Beth Conrey founder of Bee Squared Apiaries in Berthoud, CO

In this Stickers on the Mic episode, Megan sits down with Beth Conrey, founder of Bee Squared Apiaries from Berthoud, CO and they chat about how her business got started, how the different varietals and infusions of honey are made, and how this business continues to blossom. 

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[00:00:03] Announcer: Welcome to the Stickers on the Mic Podcast brought to you by stickergiant.com. If you're joining us for the first time, welcome. If you're a regular listener, thanks for tuning in as we talk about business, marketing, and growth with our customers.

[music]

[00:00:23] Megan: Hey everybody, welcome back to the Stickers on the Mic Podcast. I'm Megan, I'll be your host for today. I'm on the marketing team with the rest of our podcast crew. I'm very fortunate today to be able to welcome Beth with Bee Squared Apiaries. Beth is going to talk with us a little bit about what she does with her business and how she has grown her business with honey varietals and infused honeys. I'm going to turn it over to her to give a little background on herself and all of the amazing products that you have to offer.

[00:00:53] Beth: Cool. Bee Squared Apiaries. Apiaries are where bees live. Lots of people don't know what that word even is, but that's what it is. Apiaries are where bees live at and actually beekeepers, the professional name is "apiast." That's because the scientific name for bees is Apis mellifera. It all comes from the derivation from Apis. We started keeping bees maybe 20 years ago. I was always a buggy when I was a kid.

I went off and got my MBA, worked in corporate America blah, blah, blah, then my older one got to middle school and he was hell on wheels, and we decided somebody better come home and maintain that child. [laughs] I was keeping bees at the time, but that's when we really started getting serious about beekeeping as a business versus beekeeping as a hobby. That was probably a good, I don't know, 15 years ago. We started out with two hives, which is what everybody starts out with, basically, and we just kept getting more, and getting more, and getting more. Now this year, we'll be up to about 100, 150 of them somewhere around there, hopefully, closer to 150 side.

I'm trying to cap it at 200. That's just enough work for two of us morning, noon, and night during the season. I think that that's just plenty, period. We do an early-season clover honey, we do a late-season alfalfa wildflower honey. Everything else has wildflower in it in some form of fashion, but the main varietal on that one is alfalfa for the late season.

The clover has got that cinnamon finish that anything with clover in it, nectar in it has and then the alfalfa is more like butterscotch, so it's a much more full-bodied honey.

Then alfalfa is our favorite, and that's what we craft all the infusions with. We have the Rose-Petal-Infused honey, which is a Good Food Award winner. Then we have our Whiskey Barrel Aged Honey.

[00:03:04] Megan: Wonderful. Quick question, you mentioned that most beekeepers start with two hives.

[00:03:10] Beth: Yes.

[00:03:11] Megan: Why is that?

[00:03:12] Beth: It's because if you start with one, you never have any idea what's going on. You need a comparison.

[00:03:20] Megan: That makes sense.

[00:03:24] Beth: They're not twins. They don't run in tandem. Someone is always going to be ahead or behind the other. If you have just started beekeeping and you're unfamiliar with what's going on with the beehive, it is very difficult for you to tell whether things are good, bad, or indifferent without having something to compare it to. Even that only makes it slightly better, but at least you can tell who's better and who's worse. They may both be bad, they may both be great, but you at least have something to compare it to.

[00:03:54] Megan: That makes sense. Very interesting. You said you're going to have between 150 to 200 hives, hopefully, this year. Where are all of your hives? Are they all on your land or do you have hives that you look after at other places?

[00:04:12] Beth: Yes, we have hives all over everywhere, mostly in the Berthoud area. We extend all the way down here to just west of you and just east of you, actually. We have a contract with the city of Longmont for bees. We keep bees at the Sandstone Ranch property and when we keep bees-- We don't have them there, but we will put them there this year, and that's over at that big sugar mill property, that farm that's there.

I think it's called Golden Pond or something like that. I call it the "sugar mill property." Then from my house in Berthoud, we go west five miles out County Road 4 and keep quite a few hives out in the Parrish Ranch area, then we go east, all the way out to the highway on 56, so in farms and backyards, all through those areas. We just try and keep them away from pesticides more than anything else.

[00:05:17] Megan: It sounds like it definitely keeps you busy with them all over the area.

[00:05:20] Beth: Busy as a bee. Busy as a bee, Megan.

