The Buzz About The Honey Biz

Throughout history honey has been a highly valued commodity, but simply pulling a bottle from a store shelf doesn't always bring to mind the hard work and time that goes into it. Having a partnership with Mother Nature is, after all, not always the easiest thing to do.

It all begins in the hives that can be spotted around various fields. For owners and operators of Busy Bee Apiary, Derek Lawrance and his wife Angela, every year begins with the hives in Visalia, CA where the bees are fed to keep them strong and healthy.

"Starting at the beginning of February we move the bees into the almond and cherry orchards for pollination," explained Lawrance. "From there they are moved to the hills and citrus orchards where the bees make honey and this is where we start making divides and introducing new queen bees."

In May they begin shipping bees to Montana for the summer honey production season, and operations are in full swing at the apiary just north of Sidney.

The bees are dispersed to more than 150 locations in the area, where they spend the summer making honey and storing it in honey supers. Honey supers are boxes that are added to the hives during the summer months for storing the sweet stuff that will be harvested and brought to the honey processing shop. Once there, the honey supers will be run through an automated system that uncaps the honeycombs, spinning the honey out into a sump that pumps the honey through a heat exchanger before it enters the wax spinner that separates the honey and wax.

"From there it's pumped into a holding tank that we fill 275-gallon totes from that are later sold for bottling at a different plant. We bottle many boxes of honey every year to give out to all our extremely generous and appreciated farmers that give us the opportunity to have our bees on their land during the year," Lawrance added, noting that Mother Nature is indeed the greatest challenge to the operation. "Everything we do with the bees is impacted by the weather for good or bad. In the springtime in California, nice days are required for proper mating weather of the new queens that will head the hives for the year to come. Spring and summer rains in Montana are needed for healthy summer flowers and forage for the bees."

By late September, the bees are being readied and shipped back to California where they will spend the last few months of the year being fed and medicated.

"This keeps them healthy through the winter months and gives them an upper edge come spring," commented Lawrance, who grew up working with his dad and his bee business. "I learned a lot about the bees and started to gain a passion and interest that led to us buying a small bee operation in Fairview, MT with 220 hives and around 1200 honey supers. The Busy Bee Apiary journey started there."

The couple began the business in May 2006, initially moving their whole family along with the bees. Over time, the Lawrances adjusted their family life as their kids got older and more involved in school and sports, decreasing the amount of time the entire family was traveling with the bees.

"My wife and I own and run the business together. We have about 6,000 hives, three full time employees, four seasonal employees and four kids that like to suit up and get involved when they can."

Most of the honey is sold in 275-gallon bulk totes to packers around the country who then pack and sell it under their label. But, the locally sourced honey is available year-round at The Shoppes at Peifer's General Store, Sidney.

"The bee business is like most occupations; it's a get-out-of-it what you put-into-it venture. The most rewarding part to me is impacting the world in a good way," Lawrance commented. "Everyone needs a purpose in life, whatever that might be... big or small. Finding it and doing that, to me, is the rewarding part."

While the product might be delicious, it seems sweet satisfaction may be the real reward for this family-owned business.


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