Guest post by Samantha and Daniel Johnson
Bees work for man, and yet they never bruise
Their Master’s flower, but leave it having done,
As fair as ever and as fit to use;
So both the flower doth stay and honey run.
Okay, so now it’s late summer, and your busy bees have visited a few million flowers over the course of the spring and summer months. If you’re lucky, there could be as much as 200 pounds of honey in each of your hives, which adds up to a lot of honey.
What will you do with all of that delightful, delectable, delicious sweetness? After all of your hard work (and all of your bees’ hard work!), you might be tempted to put it all in jars and keep it all for yourself—right down to the very last glorious golden drop. But in all practicality, it’s not really possible for one person to consume or use that much honey, so while you’ll definitely want to create plenty of jars of extracted honey, you might also want to explore the possibility of pursuing additional uses for some of it.
And then of course there’s all of that lovely beeswax that you’ll have accumulated while harvesting your honey. What will you do with that? First, we’ll explore some ideas for making honey- and beeswax-based products, and we’ll discuss the possibilities of harvesting pollen from your hives. Then we’ll give you some specific suggestions for marketing your products at farmers’ markets, craft shows, or online.
Let’s get going!
We’ve already discussed the many ways that you can prepare honey, including extracted honey in jars, creamed honey, chunk honey, and cut comb honey. But maybe you’d like to incorporate some of your honey into other products. You’re in luck, because there are many options! While beeswax is traditionally what comes to mind when you think of homemade candles, you can also make candles that feature honey as an ingredient. And it goes without saying that honey makes a delicious addition to a limitless number of recipes (see Chapter 8 for more on this!), so be sure to experiment with creating tasteful culinary delights that feature honey.
There are also plenty of opportunities to include honey in homemade bath and beauty items, including body lotions, facial cleansers, exfoliating sugar scrubs, and hand creams. Adding honey to these products expands the effects of your hive into other aspects of your life, and the delightful fragrance of honey adds an intrinsic touch of sweetness to all of these products.
All About Beeswax
Sometimes it seems like honey gets all of the attention and beeswax is just an overlooked bystander. It doesn’t have to be that way, because beeswax is a fascinating product in its own right and has a wide variety of uses.
When you’re finished extracting honey, you’ll have a pile of leftover cappings that were removed from the frames before extraction. If rendered (essentially melted down and filtered), you’ll end up with beautiful, pure beeswax.
There are several ways to render your wax (melting it in a crockpot and then straining or melting the wax in a pot on the stove are two suggestions) but the easiest way is to use a solar wax melter. Unfortunately, purchasing one can be a rather expensive proposition, and it might not be an investment that you desire to make. Thankfully, you can make your own solar wax melter, and that can be an excellent way to save some money. For instance, you can take a medium-sized Styrofoam box and line the bottom with aluminum foil. Then take a small plastic container (without a lid) and place about an inch of water in it. Slide the plastic container into the leg of a pair of clean panty hose (tie it off so that your makeshift strainer remains taut). Place the wax cappings on top of the panty hose, then place the box and cappings inside the larger box. Cover the Styrofoam box with a sheet of clear plastic or glass, and place the box in the direct sunlight on a very warm day. As the sun’s powerful energy heats up the interior of the box, the wax will melt through the panty hose and down into the small box. All of the chunks of leftover, unwanted material will remain on the top of the strainer, and the lovely clean wax will be collected inside the plastic container underneath.
We recommend using a solar wax melter (homemade or purchased) rather than using the crockpot or stovetop methods because the solar method is safer and cleaner. As you may know, beeswax is highly flammable and can become very hot when you’re working with it over the stove. You would need to take extreme caution as you work not to burn yourself or let the wax get too hot. Additionally, working on the stove or in a crockpot would require that you use equipment that is specifically dedicated to your wax-rendering project. You would not be able to return the equipment to your kitchen after rendering wax with it—ask anybody who has ever tried it. So any pots, pans, or utensils that you might use would be entirely unusable for cooking in the future.
Once you have your beautiful, pure beeswax, what do you do with it? Most people start out by making beeswax candles, simply because candles are an incredibly easy project and very utilitarian, too. Candles also make wonderful gifts, allowing you to share the bounty of your hives with others.