[laughter]

[00:05:26] Megan: That's a good, little bee pun there, Beth.

[laughter]

[00:05:29] Beth: Well, yes, it was a good lead. I couldn't have done it without you.

[00:05:36] Megan: Do you do anything special with your land, plant any special flowers around the area to help your bees thrive?

[00:05:44] Beth: Yes. True. Most people have heard about the issues facing bees right now. It's not just bees, it's all insects. With insects being at the base of the food chain, people just don't pay very good attention to bugs is what it comes down to. Yes, it's a lot easier to get people to pay attention to tigers and lions and black rhinos and all this megafauna that's out there, but the problem with megafauna is microfauna, so we need to start with insects. Insects basically need food, housing, water just like everybody else.

[00:06:24] Megan: The basic essentials.

[00:06:24] Beth: Yes. Food, for bees, is nectar and pollen. Nectar is a carbohydrate, pollen is protein. Different plants produce pollens. Different plants produce nectars. Some produce both. Some produce greater quantities of some, lesser quantities of others, but the bottom line is this high-quality nutrition is derived from flowers and pollen from trees.

We have a lot of turf in suburban and urban environments, which feeds nothing because it produces neither pollen or nectar.

In agricultural environments, we have a different set of monocultures. All of our grain production is wind-pollinated, not insect-pollinated, so it produces a profusion of pollen, but it's a low-quality nutritional resource for bees, in particular. Not that they won't get it, they'll get it if they need it, but it's not their preference. At our house, we have a pollinator planting that encompasses two acres.

We did that in conjunction with NRCS, National Resource Conservation Service, and it's an EQUIP project, which is an Environmental Quality Incentive Program project. We have a shrub line, which probably runs the whole north border of my property, and that's really early-season nectar and pollen. That's the first thing that comes in, then the field flowers is perennials' assortment of native and xeric perennials in the backfield there. That's for them for the rest of the season.

[00:08:18] Megan: Nice, so you have something essentially blooming all season-long for them to always give them new fresh varieties of food and it sounds like, potentially, the different sources of nutrients they need as they go through the season.

[00:08:31] Beth: Correct. Correct. The name of the game is pollen and nectar three seasons: spring, summer, and fall. Then I would encourage any listener to- throw out the TV-- No.

[laughter]

[00:08:46] Beth: To dig out your turf or expand your garden varieties and garden spaces in order to accommodate insects in them because once we have a stable bug population, which we do not have right now, then we will have stable amphibian populations, a lot of stable bird populations, all these things that are all dependent upon insects are all suffering as a result of lack of insects. Yes, it would be very good to have people plant flowers and then not spray them, critical.

[00:09:19] Megan: Plant the flowers and then let them grow.

[00:09:21] Beth: Yes.

[00:09:23] Megan: Well, you mentioned your varietal honeys, and that leads into all of these great flowers, it sounds like, with the different seasons and times that the bees are getting them. What about a little bit more about the infused honeys as well? I know you mentioned the rose and the whiskey, how do you go about infusing your honeys?

[00:09:44] Beth: Both of those are really successful collaborations with other people in the area. We love that. The rose-petal-infused honey is a collaboration with Happy Heart Farm CSA, up in Fort Collins.

Dennis and Bailey Stenson, they were, I believe, the first CSA in the state. CSA is Community Supported Agriculture. They have farm shares that you buy in, and they plant all the stuff, and then you come and collect the farm shares. They are retiring, but they have kept their home, and around their home is a gillion roses.

[00:10:23] Megan: That sounds beautiful.

[00:10:25] Beth: She hand-picks all of those rose petals, and I go and pick them up daily or any other day during the rose petal season. Then, we put those rose petals and stir them into 60-pound buckets of our alfalfa honey, then we put a lid on them and let them sit. The rose season's generally in June, early part of June. They sit until the Honey Party in September.

Then we run all-raw honey, which means that it's not heated past hyped temperature. It turns into a brick, it's all totally crystallized inside there and then we warm it back up to a liquid state, strain out those rose petals and bottle it, that's it, then the rose petals themselves continue on their merry little journey and they go to nuanced chocolate in Fort Collins, and Toby makes a Valentine's bar with them.

[00:11:32] Megan: I love that, and I know you had mentioned before with your whiskey honey as well, the way that you infuse that also brings a different life into another product down the line.

[00:11:42] Beth: Correct. It’s very difficult to believe that they both started out as the same honey, actually, by the time you look at finished products.

