In the land of honey and mountains
Story and photos by JESSICA LOWRY
The honeybees in Babb have a busy travel itinerary to keep.
They wake during the summer to sunrises in fields of clover and alfalfa with sweeping views of Chief Mountain and Glacier National Park.
When the constant wind turns cold, they hit to road to spend the winter months in the south, enjoying time under the branches of almond trees in a California orchard.
What sounds like a schedule fit for Hollywood elite is just an average year for the bees inside the 1,500 hives owned by Glacier County Honey.
For much of the year, the company’s brightly colored bee boxes dot the lush landscape in a vibrant confetti of mustard, cobalt and rust outside Babb.
In a white T-shirt and jeans, Glacier County Honey co-owner Greg Fullerton, 30, weaves between the colorful rows of hives and thru humming clouds of bees.
A protective bee net hangs loosely from Greg’s worn baseball cap as he and his crew work to remove boxes brimming with honey and wax and replace them with empty ones.
“I grew up with it,” said Greg of how he got into the beekeeping business.
The buzz on Glacier County’s bees: Courtney and Greg Fullerton to tell us a little more about the bees that make their honey:
What kind of bees do you keep at Glacier County Honey?
What is the lifespan of a bee?
Lifespan of a bee depends on the time of year – in summer, they’re working so hard some literally fly their wings off, and can expect to live about 3 weeks. But once the queen shuts down production in preparation for winter, they’ll live through the winter.
How many bees help make Glacier County Honey?
In the summer months, about 90 million bees at any given time help make Glacier County (and Chief Mountain) honey.
What is your favorite fact about bees that many people don’t know?
Bees communicate with each other by dancing.
There are lots of different types of dances, but our favorite is the Waggle Dance – when a worker bee finds a good nectar source, like a field of alfalfa, she comes back to the hive and does a dance, using the sun as a compass, and tells the other bees where to find this nectar. All worker bees are female. The males are really only around for mating purposes, they don’t even have a stinger, and when they become a burden to the hive – in the winter – the workers kick them out of the hive to die.
Also, bees don’t gather honey, bees make honey. They bring nectar back to the hive in a special honey stomach (they also bring back pollen in “chaps” or pockets on their legs) and they add some special enzymes and fan the nectar down to make honey in the honeycomb that they build in their hive (they have wax secreting glands on their backs).
Bees make honey to eat honey (that’s what they live on), but given the right amount of space and forage and weather, they’ll make more than they could ever need to survive, hence, the possibility of commercial beekeeping.
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