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Valley beekeepers preparing for new year

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January is the start of the beekeeping year. It is the time for making plans and ordering bees.

Jacob Wustner, president of the Beekeepers of the Bitterroot, said this is a good time for anyone interested in beekeeping to begin the rewarding hobby or venture.

“We’re finalizing orders for the club, but we’re also having a free workshop for beginning beekeepers that are just starting out,” Wustner said. “We encourage people to get support and learn the resources to be successful at beekeeping.”

Beekeepers of the Bitterroot will host a free informational meeting and workshop on Jan. 9. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m., and the workshop will start at 10:30 a.m.

“I’ll run people through a bee overview,” Wustner said. “It is a crash course for people just starting and who have a lot of questions. It’s not a complete course but a start in the right direction.”

Wustner said the bee year is busy but rewarding. In January, beekeepers must order bees, medication and extracting equipment. In February and March, they must build hives and finalize preparations. The bees arrive in April and grow May through July. Honey harvest happens in August, if it is the second year of production and the bees will not need the honey to live on during the winter. In the fall, beekeepers treat bees for diseases and mites. It is important to insulate the hives for winter; commercial beekeepers round up their bees and ship them to warmer climates.

“Once it gets below 45 or 50 degrees, you don’t want to be working the bees,” Wustner said. “They’ll just be angry that you’re opening their home in the cold.”

The Montana Department of Agriculture lists bees as livestock. The department’s apiary program has four types of registration: general, pollination, landowner and hobbyist.

Wustner advises ordering bees now because there are more options on where and how to purchase them.

“The bee industry is up and down every year and you do not know what will be available in the spring,” Wustner said. “Beekeepers know to start planning in January because there is usually a loss every year due to starvation or disease. Losses can be 50 percent.”

Wustner said bees need room to grow and multiply, so it is important to have all the equipment early in the year.

“Once the weather warms up, the bees will start growing rapidly since there is plenty of nectar and pollen,” Wustner said. “Check them every two to three weeks to see if they need more room. If they run out of room they may swarm, which is when they raise a new queen or the old one will fly away. The majority of bees will go with the queen to look for a large enough hive.”

Beekeepers of the Bitterroot meet 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the second Saturday of every month at Canyon View Church on Skalkaho Highway in Hamilton. The group of experienced beekeepers offers mentoring advice.

“The workshop is free, and everyone is welcome to come and check it out to see if they want to join,” Wustner said. “If they want to join, there are dues of $25 per person or family.”

Register for the workshop by calling Wustner at 406-370-9089 or visit

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or


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