the ground — not too deep but with the eventual runoff in mind.

Further down the hill, a group of club members was measuring a space to eventually place the two hives that largely have been assembled. An electric fence is needed to keep bears from reaching the hives, and another fence might be needed to prevent people from reaching the electric fence.

The two hives came as kits and were assembled by the students during the past year. The bottom two sections of the stack that forms the hive are for the bees to build their own food supply to last the winter, Evans said, and the topmost, smaller section will be the eventual harvest.

European honeybees are slated to be the tenants of the two hives, with a beekeeper in Denver delivering the specific type in April.

While it’ll be the same type of bees in both hives, said Jake McCoola, an alumnus and co-founder of the club, each will develop its own personality.

The club will use cut comb honey to start, Evans said, and the bees will build on an edible beeswax sheet in a frame. The sheet with its season’s worth of work then would be cut into sections for the final product.

Evans doesn’t predict the bees will be able to produce enough honey to harvest until spring 2015.

The club received funding from the state for agricultural production and from CMC’s student activities budget. It also held a fundraiser last year with a movie screening and has another fundraising event coming up.

On Nov. 14, the group will screen the film “Saving the Life Keepers,” which offers practical solutions for protecting bee populations, with a beekeeper speaker at 6 p.m. and a book sale from 1 to 5 p.m. at the CMC auditorium.

What will be done with the honey that eventually will come from the club’s endeavors remains to be seen. There are hopes for a connection with the college’s culinary program, Evans said, and there are rules that govern how raw honey can be sold.

In the meantime, the club is meeting about every other week and has plenty of tasks ahead for the winter.

Most of the work is geared toward getting the hives up and running, club member Alex Orton said.

“A lot of people are excited at the prospect of bees here,” he said about the CMC project.

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz


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