COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- 2021 will be remembered for a lot of things, most of them negative, but for beekeepers it will be remembered as one of the most productive they can remember.
It comes as the beekeeping industry itself goes through a pretty dramatic transition as well.
Bees have been called "the most important species on the planet" because the majority of all plants need them to reproduce, including the crops that end up on supermarket shelves.
It was just a few years ago that a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder wiped out much of the bee population.
However, at an apiary outside Monument, the bees are thriving, and other colonies have also rebounded across the country.
Leonard and Dolly Rickerman maintain the apiary and also operate Rocky Mountain Bee Supply just west of downtown Colorado Springs.
They invited KRDO to experience beekeeping firsthand.
Each hive in the apiary has its own colony, and the bees in each colony take nectar from surrounding plants and store honey in the rows of frames.
Back at the store, a wax layer is later removed from the frames, which are then placed inside an extractor, which spins the frames and forces the honey out.
From there, it’s emptied into a bucket before being put in jars and sold.
Leonard says a near perfect patter of rain and sun has made the 2021 harvest one of the best in their 16 years.
“It's just been a bumper crop year,” he says, “and talking to fellow beekeepers, that's been across the board along the front range."
It was back in the spring that most of those keepers picked up their bees from the Rickerman's.
Each colony arrived in a small boxe on a truck from California.
More people than ever before are starting their own colonies at home.
Some do it as a hobby, some do it because they want to start growing more of their own food, and some do it because they feel obligated after reading so many headlines about the declining bee populations.
“It's just an excellent experience,” says Rich file, who drove all the way from Albuquerque to pick up his newest colony.
He had one last year, and now has five.
“Anything we can do to assist them (bees) I think is a fun hobby, and it's just great to watch it and enjoy it.”
File is one of nearly 2,000 people who bought a box of bees from the Rickermans this year.
In fact, Leonard says backyard keepers now account for 80 percent of the bee population nationwide.
Previously, it was 80 percent commercial.
He believes that while beekeeping can offer a sweet reward in the end, it's the experience that keeps them coming back.
“A lot of people really gain a lot from working bees because when you walk away,” he explains, “you feel completely relaxed after being out with them."
Pre-orders for 2022 bee colonies start right after Thanksgiving, and he hopes the momentum continues.
Rocky Mountain Bee Supply also works with a group called Hives for Heroes, which connects veterans to beekeeping as a way to support their mental health.
Leonard himself spent 20 years with the Army Special Forces.