Bee sweetness gathers at Honey House from everywhere, Snowmass to California’s Central Valley
The honey comes from all over, Snowmass through the Roaring Fork, the high forest, California’s low Central Valley, and out to Meeker and Hayden.
And winds up in an unassuming shack off a country road in Silt near Exit 97 off I-70. That’s the Honey House, part of a hive of activity known as Colorado Mountain Honey.
The Honey House is where you’ll find eight varieties of honey to choose from, such as Trappers Lake fireweed and White River National Forest high altitude wildflower, Meeker to Hayden blend, dark amber wildflower, rabbitbrush honey and more.
The Honey House is an honor system operation. Take what you want, leave cash or Venmo (a digital wallet app) for your purchase. There are hundreds of gallons of honey to peruse and additional bee-based products such as raw pollen and bees wax.
The honey comes from 3,000 hives spread across 100 locations statewide.
“Every area is so unique from the altitudes, river basins, 100 feet in elevation makes a huge difference in taste, and then you have 1,000 feet difference, you get very different kinds of honey,” said owner Derrick Maness.
Maness is celebrating his one-year ownership of the Honey House. His business, Colorado Mountain Honey, purchased the operation from Paul Limbach, whose family created the sweet shack over 50 years ago.
“I started working for Paul 27 years ago. I started when I was 14. His family has been in the area a while and have been beekeeping for the last 60 years,” said Maness.
“He’s really been my mentor. Paul’s dad was a beekeeper and Paul and his brother were his laborers. Paul went to CSU to become an entomologist. After graduating he returned to his family farm and continued the family business.”
Cowboy beekeeping and wrangling bees
Maness’ bees are everywhere. He’s a true wrangler. In summer, his hives are in De Beque to Snowmass, Meeker, Craig, Hayden and all the way up to Trappers Lake.
“I spread bees across the White River National Forest,” he said. “I have hives from 5,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation and varieties of flowers that we have in the folds of the mountains is world class.”
However, as Maness pointed out, most beekeepers are really in the business for the pollination. The honey is literally the sweet icing on the cake.
“I take the bees to pollinate the almond orchards each year to Chowchilla, California,” he said. “It’s about an hour away from Yosemite. Spring is about a month and a half earlier there. It benefits our hives and the California orchards. I take them to a food source to get stronger and help the farmers, and in turn, the spring feast for my bees makes bigger yields when they return to their Colorado hives.”
Maness uses 18-wheelers to transport the bees between states.
“My beehives are on pallets to allow me to move them with a specialized forklift. I wait until January when it’s cold. Bees stay in their beehives to keep the hive warm. We use this to move them with the least amount of possible stress,” said Maness.
Bees come in different sizes and produce different amounts of honey. Maness’ hives are comprised of the European honeybee that came over in the 1600s.
“These bees are a non-native insect. This is an insect we brought over like the cow, horse, chicken. When we moved into the valley 100 years ago and starting irrigating and planting European crops, the native insects weren’t doing the job for pollination. This is where the beekeeper business came in,” said Maness.
A honeybee beehive needs around a 100 pounds to 120 pounds of honey and pollen stores to have the food stores needed to make it through Colorado winters.
“When talking about honey crop averages, it can range from 20 extra pounds a hive up to 100 extra pounds that we can take without compromising the hive’s honey stores,” he said..
From year to year, honey yields will vary in taste. Hives are impacted by late frosts, availability of wildflowers, rain. It’s never the same and like a “fine wine,” as he put it.
From Snowmass to downvalley, there is a specific honey from what those backyards.
“Plants are putting roots in soils, and that’s what’s amazing about bees, they live off nectar and sugars from plants. Each plant has a chemical makeup, and bees are in tune with that,” said Maness. “The pollen is literally vitamins, keeping all the minerals right from the backyard.”
Getting a bit of the honey
Maness and his wife, Melissa Adams-Maness, used to participate in the Glenwood Springs and Carbondale farmers markets and Strawberry Days and Mountain Fair, but two little bumble bees are keeping them busy at home.
“Once we had another child, we really had to slow down a bit and rely on word of mouth for the honey house,” said Maness.
The honey house is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.