When you are a young couple who wants to farm, but land prices are out of your budget and you don’t have the option to return home to the family farm, you start to think out of the box for creative ways to still farm and do what you love. Enter the world of honeybees.
When we originally started looking at raising bees, we did a lot of research. We attended classes at the University of Minnesota, went to various bee keeper meetings, read book after book and article after article. We talked with my mom, who raised bees with my dad when I was little. Finally, we made our first purchase of bees – two packages of Italian bees.
You might say the rest of the story is history. We were hooked on the intricacies of each hive, understanding the rhythm of the bees, and how to best care for each hive. We love extraction time when the sweet aroma of honey fills the air and how each batch has a slightly different flavor from the previous.
This year, our bees are at a single site, surrounded by Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land, Wildlife Management Area (WMA) land, an apple orchard, prairies and farm land. Each hive starts out with 1 deep box and a feeder. A deep box is where brood is reared and honey storage for winter survival happens. Our bees arrive in 2 – 3 lb. packages that are placed in the hives.
When our bees start out in their hives in Minnesota, there isn’t much pollen or nectar available typically until mid-June. This is one of the main reasons we tell people not to spray their dandelions in their lawn as it often serves as the first food for bees since they flowers first. Due to lack of forage in early spring, our bees receive a sugar water syrup mixture in their feeder. We also add a probiotic into our sugar syrup mixture which aids in digestive health and feed intake for our bees. Our hives also receive a few frames of honey from last year’s hives to give them a jump start as well.
We harvest our honey in late August and early September each year. We use a radial frame extractor to spin the honey out of the super frames, a special frame made for honey collection versus brood rearing and food storage. We have a bottling tank that allows us to store honey until we bottle it. Typically our extraction and bottling takes us about two weekends of 10-hour Saturdays and Sundays to finish. We bottle in three different sizes, plus process the wax into wax bars for use in candles, lip balms, lotions, and more.
Our honeybees didn’t require us to own land – something that often seems out of reach when you are a young farmer like ourselves. At the time, we had plenty of people willing to let us place a few hives near their CRP land or near a prairie area they owned. We now offer a hive adoption program that allows people a glimpse at the hive they adopted, a bottle of honey from their hive, and a few other perks like a delicious recipe featuring honey as an ingredient. It is a great way to support honeybees and learn about them, but without the big investment of time, money, and education that it takes to raise bees. We essentially do all the hard work for you, while you get to see (and eat) the fun stuff! Now that we officially own our own farm site, we are excited to make our honey house part of our farm plan!
Honeybees are a complex creature that we love to work with. My husband says that checking hives is methodical and relaxing yet challenging and complicated as you care for each individual hive, learning its quirks and rhythm. Much like animals have personality, each hive does too. We love raising bees, and the opportunity it has given us to farm and meet amazing customers and supporters!
CommonGround Minnesota volunteer Sara Hewitt, her husband Mark, and
their daughter Harper (pictured) make up the Sweet Cheeks Honey crew.
Sweet Cheeks Honey was established in 2014 with a simple plan: Connect consumers with farmers while providing a delicious product. We truly enjoy answering questions about our bees, and love hearing what people think about our honey! Visit us at www.sweetcheekshoney.com.
CommonGround is a group of farm women who volunteer their time to share information about farming and food. Together, this group of women raises a variety of conventional and organic crops, livestock and produce. They share their personal experiences, as well as science and research, to help you sort through the myth and misinformation surrounding food and farming. Visit the CommonGround Minnesota website or find us on Facebook!