Jack Gilmore of Copoco’s Honey and Bee Products said there are easily 500 beekeepers in Larimer County, maybe more. “In the last 10 years, since bees have had problems surviving, the interest in raising them has been growing.”
Copoco’s history goes back to 2004 when two of Gilmore’s sons, Ben and John, spent a summer earning money by removing unwanted bees from area barns, attics and soffits. Ben became interested through the father of a girlfriend at the time who was raising bees. John had always been interested in insects.
The following season they established Colorado Pollination Company, eventually abbreviated to Copoco. The brothers provided pollination services to Colorado farmers and delivering their bees by flatbed truck to California to pollinate the almond crop in winter.
By 2006, the brothers were harvesting and selling their honey at several farmers’ markets and for a short time maintained a retail store at the junction of East Trilby Road and South Shields Street. Then they began marketing their products online, eventually realizing the local needs for beekeeping supplies and opening their store at its present location near “the Y” on North College Avenue near the junction with Colorado 1. From there they continued their work rescuing honeybees and finding new homes for them, educating the public about bees and helping backyard beekeepers to get started.
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Today Jack and his wife, Virginia, operate Copoco’s and during the summer months welcome help from grandsons Sebastian 10, and Sean, 14, to carry on the family business. The shop draws customers from as far away as Casper, Wyoming and Longmont. It is the go-to spot for beekeeping equipment and advice, several flavors of honey, propolis tincture, an antiseptic medicinal produced by bees, pollen, a protein supplement, soap and candles made from beeswax, bulk beeswax and toys and gifts related to bees and honey.
Jack, who continues his work as an electrical engineer part-time, has educated himself in the bee business through a master class in beekeeping and now offers intensive classes for would-be beekeepers every spring. Daughter Juliana traveled to the University of Nebraska to study the raising of queen bees, and is also a part of the business.
“Beekeeping is an interesting approach to contributing to the agricultural environment,” Jack says. “It’s the only agricultural endeavor that does not require land.” Beekeepers often place their hives with landowners in exchange for a portion of the honey they produce.
The greatest challenge of the business, Jack believes, is educating new beekeepers.
“There are beekeepers and ‘beehavers’ or lazy beekeepers,” he says. “You can’t do nothing and let them be natural. Bees attract parasites and other pests and get diseases. They have problems and they need help.”
At the same time, he says that as a hobby, beekeeping is not time-consuming. In winter the bees need only an occasional inspection of the hive. In summer they should be inspected every two weeks or more often to make sure they have enough room and food, that a queen is present and at work, and if they look healthy. He also suggests watching for signs that they are preparing to swarm which will require a new hive.
The Gilmores maintain more than 50 hives that produce the honey and beeswax they sell They also sell honey from other local beekeepers. There are a few hives adjacent to the shop so that interested visitors can see them. Larimer County regulations allow two hives per quarter acre of land, a restriction that is sending the Gilmores into Weld County to expand.
Every winter the Gilmore bees leave town on a truck headed for California to pollinate almond trees or to Washington state to pollinate blueberries and raspberries. “The hives usually return in mid-April with more bees than we send out,” Jack said.
Bees reproduce in a matter of days and queens are determined by the diet the embryos are fed. Those who receive only royal jelly become queens; the others get some royal jelly and then a combination of pollen and honey. They become worker bees. In her study at the University of Nebraska, Juliana learned the art of tricking bees into producing a large number of queens.
Because a hive cannot thrive without one, Copoco’s maintains a queen bank to supply queens to local beekeepers. “They sell for $37 each and are in great demand right now,” Virginia said.
Copoco’s sits on an awkwardly shaped piece of land, according to Jack. “We’re stuck,” he says. “We lease this place. The building is old. There is no way we can expand. We hope to find a suitable location where we can build.”
Meanwhile the shop remains a landmark on a busy corner, doling out advice and tending to the needs of beekeepers and customers in search of local honey. The Gilmores have six children, five of them living in the area, insurance that the family business will be in good hands for a long time to come.