Beekeeping in Montana

Longtime beekeeper and general manager of Western Bee Supplies, Rick Molenda, instructs an audience of Montana bee enthusiasts on how to assemble a bee hive in Hagar Auditorium at the Museum of the Rockies on Saturday.

The Museum of the Rockies was abuzz Saturday with a group of excited hobbyists eager to learn more about the ins and outs of beekeeping.

The amateur apiarists sat in the museum’s auditorium to hear several speakers explain the intricacies of hive building, brood behavior and bee biology. The event, Beekeeping for Montana Hobbyists and Landowners, was put on by the Gallatin Valley Beekeepers, a longstanding local club that recently became a nonprofit.

“Beekeeping is a bit of a learning curve, so having mentors and resources is really helpful when you’re getting started,” said Stephanie Hull, the group’s treasurer. “It’s tough in Montana and that’s why we’re all learning and doing this, not only for ourselves but for everyone else.”

Between January and June of 2017, Montana added 18,000 bee colonies, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. That’s a small percentage of the some 1.2 million added in the U.S. over the same period, but Hull said that, anecdotally at least, beekeeping is booming in the Gallatin Valley.

The group’s membership has grown to 40 since January, and several hundred packages (which include the queen necessary to start a hive) have been delivered to the area, Hull said.

“People have been more aware of the loss of honey bees,” she said, referring to the recent rise of Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that has led to the destruction of hives around the world. “Bees are super important pollinators for all things we love, and the more people are aware of that, the more they want to get into it.”

Saturday’s events included talks by Dave Baumbauer, part of Montana State University’s Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology department, as well as MSU assistant professor Michelle Flenniken and Rick Molenda, general manager of Western Bee Supplies based in Polson.

Molenda gave a pair of talks — one an update on the state of colonies in Montana, the other an introduction to building and maintaining hives. Western Bee sells everything from beekeeping suits to fully constructed hive boxes, and Molenda said he typically drives 2,000 miles delivering 600 packages of bees every year.

“We’ve only been doing this for 52 years, so I’d hope we’re doing something right,” he joked.

Hull, an avid gardener, kept her first hive last year at her home near Peets Hill and successfully harvested six gallons of honey. Though she lost her bees in the end, she described it as both an exciting experience and a learning opportunity.

“It’s kind of addictive,” she said. “If you are keeping bees you love keeping bees and talking about keeping bees. They make the world an amazing place.”

Kendall can be reached at 406-582-2651 or He is on Twitter at @lewdak