Knapp Ranch is all about the bees’ needs
Vail Valley ranch takes a European approach to promoting welfare of this keystone species
EDWARDS — Carmen Weiland believes we need to do better by our bees.
In her position as beekeeper, and director of estate operations, at the Knapp Ranch up Lake Creek she is doing just that.
“Bees are a keystone species, vital for the survival of the planet,” Weiland said.
Up at the Knapp Ranch, Carniolan honey bees live and work in Slovenian-styled hives. They are a breed that thrives through long winter and short, hot summer conditions. Their European hives sit on stilts a few feet off the ground, with brightly colored front entrance areas where bees can slip into the hive but larger flying insects can’t.
When it comes time to harvest honey, wax or any one of the 15 different products that humans get from bees, Weiland opens a back hatch that allows her easy access without disturbing the hive. The hives are set in the shade so the bees don’t have to expend valuable energy bringing water to the hive to cool it down.
In short, Weiland does her level best to make sure her bees’ needs are met because a happy hive is a productive one.
“It is just so incredibly easy to work with them this way because the bees aren’t getting attacked. They are in a more calm environment this way,” Weiland said.
“The Europeans are smart about their bees,” she continued. “There’s a saying that to be a Slovenian is to be a beekeeper. People there do beekeeping until they die and they start to learn about beekeeping in elementary school because they want to educate the next generation.”
Weiland traveled to Slovenia to learn her beekeeping craft and now she envisions spreading those lessons valleywide.
Battling colony collapse
The Knapp Ranch Slovenian style hives aren’t restricted to the ranch property. Weiland oversees a network of four sets of hives located around the Lake Creek Valley. She envisions expanding the colony throughout Eagle County.
“I am trying to place them every two miles or so,” Weiland said.
Weiland said she hasn’t experienced issues with colony collapse, a worldwide bee issue that beekeepers began reporting back in 2006-07. She believes in large part, that’s because the Knapp Ranch is a pesticide-free environment. But even beyond the hives she cares for, Weiland is an advocate for better bee conditions planetwide.
Weiland collaborated with a local student, Emma Blakslee, to author a how-to booklet titled “Simply Bee.” The booklet educates the reader about the importance of bees and provides a primer on how to support local pollinators. The booklet also offers recipes for DIY weed killer (1 gallon of 5% or storing vinegar, one cup of Castile soap and one garden sprayer), honey orange cake, sweet honey cookies, and healing honey lip balm.
For anyone interested in starting up a backyard beehive, Weiland offered a word of caution and a bit of advice.
“Backyard beekeepers should educate themselves a bit before launching a project. Otherwise, their bees will just die and they could end up spreading disease,” she said.
“In the bee world, they say you can make bees or you can make honey. You can’t do both,” Weiland continued.
This summer, she is in the bee-growing business. While Knapp Ranch honey is available at Hovey and Harrison, don’t expect a lot of product on the shelves this year as Weiland concentrates her energy on populating new colonies.
The cost to set up one of the Slovenia hives is $5,000. That includes the hive structure, a bee colony and weekly visits from Weiland. For the first year, the owner won’t get any honey, but during year two, the owner gets to keep all of the honey produced by the hive. From then on, Knapp Ranch and the hive owner split the honey crop.
In addition to the honey, Weiland harvests several hive products and concocts soothing salves and balms.
“There are also tons of studies going on right now about the benefits of bee venom,” she added.
Even the very air around a hive has health benefits, she noted. “Bee air contains purifying nutrients and enzymes that can be used to treat depression, asthma, chronic inflammation, migraines, and many other ailments,” she noted in “Simply Bee.”
With all they give us, Weiland believes everyone should make an effort to meet bees needs and support their local pollinators.
“We need to get Americans to love their bees,” Weiland concluded.
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.