LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — When the sky is clear and the day is warm and still, Rene Sollars' honeybees come out of their hives to fly.
Sollars, a Laramie resident, is the keeper of three hives, painted green, yellow and blue, decorated with flowers and home to about 180,000 bees in summertime.
Recently, on one of the first warm days of the year, Sollars' bees buzzed about her yard, taking the opportunity to forage, drink water and — being tidy little bees — defecate.
Now and again, she pointed out bees with small white globules on their legs.
"That's the pollen," she said. "They feed it to their baby bees, and the nectar, they store or they eat. As they store it to make honey out of it, they basically bring it home in its pure nectar form and they trade it back and forth and dehydrate it and that's what makes it honey. Once its honey, they'll store it in honeycombs for the winter."
Sollars is a member of a small but growing group of hobby beekeepers in the city of Laramie.
And, like everyone else in the group, Sollars began keeping bees sometime after April 19, 2011, the day when Kyle Bolenbaugh, University of Wyoming Department of Botany student, along with an Eagle Scout he was mentoring at the time, got a law prohibiting the keeping of bees within city limits overturned.
Bolenbaugh said the effort to get the "bee ban" removed from city ordinance was the Scout's Eagle project.
"We developed a community service project for him that was part, 'educate the community on bees and pollinators,' part. 'stand in front of the city council, looking real sharp like a Boy Scout, and talk to them about why it's important not to have this ordinance for our community,'" he said. "And then also for him to build and establish a community hive at the LaBonte Park Community Gardens."
Once the law was overturned, Bolenbaugh said there was a budding interest in beekeeping among community members.
"This has been fantastic," Bolenbaugh said. "It worked out that my mentor left that year and kind of dumped us with a whole bunch of hives. They were going gangbusters, which was really good, and it was an incredible learning experience for myself and some of my fellow beekeepers."
Bolenbaugh said beekeepers, looking for advice, sought each other out.
"People wanted to know, 'Where can I get bees? How can I keep bees? Who can teach me how to keep bees?'" he said. "And from there, we started a little beekeepers club, and we eat good food and drink homebrewed beer and we talk about bees. And if we get a honey crop, we get a honey crop."
In all, Bolenbaugh said there are about seven hobby beekeepers in and around Laramie.
"Between those seven, there may be anywhere between 12 and 20 hives," he said.
"And there's a beehive in the LaBonte Park Community Gardens."
Hobby beekeeper Chris Moody said he got involved because it would be a "grand adventure."
"As a kid, I ate honey by the pound," he said. "For me, my only connection was that I like honey. Then I thought this was my opportunity to give back, or to come full circle with consuming honey. And, as it turns out, it's so much bloody fun."
Moody said keeping bees paralleled the movement from commercial and industrial agriculture to smaller, more localized producers.
"This is definitely part and parcel of that," he said. "This is having a number of local hives in an area that are pollinating and supporting all of those local-grown gardens and agriculture and so forth."
Moody said bees have been declining since 2005.
"The real noticeable fact is that since 2005, commercial beekeeping has had horrific losses," he said. "Commercial beekeepers are losing 50 to 90 percent of their hives every year."
Bolenbaugh said the decline of the bees — often described as colony collapse disorder — could have severe negative impacts on ecosystems.
"If you think about it, they're a keystone for the success of primary producers," he said. "I mean, all of our fruits and vegetables rely on pollinators."
For this reason, Moody said hobby beekeepers could play a role in combating colony collapse disorder.
"With the decline of the honeybee, it's going to be these hobby hives that save the honeybees," he said. "This is where the bees are healthiest. Commercial people are talking 50-90 percent loss of hives. The group of people that we get together, we didn't lose a hive this winter."
Bolenbaugh said having bees in the community provides healthier flora.
"I don't have any way to quantify it, but I would think that since 2008, the community has definitely become more beautiful because of it," he said. "There's no doubt about it. Our gardening projects are flourishing, and it just makes a healthy community.
Deborah Kassner, who keeps a hive with Moody, said bees are not dangerous.
"Bees are very safe, docile and unaggressive," she said. "If you have a neighbor that has bees, it's not like they're going to come over and attack your dog. You might see them on your grass drinking water, but as long as you don't come over and step on them, they're not going to hurt you."
Kassner said residents could plant certain flowers that would help bees gather enough resources to survive, which would, in turn, mean more pollinators and more bountiful gardens.
"Beginning in March or April, when the bees come out of their hives, until November or December, when they sort of lock-up shop, they need to have food sources that whole time," she said. "So it's not just a question of planting things, but planting things that will bloom and produce pollen and nectar throughout the whole season."
She suggested planting native wildflowers such as common gaillardia, phacelia, blue flax and milk vetch to bloom early in the season; yarrow, milkweed and rabbit brush to bloom mid-season; and hyssop, fireweed, sunflowers and goldenrod to bloom late in the season.
Information from: Laramie (Wyo.) Daily Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com