We are honored to be asked to write a monthly column about beekeeping for our hometown newspaper.
We are a husband-and-wife beekeeping company, who quit our other jobs five years ago and started following our crazy dreams. We sell local honey and Minnesota-hardy bees. The goal of this column is to share information about our business’s trials and tribulations.
Beekeeping and our methods
It is important to have a basic understanding of what other beekeeping companies do compared to what our company is doing.
Put simply, our bees do not migrate; they aren’t hauled around the country by semi.
Many operations our size (or much larger) follow a standard migration route. Hives typically run for honey in the summer in the Midwest (great honey locations!), go to California for almond pollination (85 percent of USA bees are in California for the greatest annual pollination event in the country), and then go to the southern U.S. to grow and split hives, increase colony count and produce bees to sell.
That simple paragraph above contains a lot of information between the lines. Please know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a migratory beekeeper. In fact, many credit the California almond pollination with keeping the beekeeping industry afloat. We have many friends who have chosen this route, and we are in support of their beekeeping operations.
We, however, have so far opted not to have our bees migrate.
Like any farming operation, there are many methods of producing revenue, even among farmers raising the same animals or producing the same crop. For example, there are dairy farmers, meat farmers, farmers that sell stud bulls, farmers that sell calves – and probably many more variables. The same is true with beekeeping. That doesn’t mean that ours is the best, just what we have chosen to do.
Not ‘snow birds’
As mentioned, our hives do not migrate. When I first started beekeeping in Minnesota, my grandparents allowed me to put a couple of hives in their backyard. It was extremely difficult for me to find bees that were from Minnesota and stayed here all year round.
In fact, I couldn’t. I had to buy package bees from California.
Selling package bees is a revenue stream relied on by many beekeepers. They take random bees from many different hives and shake two to three pounds of bees into a ventilated box. They place an unrelated, recently-mated queen in her own cage within that box. Then those packages get trucked across the country to their final destination.
They are shaken into empty equipment. The new beekeeper crosses their fingers and hopes that the bees accept their queen and decides to make their equipment home.
What Bolton Bees does is something different. We sell bees that stay in Minnesota all year round. We don’t sell packages; we sell starter colonies. These are established hives with frames of bees, brood (future bees) and a related mated-and-marked queen that we raised from one of our breeder hives.
These are Minnesota bees adapted to our long, cold Minnesota winters.
We had a couple of warm days. This allowed the bees to reposition themselves in the hives, go to the bathroom and remove dead bees from the hive.
We had four wonderful demo-ers working for us in the Twin Cities full time. They gave taste-tests of Bolton Bees honey at grocery stores. Travis and I mailed out many hundreds of custom honey jars all over the world. (Thank you Menahga Post Office!) These elegant jars share the personal story and logo of the private companies.
Main obstacle: To get everything that we want to get completed before we go to Texas in February. (Although our bees don’t migrate, we do!) Travis has many woodworking projects to finish, and I am working on getting more private labeling accounts. This will be our seventh year working for a queen-rearing company in southeast Texas; this taught us the skill needed to breed our Minnesota-hardy queens.
We wish you a January filled with warmth.
Travis Bolton is a 2001 Park Rapids High School graduate. Chiara’s interest in honeybees began on the Tibetan Plateau, where she lived for five years. The couple has a honey house in Menahga and hives in Sebeka, Akeley, Midway and around the Twin Cities. Bolton Bees can be reached at www.boltonbees.com or email@example.com.