always,” writes a beekeeper, “have a fair flow from sweet clover which grows along the irrigation ditches; but our winter losses are heavy — in 1920 about 40 per cent., largely the result or not providing any protection.”
The western two-fifths of the state are occupied by a series of valleys and mountain ranges belonging to the Rocky Mountains. The winds from the Pacific Ocean reach the northwestern portion of Montana, modifying the climate and bringing considerable rain, which is supplemented by irrigation throughout this section. Alfalfa, clover, and timothy are the principal hay crops. Sweet clover and white clover are used extensively for pasture. Both the mountains and valleys are densely forested with various species of pine, fir, and cedar, and hundreds of acres of apples, pears, peaches, plums, and cherries, thrive in the fertile valleys of the Kootenai, Bitterroot, Missoula, and Flathead rivers. At the foot of the Bitterroot Mountains the river of Clark’s Fork takes its rise and flows westerly to join the Columbia River. The climate of this country resembles that of the Pacific coast.
The counties in northwestern Montana have few acres of alfalfa, and few colonies of bees. Near Helena in the west-central portion of the state the apiaries range from 10 to 100 colonies, and the surplus comes mainly from sweet clover and alfalfa. The honey flow continues for about two months from June to September. In a part of this region the elevation is too high for the best results. At Corvallis, Ravalli County, on the west border, there is a large number of apiaries of good size. There are also a great number of small apiaries which range from 5 to 20 colonies. A beekeeper writes: “I obtain a crop every year, and average about 125 pounds of extracted honey. I came here nine years ago with nothing, and to-day have a fine house and a modern honey-house in which everything is handled by steam and electricity. I have made it pay.” The honey plants in Ravalli County are white sweet clover, yellow sweet clover, alfalfa, mustard, white clover, alsike clover, fruit bloom, fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), buckbush (Symphoricarpus occidentalis), and the Rocky Mountain honey plant (Cleome serrulata). Dandelion makes a remarkable growth here, and in spring carpets the ground with yellow. Strong colonies will store from 6 to 10 pounds a day from this source. There are in this county 94,000 acres under irrigation.
The southwestern portion of the state requires irrigation. Three large valleys are the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin, in which rise the streams which unite to form the Missouri River. As the result of the dryer climate the valleys are treeless and covered with grasses, but the mountain-sides are timbered. Gallatin Valley is 28 miles long, and about 14 miles wide, and is surrounded by mountain ranges which, southward, rise into sharp-pointed snow-covered peaks. The soils are loams mixed with sand and gravel. The mercury at times falls as low as 50 degrees below zero. Frosts always occur in May and September, so that the growing season is comparatively short. Light frosts also sometimes occur in the summer months. A beekeeper writes from Jeffers, Madison County: “I have the only apiary of importance. It contains 50 colonies, and produces a little surplus every year, averaging 30 to 40 pounds per colony. Alfalfa is the chief honey plant. There is only a little sweet clover. Our winters are so long that, when spring comes, the colonies have dwindled down to only two or three frames. It is not until August that they are strong enough to store any honey in the supers, and the season closes about the 20th of the month. There are a few farms which have one or two colonies.”
In the extreme southwest corner is the great county of Beaverhead, containing 3,000,000 acres. A beekeeper at Dillon writes: “I do not know of a single apiary in this county, which is larger than the state of Connecticut. The lowest altitude is above 5000 feet, and the summer season is short. Hay and livestock are the chief products, although there are many thousand acres of alfalfa. Bees should do well