By J.B. Chandler

We think of bees, those cute, fuzzy black and yellow dancers, making honey, stinging invaders (ouch!), and their large hives hanging from tree branches, being raided by adventurous grizzly bears. In reality, we often see the beehive boxes along our Montana roadways, and those bees help drive our economy in a variety of ways.

Agricultural states love bees for pollinating their crops, all while the bees collect nectar for honey. Honey, sweet honey, is everybody’s favorite bee product. Montana ranks in the top 5 in the nation for honey production, with neighbor North Dakota leading the way.

The grizzly bear has it tough, as the beehive boxes are much easier to get into for the beekeeper. Critically, the boxes can be moved to new croplands to start the process all over again. Jim Savoy of Treasure State Honey winters his bees in California, then returns them to their home is in Fort Shaw, Montana.

“Almonds have to be pollinated by bees,” Savoy explains. “The pollen is too heavy to be carried by the wind, but that isn’t a problem in Montana. However, bees will still greatly increase the yields of canola and alfalfa crops.”

Now, depending on what sorts of flowers the bees are visiting, the taste of the honey is affected. For example: an alfalfa field can give honey a butterscotch taste, says Savoy. Noxious invasive weeds affect honey too. Knapweed grants honey a licorice flavor. Leafy Spurge really ruins honey, giving it a bitter oily taste, and it stinks! (For our farmers, for our honey, fight the weeds!)

Bees are good neighbors in Montana, but sometimes they move into the wrong neighborhood. For everybody’s safety if you come across a beehive growing in a strange location, like in a wall or inside a flatbed Ford, please don’t remove the bees! Instead, call your local extension office and let them rehome the colony. Almost every county has their own office, so for best results call them, or you can contact the main MSU extension at (406) 994-1750.