‘Soulmates’ grow Outlaw Apiaries to 500 hives across Routt County

Outlaw Apiaries started in 2017 with 20 hives. When each hive was strong enough, Perry and Bethany would split it and introduce a new queen, until each half was strong enough to be split again. Through this process, Outlaw is now up to keeping 500 hives.
Bethany Karulak-Baker

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Bethany Karulak-Baker has spent most of her life traveling the globe. She studied in Göttingen, Germany, she lived on Easter Island for three months and she coached the Brazilian Olympic snowboard cross team. But she always felt something was missing.

She wanted someone to share memories and reminisce with; she wanted to work side by side with someone to build a career — something that could become their “own little empire.” 

In April 2016, she met Perry Baker. The fact soon surfaced that he’d apprenticed under Steamboat Springs’s 30-year beekeeper Pat Shalks, of Bear River Apiary. Perry’s father had also done beekeeping, as had Bethany’s grandfather.

“When we met, we said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Karulak-Baker recalled. “I knew I could turn this into something we do together. I knew that I had found my soulmate.” 

They got right to work. Outlaw Apiaries was founded in September 2017, with 20 hives. The couple quickly grew that number.

Once a hive is strong enough, it’s split in two, and a new queen is introduced to the queen-less half. Once both hive halves grow strong enough on their own, they’re split again. Through this process, Outlaw Apiaries achieved its current stock of 500 hives. 

These 25 million bees live in Colorado from May through September. Their hives are established throughout Routt County, generally along U.S. Highway 40 and the Yampa River.

“If you see hives near your home, (the bees) are likely foraging off the foliage in your yard,” Karulak-Baker said.

Outlaw Apiaries 101

Top Seller: Dried apple and cinnamon stick
Coming soon: Blackberry creamed honey
What customers love most about the market booth: Observing the live hive that accompanies Outlaw Apiaries every Saturday
Find Outlaw Apiaries products: At the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market during the summer and at Elevated Olive and Homesteader year-round

All summer long, the bees travel three miles in every direction from their hives, gathering pollen and nectar. Karulak-Baker, Baker and their five apprentices and employees support and take care of the bees by maintaining protective fencing around hives against bears and skunks and constantly checking in on honey flow, hive size and hive health. Last summer, which was especially dry, they also supplied hives with barrels of water. 

“We could absolutely not run this business without (the five apprentices and employees), who work tirelessly to help,” Karulak-Baker said. “It would be impossible.”

Most of the Outlaw Apiaries hives live on ranches and farms. It’s a win-win situation: the bees get real estate lush with plants and open space, and the farms’ and ranches’ crops and plants get thoroughly pollinated. 

Outlaw Apiaries’ tips for saving and supporting local bees

• If you find a swarm or a hive on your property or elsewhere, call a beekeeper to remove it, rather than having it killed. That way, the bees can be re-hived and re-queened, and continue living and contributing to the ecosystem.
Plant for honeybees and all other types of pollinators on your property: native or non-invasive flowering plants that will provide food for the bees.
• Minimize or, if possible, stop the use of herbicides and pesticides. These chemicals are harmful to the honeybee.
• Reach out to friends and neighbors and talk to them about taking steps to protect the honeybee population.

“Because local farmers primarily grow clover and alfalfa to feed their livestock, that’s what our bees feed off,” Karulak-Baker said. “That makes for a warm, beautiful, golden honey.” 

The apiary sweetens the deal further by sending participating landowners a case of local honey for their part in housing the bees.  

But before that can happen, the honey needs to be processed, which takes place in August and September. The frames are taken out of the hives and the top layer of capping — wax over cured honey cells — is removed. A machine spins the honey out into a barrel, where it’s strained to catch wax bits and other impurities, before it’s put into a quaint glass jar and stuck with a label designed by Granby-based Janzy Crane. 

Outlaw Apiaries’ hives get packed up and shipped via semi-truck to California for the winter, where they participate in almond pollination, before returning home to Routt County for the warmer months.
Bethany Karulak-Baker

Around the same time that honey processing is beginning, the bees get packed up and take a ride on a semi-truck to warm, sunny California, where they spend their winter participating in almond pollination — all except five hives, which get to stay back in snowy Colorado for the colder months.

“At this elevation, they’re pretty self-sufficient,” Karulak-Baker said. 

The crew of Outlaw Apiaries spends the colder months focusing on their non-apiary work — at Yampa Valley Electric Association for Baker, finishing a dissertation in sports psychology for Karulak-Baker. They also enjoy spending time with their two young children, skiing, boarding horses and keeping chickens. They also have apple trees, which have recently led to an exciting new honey recipe.

Outlaw Apiaries honey is available at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market throughout the summer, as well as Elevated Olive and Homesteader Kitchen and Candy year-round.
Photo courtesy of Bethany Karulak-Baker

“We had all these excess apples from our apple trees,” Karulak-Baker said. “They were so good, but as a family of four, you can only eat so many.”

Two years ago, she started tinkering with the idea, then the recipe, of infusing Outlaw honey with dehydrated honey crisp apples and crushed organic cinnamon sticks. It took two years to work out the perfect formula, but she did it — the secret is to let the concoction bask in the sun, in a glass jar, and rotate it once a day for two weeks.

Released several weeks ago, jars of Dried Apple and Cinnamon Stick Honey are now a top seller at the Outlaw Apiaries booth at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market. Karulak-Baker is also working on finishing up a batch of Blackberry Creamed Honey, which will be re-released in the coming weeks. 

Outlaw Apiaries’ 500 beehives are dispersed throughout Routt County. The hives are often placed on ranch and farm land, where the bees pollinate.
Bethany Karulak-Baker

In addition to selling their honey, Karulak-Baker, Baker and their bees have another work venture: a project called Bee the Future. In this project, which started this year, anyone who is school-aged in Routt County is welcome to visit Outlaw Apiaries to observe the bees in action.

“We have a 10-frame observation bee hive in our living room,” Karulak-Baker said. “It’s like a science lab.” 

They also have a traveling observation hive, which can visit local schools. 

Outlaw Apiaries co-owner Perry Baker and son Nicolás with their hives that stay in Routt County year-round.
Bethany Karulak-Baker

“We’re trying to get children and adolescents to be more aware of the declining bee population and how important (the bees) are in the world,” Karulak-Baker said.

Part of the program is a certification that participants earn. Karulak-Baker also aims to eventually offer a Bee the Future scholarship.

It’s all been a huge undertaking, but the Outlaw Apiaries team is proud of themselves, and feel the venture has been a “massive success.”

Bethany Karulak-Baker smiles next to a swarm. “Swarms are completely docile,” she said. “You can touch them and rub your face in them, and they will not sting you. That is why I am close to them without wearing any gear. This is another reason why you shouldn’t worry if you see a swarm in the wild. The bees have nothing to protect (no honey) as they are looking for a new home.”
Perry Baker

“We work every step of the way together,” Karulak-Baker said. “It is challenging work, beginning before the sun comes up, lifting 60 pounds at a time routinely, wearing heavy layers of clothing under the heat of the midday sun, getting stung dozens of times a day, and often not sitting down together until dusk. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Find Outlaw Apiaries at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market on Saturdays through Sept. 21, and Outlaw Apiaries products at Elevated Olive and Homesteader year-round.

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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