What’s the Buzz?: Beekeepers in South Dakota weather the elements
Just like farmers and ranchers, beekeepers in South Dakota have to weather the elements and make tough choices in both good and bad years
BELVIDERE, S.D. – Beekeepers in West River have to adjust to the weather just like ranchers.
Chris Baldwin, a beekeeper who works out in Jackson County, will tell you.
“I was actually born in Philadelphia, I grew up in northern New Jersey, about 25 miles outside of Manhattan,” Baldwin stated. “I had never been west of Pennsylvania before I came to Nebraska.”
Baldwin has loved beekeeping since he was 10 years old, begging his parents to let him have a hive of his own – they gave in, but it would count as his 11th birthday present.
He kept adding hives to his collection all through school, learning about the business. The childhood passion soon became a career – that career brought Chris to the high plains, and eventually to Jackson County, South Dakota.
“Yeah when I first came to Nebraska I was [saying], ‘I’m not staying here’, and then… I had a blast. Got to see all kind of country, meet all kinds of people – because in the bee business you’re just traveling.”
Just like farmers and ranchers, beekeepers, too have a vivid memory of weather patterns in the area – mostly due to the large impacts it had on their livelihoods.
“First two years I had bees up here was 88’ and 89’, terribly terribly dry, the bees just didn’t do anything. But then in 1990 we had a good crop and then 91’ was a good crop and then it just…. through the 90s it was wonderful.”
And then the 2000s.
“We hit some really dry years, that was tough. I had two years in a row we didn’t produce a pound of honey here.”
Recent flooding along the White River had an impact on this industry as well.
“They had bees down along the river that actually washed away, they lost several bunches of bees.”
On top of weather patterns, sometimes the bees just decide to not work. Literally. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to make good honey. Baldwin will tell you, jokingly, that bees have their own personalities just like us. So what advice does this veteran beekeeper have for those just starting out?
“You need to be prepared on any windows of opportunity, that the weathers good.”
Solid advice, in a region that literally holds a record for the fastest changing weather on planet earth.