[00:11:49] Megan: And by the time you taste them too.

[00:11:51] Beth: Correct. Yes, by the time you taste them. I like to say that the Whiskey Barrel Aged Honey is a punch in the face compared to the rose. [laughs]

[00:11:57] Megan: They’re both delicious.

[00:11:58] Beth: They are. They're totally different though so the rose-petal-infused, it's floral, it's, I don't know, sensual, it's just subtle and beautiful and different. It's really pretty because of the color that's infused with the petals too, so it's a beautiful, beautiful product. The Whiskey Barrel Aged Honey is the brainchild of my employee, Jamie Erickson. Jamie, I think he's 23 now, he might be 22, but I think he's 23. Anyway, Jamie just had this idea and I said, “Sure, why not? We don't care let's go get a whiskey barrel,” and off we trotted and got a whiskey barrel.

[00:12:44] Megan: You never know until you try.

[00:12:46] Beth: Yes, exactly right. If you don't bet, you never win, it is what we like to say. We put it in there and then we're back to another one of those just sayings, Albert Einstein, "If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn't call it an experiment." First, we get this whiskey and, of course, we’re raw honey. It’s like, "Well, how do we get it out of here? It’s been sitting in here for three months now, how do we get it out?"

We had to go find material, it's actually a barrel blanket that we put over a barrel that warms it up, it doesn't warm it past hive temperature. It takes it, gosh, three, four, five days before it thaws out enough to start getting back out the bunghole on the barrel, then we drain it off and strain out the char, and it gets bottled. It's what I call oak, smoke whiskey, and honey, you can taste all four in that sequence in the product.

It's an extremely well-balanced product, way different use in culinary use than the rose-petal-infused. The rose-petal-infused, I happen to love with it with a warm Brie and then the whiskey barrel aged is great with anything, with nuts, anything with a fall flavor profile, and not bad with Elevations Bacon either.

[00:14:12] Megan: You said that when we were out visiting you at your farm-

[00:14:16] Beth: Did you try it yet?

[00:14:17] Megan: Well, Chase tried it, and he said it was great, he loved it.

[00:14:22] Beth: Now, everything's better with bacon, no doubt about it.

[laughter]

[00:14:27] Beth: The bacon is better with the honey, there’s no doubt about that either.

[00:14:31] Megan: Yes, a new flavor, so if you like Beacon and you like honey, definitely something to try.

[00:14:35] Beth: Yes, I love those sweet and salty combos.

[00:14:39] Megan: Me too, and so many different combinations, it’s a really great way to blend flavors on your palate. Honey is a great sweetener for getting that balance because it can be sweet without being too sweet, sometimes. I love it. What else do you offer, besides honey?

[00:14:58] Beth: I should say that we do have a couple of other varietals that we just pack, we don’t produce. We pack an Orange Blossom honey, which comes from California. Orange Blossom is a renowned varietal, like lavender honey from France. We're able to pack Orange Blossom honey for the consistency. A lot of people use it for brewing. It's a gourmet honey, so people are familiar with the taste profile on it.

I love it with chocolate; I hate it with coffee, it's just a very different taste than the two that we produce. Then we also have cranberry honey in from Wisconsin, which, again, if it's labeled a varietal honey, then that means that the nectar that produces that honey is all that's in the jar, nobody is adding flavors to it, so I'm not adding orange flavoring to the Orange Blossom honey, it’s just the nectar from orange trees that is producing that honey once the bee gets involved in it.

Then the cranberry honey is just the nectar from cranberry plants, and that's what creates that honey. We also do beautiful beeswax candles and then we do a really nice soap. For the beeswax candles; beeswax is incredibly expensive to make, it's very hard, energy-wise, on the bees. If we produce thousands of pounds of honey, we maybe produce a couple of a hundred pounds of wax annually.

Anyway, relatively speaking beeswax candles are more expensive than any other candle on the market, and the reason is that they burn stunningly beautifully. They magically disappear, they evaporate, so they're smokeless, they're dripless, they have this beautiful flame. They're actually the only candle that's healthy for you because they actually take crap out of the air and then, at the end, they’re the little Wicked Witch of the West, there's nothing left to them. [laughs]

[00:17:19] Megan: Fascinating.

[00:17:19] Beth: It is, they’re beautiful, beautiful.

[00:17:21] Megan: Do you know what process makes the beeswax able to evaporate when it’s burning?