Beeswax can also be a vital ingredient in cosmetic items , thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and its germicidal antioxidants. Beeswax works extremely well as a skin protectant due to the fact that it locks in moisture, so you may want to consider making products such as hand salve, foot butter, face cream, or hand moisturizer.
Then there’s lip balm. Second to candles, lip balm is one of the most popular products to make with beeswax, if we’re to judge by the more than 2,000 listings for “beeswax lip balm” for sale on Etsy.com on any given day. We attribute this popularity to the fact that beeswax lip balm is so easy to make! Simply melt down beeswax and a mixture of essential oils, and then pour the mixture into small containers and let it cool.
Once you have your skin glowing with good health, you can also make your home shine by making up a batch of beeswax furniture polish (a blend of beeswax and oil). Or make the day of somebody young and wrap up some colored modeling wax or crayons!
The beauty of all of these beeswax projects lies in their very simplicity. With only a few simple steps and the most minimal of ingredients, you can easily create useful products that enrich your life and the lives of others, all while highlighting the versatility of the beeswax itself. What’s better than that?
So your bees have been busily bringing pollen back to the hive, their little hardworking legs loaded down with bundles of yellow pollen. In the hive, they’ll use the pollen as a protein source to feed the brood as it grows. But that pollen—those infinitesimal little particles that the bees collect from flowers—can be useful to you, too.
That’s because the same pollen that your bees collect is also sometimes used as a dietary supplement, thanks to the fact that it’s comprised of an “un-bee-lievable” assortment of vitamins, minerals, proteins, amino acids, and enzymes. Even though the use of bee pollen has not achieved such widespread popularity as honey or beeswax, it’s still a valuable product in its own right and can provide another item for you to sell along with your honey and beeswax.
Even though bee pollen is less commonly used than the other fruits of the hive, it does have an intriguing array of uses. In Latin, the word “pollen” means mill dust or fine flour, which is an aptly fitting description for the powderlike consistency of pollen.
But how do you collect the bee pollen?
You go into the hive and manually remove the pollen from each bee’s legs—ha ha, just kidding! Instead, you place a pollen trap on your hive. Now there are several different types of pollen traps that are attached to the hive in different ways, but generally speaking, when the worker bees go through the entrance to the pollen trap on their way into the hive, they go through a small opening that knocks off some of the pollen that they’ve collected. The loose pollen falls through to the trap drawer below, and the bees carry the remaining pollen into the hive as usual. Pollen traps are not designed to capture all of the pollen from the bees—only a fraction of it, because the bees must have enough pollen leftover for the health of the hive.
Each day, you must harvest the pollen that you’ve collected in your traps. It must be collected daily in order to preserve the freshness and quality of the product. You also want to avoid collecting the pollen immediately after a rain, so keep an eye on the weather and collect accordingly. After collecting, do a check for the presence of hive beetles in the pollen (they are attracted to pollen) and remove any that you find. You’ll also want to remove any bits of hive debris that may be present in your collected pollen.
We know what you’re thinking: now what? You’ve collected all of this pollen—what are you supposed to do with it? Well, immediately after collecting the pollen, you’ll place it in the freezer. Pollen is a perishable product and must be kept cold. (An alternative to freezing is to dehydrate the pollen, which eliminates the need for further refrigeration.) Then you’re free to use it however you wish. Some people like to eat a teaspoon of bee pollen per day in some form or another (sprinkled on cereal or added to milkshakes), but you will want to carefully test your tolerance for bee pollen by starting with just one granule on the first day. Make sure that you don’t have any type of allergic reaction, and then you can slowly increase the amount you eat per day.
If you’re not keen on the idea of eating your bee pollen, you can also use it as a fun ingredient in homemade soap!
Marketing and Promoting Your Honey
As sweet as it is, honey doesn’t sell itself. Just as an actress wouldn’t dream of handling her business affairs without the guidance of an agent, your gorgeous jars of honey can’t handle their business affairs without you.
