- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

WORLAND, Wyo. (AP) - When H.E. Bryant transported 50 bee colonies by box car in 1915, he brought with him a business which would become a mainstay in Worland.

From its humble beginnings in 1915 to today, Bryant Honey has grown into a five-generation business with more than 7,000 bee colonies. That’s according to Bob Bryant III, one of the current owners of Bryant Honey.

The 100-year-old business has grown from the 50 colonies that were placed in the Worland area to a business with more than 7,000 colonies in Wyoming and western Nebraska.

Bryant Honey operates in Washakie, Hot Springs, Park, Big Horn, Platte and Goshen counties in addition to having operations in western Nebraska.

After H.E. Bryant traveled to Wyoming, he handed the business down to his son, Bob I, who, according to Bob III, grew the business to include 500 colonies.

Bob II subsequently grew the business to 1,200 colonies before purchasing Lingle Honey in 1987, growing the business to roughly 2,700 colonies.

Today, brothers Don and Bob own the business, which consists of more than 7,000 bee colonies.

Bob Bryant III said much has changed with the process of producing and extracting honey over the years.

According to Bob Bryant III, the most significant technological innovation for the company has been obtaining fork lifts.

“Whenever we needed to move a colony, we had to move them by hand. The fork lifts have made that a lot easier for us,” Bob Bryant III said.

“We used to take a one-ton truck. We’d pick them (the colonies) up by hand and take two people — one on the front one on the back — and pick the colonies up. You’d move about 30 colonies at night and the bees would just explode out of their colonies. You couldn’t see the sides of the colonies there were so many bees.

“Then, we bought the forklift and lo and behold, you could bounce them around and they don’t come out you as bad. It makes it pretty nice,” Bob Bryant III said.

Also playing a significant role in the technological innovation is the extraction process.

Bert Bresach, a 28-year employee of Bryant, said when he first started, honey was extracted from the combs by using a hand-cranked centrifuge. Today, however, the process utilizes an automated centrifugal system, saving employees work and increasing efficiency.

Each frame — a comb of honey weighing about 10 pounds — is put in a centrifuge that spins 120 frames, forcing the honey to the sides of a barrel. The honey is then separated once again from the bees’ wax.

Most startling, however, is the evolution of the queen bee.

Don Bryant’s sons, Brady and Brandon, were out Wednesday checking small colonies dedicated to queen bee breeding.

According to Brandon Bryant, the Bryant’s recently began breeding their own queens instead of simply purchasing them. Brandon said he spent a summer working in Hawaii breeding queen bees and learning about the genetic process.

To check the health of a colony, workers pour liquid nitrogen on the bees in order to kill them. After a few hours, the employees check for what Brandon Bryant called “hygienic behavior.”

“What we’re hoping by improving the genetics and always working on our genetics is that they’ll remove the mites or they will remove the foul brood. Whatever is wrong with the hive . they’ll remove it themselves instead of depending on us to do it. Any more, we can’t keep up with it, so we need their help,” Brandon Bryant said.

He added, “If they can manage themselves . it’s a lot better.”

According to Brandon Bryant, the overall health of a queen and colony is checked by the whether or not the worker bees remove the dead bees from their colony. If they do not, the colony is not considered to be strong. Brandon Bryant said the process is simply a part of evolution.

Bob Bryant III said the evolution of Bryant Honey’s knowledge of bees is the result of knowledge being handed down from generation to generation. Bryant Honey joined Bee Informed, a partnership of bee keepers which utilizes data to better manage bees.

Bryant Honey also uses computer technology to monitor bees.

“What we’re doing is . we built a computer system that keeps track of everything. We have records for a lot of years in ledger books. Now we’re trying to computerize it. We’re trying to relay this information to them and they are using it on a widespread basis in the United States,” Brandon Bryant said.

In most cases, colonies are able to identify when a queen is “going bad” and will simply abandon the queen, Brandon Bryant said.

After the colony makes the determination that a new queen is needed, worker bees will begin pumping “royal jelly” into a bee larva. When the larva becomes an unmated queen bee, it will fly into the sky and mate with several drone bees — whose only purpose in life is to mate with the queen. The queen bee only has to mate once and will lay eggs for life.

“They go out and fly and drones cluster in different places.

“That queen will be flying around and they’ll all take off after her. As soon as they do their job in mid-air, they fall to the ground.

And that’s the end of their life,” Brandon Bryant said.

The process saves Bryant Honey thousands of dollars. Queen bees cost about $25 a piece, but can be bred at Bryant for about $5, Brandon Bryant said.

Once in the colony, queen bees will lay about 1,000 eggs per day, Brandon Bryant said.

Worker bees have the ability to recognize each colony by the pheromones queen bees give out. If another queen enters the hive, it will be a “flight to the death,” according to Brandon Bryant.

According to Bob Bryant III, each colony has anywhere from 250,000 bees per colony.

In addition to expanding in size, Bryant Honey has also expanded its business practices.

Under the direction of Don Bryant and Bob Bryant III, the business began shipping bees to California after the harvest season. Sending them to warmer climates as temperatures plummet in Wyoming is less stressful for the bees.

Bryant Honey also turns a profit off of having the bees in California. Farmers utilize them to help pollinate almond trees, Don Bryant said.

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Information from: Northern Wyoming Daily News, http://www.wyodaily.com

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