Pollinators find home at Bee Town USA

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On the outskirts of the Arvada Community Garden is a large community all its own — Bee Town USA — population 180,000.

Beekeeper Greg Rye, owner and founder of Dakota Bees, created Bee Town USA at the Arvada Community Garden, 9195 W. 57th Ave., a few years ago and has expanded to hives at the Anythink Library in Denver, Thornton, Commerce City and Bennett as well as the Grey Street Garden in Lakewood.

“The purpose of Bee Town is to educate residents and gardeners,” Rye said. “It’s important to be aware of bees and help provide them with a habitat.”

All of the hives at the Arvada Community Garden, which are disguised as little buildings from a town of the past, are created with rescued bees.

“We had 50 removals last year from homes and public places,” Rye said. “All of the bees at Bee Town were rescued in some way or another.”

While Bee Town USA provides a home and a life source for the bees in terms of pollen, the bees give back to the garden, too.

About once a week Rye goes to the garden to check on the hives and harvests honey, which is given to gardeners and the Arvada Community Food Bank. The honeybees, along with native bees that live in the garden, pollinate plants within a two-mile radius of the garden, helping the plants grow better, Rye said.

There are 841 species of native bees in Colorado, many of which are facing endangerment, Rye said.

In addition to the honeybee hives, the Arvada Community Garden also has a native bee habitat, which was created out of hollowed-out wood.

The native bee wall has become home to a variety of native bees, including bumble bees, mason bees, leaf-cutter bees and more.

A hive of leaf-cutter bees, for example, can pollinate an entire orchard on their own, Rye said. Having a beekeeper bring out hives of bees to pollinate can cost hundreds of dollars every year. Instead, farmers and gardeners can establish a hive once for a couple hundred dollars and have self-sustaining pollinators for years to come.

Rye said anyone can make a native bee habitat in their own backyard using nearly any natural material.

“Pallets can make good native bee habitats,” Rye said. “Wood, stems from sunflowers, reeds, any plant with a hollowed out stem, they can all be used to make habitats for bees.”

Feedback about Bee Town USA has been nothing but positive, Rye said, from both Arvada gardeners and visitors.

“I love to see people learn about bees and get excited,” he said. “It’s fun to watch a kid come in with his dad and watch the bees and then say, "'I want to do this in our yard.’”

Children and others curious about bees can watch them in their own yard and learn more without even having to build a habitat.

Bees will flock to a mason jar with sugar water in it, Rye said, giving people a chance to watch and learn about the natural pollinators.

Rye, a carpenter by trade, began beekeeping about six years ago when he got laid off during the economic downturn.

Since then, he has learned all he can about bees and wants to share the information with others. Rye also sells beekeeping equipment and can help new beekeepers get started.

“Once I got started, I got addicted,” he said. “I love what I do.”

Bee Town USA can be visited during normal Arvada Community Garden Hours, which are available at www.arvadagardeners.org/about.php. Rye also gives tours of the hives, protective gear included, for $35 per couple.

For more information about Bee Town USA, bees or beekeeping, visit www.dakotabees.com.