So, as the marketing agent for your honey, what’s your first step? Simply put, you need to put your honey where people will find it. (Incidentally, this means that leaving it on the shelf in your kitchen cupboard is not an effective option from a marketing perspective.) Just because you have honey to sell doesn’t mean that you’ll suddenly have eager honey enthusiasts banging down your door to buy your products. Chances are good that most people won’t even know that you have honey available for sale. This is easy to remedy—just start spreading the word!
Let people know that you have honey for sale, set up a booth at a local event or farmers’ market, dabble a bit in the realm of social media, and let the world know that you have honey available. Word of mouth is an excellent way to find buyers for your honey, because many consumers appreciate the opportunity to purchase quality, locally produced products while supporting local entrepreneurs at the same time. Here are some tried-and-true steps to become a top-notch agent for your honey and introduce the delights of your golden product to a wider audience.
When you think of a farmers’ market, you probably envision tables filled with vegetables and piles of pumpkins on the tailgates of pickup trucks, accompanied by lots of farmers in straw hats. But farmers’ markets often include far more than vegetables, including freshly baked breads, handmade items, and other assorted goodies. Your honey and honey products can be the perfect addition to a farmers’ market, as well as a wonderful opportunity to introduce your products to local consumers. Depending on your location, your area farmers’ market may run year-round, or it may only be open during certain months of the year. You may or may not want to set up at the market each and every week, in which case you may choose to pay for your space on a week-to-week basis rather than reserving—and paying for—your space for the entire season at once.
One benefit of selling your products at a farmers’ market is that you know that your shoppers are already interested in locally produced, homegrown items and are likely to be interested in your honey.
Craft Shows and Festivals
Maybe it’s not the case everywhere, but in our neck of the woods, nearly every weekend brings some kind of festival to our area. We have Cranberry Fest, Watermelon Days, the Scarecrow Fest, and many others—and they all have one thing in common: an arts and crafts show with lots of vendors. These types of annual events typically draw significant crowds of people and are a great way to get lots of exposure for your honey products.
Research any upcoming festivals in your area and then contact the event organizers to ask about displaying your products as a vendor. They will be able to provide you with the costs of reserving a booth, along with any guidelines and parameters for your presentation area (size, location, hours, etc.).
For larger events, you’ll want to be sure to have plenty of inventory on hand. The increased cost of participating at larger festivals means that you’ll need to sell more products to cover your expenses.
Another great way to promote your honey products is to share your knowledge with others. Many people are unaware of exactly how honey is harvested and are intrigued to learn about the details of beekeeping. By hosting a beekeeping demonstration (in conjunction with another event, perhaps), you can introduce a group of people to the joys of beekeeping and possibly make a few honey sales at the same time. Find out about events in your area in which you might be able to participate. Honey extraction demonstrations can be popular, or you can demonstrate candle making, or you could display beekeeping equipment and introduce people to the items that they may never have seen before.
Displays and Signs
If you’re setting up for an outdoor event—and let’s face it, most farmers’ markets and festivals are usually held outside—then you’ll need some kind of tent to protect your products from inclement weather. Besides, who wants to sit outside in the rain? Small (10’ x 10’) pop-up tents can be inexpensively obtained and are easy to put up and take down, minimizing your set-up time.
Next, you’ll need a table or two on which to display your products and a chair so that you can rest periodically between transactions.
It’s important to make your display attractive and eye catching, so take the time to create a pleasant atmosphere for your booth.
Check with the National Honey Board, as it sometimes provides free information packets. You can then display the posters and literature in your booth so that you can educate people about the wonders of honey and beekeeping.
An effective way to draw people into your booth is to offer free samples or other complementary items that can introduce people to your products and increase interest. Offer a free honey stick to each customer or set up an observation hive (see the sidebar on page 133) to catch the attention of shoppers.
An attractive display with quality products will go a long way toward making sales, but signs are another vital piece of the puzzle. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and we think that is doubly true of signs. Let’s say that you’re set up at a local fair for artisans and you have 20 jars of your best wildflower honey for sale, along with some exquisite beeswax candles. Unless you have signs to attract the attention of passersby, your potential customers are going to do just that—pass on by. Get their attention with eye-catching and attractive signage that boldly announces that you have honey for sale.
Choose dark lettering that contrasts nicely with a lighter background and make sure that your lettering is large enough to be seen from a distance. It goes without saying that you’ll need to watch your spelling. It may be cute when Winnie-the-Pooh spells it “hunny,” but you wouldn’t want people to think that you don’t know how to properly spell the word.
If you’re planning to set up your honey display outdoors, then you’ll need to consider whether or not your signs will need to be waterproof.
What’s in a name?
Let’s face it—naming stuff is fun. Whether it’s a new puppy, a pet rabbit, a plush giraffe toy, or your grandma’s new car, it’s delightful to ponder the incredible array of choices and try to select the perfect name. So when the time comes to select a name for your honey business, you’ll want to carefully consider a variety of choices before making your final selection.
Consider the image that you want to project. Do you want the name to be gently humorous, elegant, or cute? Do you want to incorporate your own name into the name of your business (Taryn’s Terrific Honey)? Do you want to choose something that reflects your region (North Country Honey)? Maybe you’d like to include your farm name (Sweet
Dreams Farm Honey Products) or maybe you’d like to include bee-related words like “buzz” or “hive” (The Heart of the Hive). The possibilities are endless and only limited by your imagination.
Strive for a name that will be memorable to your customers; this will increase your opportunity for repeat business.
Creating a label
While you can purchase generic preprinted labels from beekeeping supply companies, you’ll have an easier time establishing yourself as a honey producer if you have personalized labels that reflect your logo and name. Professional packaging goes a long way toward establishing yourself as a credible and reputable honey producer. While you can certainly package and present your honey in a wide variety of manners, depending on your budget, we always recommend creating the finest product that you can. Strive for professionalism and showcase your hard work!
It’s important to research any state regulations that apply to honey labels; some states require that specific information be included on each and every label before the bottle is sold to the public. This information might include net weight, ingredients (if more than simply honey), the word “honey,” and the contact name and information of the producer.
Virtual Marketing: Using the Internet to Drive Sales
If sitting outside in all kinds of inclement weather just doesn’t appeal to you, then you can rejoice in the fact that there are still other ways to market and promote your honey without ever stepping out your front door. In today’s interconnected world of the Internet and social media, you can reach customers, promote your products, and make sales, all with the clicks of some buttons and a little ingenuity.
You may be planning to only produce honey on a small scale, in which case setting up an entire website might be more than you need. But if you’re hoping to produce larger quantities of honey and sell it to a wider range of clients, then a website might be a bright idea. There are lots of inexpensive ways to accomplish this, including free blogs from Blogger or WordPress. You can also capitalize on the popularity of social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter to promote your honey business. A Facebook business page (separate from your personal account) is easy to set up and can be an effective way to keep clients and friends up-to-date on your honey harvest and available products. There is no cost to set up or maintain a Facebook page, and you can easily post photos, information, and updates that automatically appear in the newsfeeds of interested individuals.
Make the most out of your business Facebook page by making frequent updates. You’ll want to vary these updates to maintain variety for your readers. For instance, while you’ll certainly post information about honey for sale, prices, availability, and so on, you’ll want to make sure that you balance these “sales” posts with other information as well. Share links to interesting articles on beekeeping or honey, post bee-related quotes, or share photos of your hives, bees, or honey. Be sure to give your readers enough variety to keep them interested and coming back to your page again and again.
Many entrepreneurial individuals are giving Etsy.com a try. Known as “the world’s handmade marketplace,” Etsy is a popular place to sell anything that you’ve made by hand, and bottled honey and other honey products are no exception. Etsy has over 15 million members and 800,000 sellers, and plenty of individuals are selling honey on Etsy to a worldwide client base. If you don’t mind the hassle of packaging your items for shipment, then selling online can introduce your products to a much larger group of people than you’ll ever see at a farmers’ market or festival.
It’s free to set up a shop and list items on Etsy—a commission is charged only when an item sells—so it’s a low-risk chance to market your honey products to a wider audience. If you don’t make any sales, the only thing you’ll lose is the time you’ve invested in setting up your shop, and the potential gains are unlimited, so don’t overlook the possibilities of Etsy.
Excerpted from The Beginners Guide to Beekeeping written by Daniel & Samantha Johnson. All rights reserved.