[00:17:27] Beth: Nothing makes beeswax but a bee, right?

[00:17:30] Megan: It’s just the magic of the bees.

[00:17:31] Beth: Yes. A bee makes about the white part of your fingernail in its lifetime, then it's the mandibles in its mouth that allows it to form that stunning hexagon shape. Why is it a hexagon? Have you ever thought about that?

[00:17:53] Megan: I haven’t. Why is it a hexagon? Now I'm curious, I bet other people are going to be curious too.

[00:18:00] Beth: It’s the shape in nature that holds the highest volume in the smallest physical space. I have no idea how they evolved, if they started out with a hexagon shape or evolved to a hexagon shape but I find that fascinating.

[00:18:23] Megan: That is.

[00:18:26] Beth: At any rate, bees make beeswax from these little glands that are on their abdomens, and they make these little flakes of wax. They can only make flakes of wax when they're on a carbohydrate flow and nectar flow. Something with that allows them to be able to create the beeswax themselves and then they exude these little flakes of wax, and then they manipulate them with their mandibles into that hex shape and bada-bing-bada-boom you get beeswax in the form that you recognize it as.

[00:18:55] Megan: That's amazing. I, honestly, never had any idea that that’s the process that beeswax goes through. They’re brilliant little creatures, just every time I learn something new about bees. I can't believe how smart they are for such small creatures.

[00:19:14] Beth: Plus this past year, they did some more work. There's a guy, Karl Von Frisch is his name. He did a bunch of research on bees and their intelligence and stuff like this. They can count to five, they understand the concept of zero, and they can distinguish colors quite well also.

[00:19:37] Megan: Well, that makes sense with looking for flowers. I imagine that that could help them identify food sources, potentially.

[00:19:45] Beth: True but actually, bees and most insects do not see in the same spectrum that you and I see. There's a whole infrared spectrum to flowers. If you look at flowers under infrared light, you'll see these things called "nectar guides" that appear under infrared light. These nectar guides are like these flashing, neon arrows that say, "Here's the nectar. Here's the nectar. Here's the nectar" so that insects can see the nectar. Bees, here's another thing you're going to learn today, do not see red. Kids always ask me, "Well, then why don't beekeepers wear red suits if bees don't see red?" [laughs] which I think is a pretty darn good question.

[00:20:31] Megan: Sure. Clever question.

[00:20:32] Beth: It is a clever question. Apparently, bees don't see red, but what they see red as is not a soothing, calming thing for them, kind of like a bull.

[00:20:44] Megan: Makes sense. They may not see it, but they can possibly feel it or sense that it's a color that they're not comfortable with.

[00:20:50] Beth: What they see it as, they see it, but they see it as something else. Whatever that something else is is not-- Maybe it's the old red means danger, right? Your Amanita mushrooms and all those things that are neon red in nature are almost always poisonous, so it is the same point, so maybe it's something to do with that. I don't know.

[00:21:09] Megan: Possibly. Well, it sounds like you sell a large variety of honeys and you've also mentioned supplying them to other creators and restaurants and people making mead and beer. How do you go about organizing it, labeling it, and making sure you're keeping track of all of those different varieties that you have for sale?

[00:21:37] Beth: Basically, we are very into our brand. We have a trademarked brand, so everything has to reflect that brand in some form or fashion. Some of them are classic branding, which is the bee in the square for Bee Squared, and it's on a yellow background, but then when you get into the Whiskey Barrel Aged Honey, it has our trademark font but not the square on it.

We just try and keep the themes, so to speak, of our Bee Squared classic logo throughout the other products on the labeling. Everything gets labeled, period. I don't care if it's going to my mother, it's labeled.

[laughter]

[00:22:30] Megan: Everything does.

[00:22:31] Beth: Everything does, yes.

[00:22:32] Megan: We also see some great stickers that you produce as well. How do you compliment the mix of your stickers and your labels? Do you send stickers with your orders or have them at shows?

[00:22:43] Beth: Yep, all of the above. Stickers are a new thing for us. We've always used StickerGiant for labels. I had a friend of mine who had hand-colored our classic logo with these blues and yellows, and we just loved it. We thought we'd lost it in the big floods in 2013 and then I found the contact sheet of it. Once I found the contact sheet, I could send it over to my graphic artist and have it digitized, and then we produced the stickers.

We have the stickers that we have Die Cut for the giveaways at shows and for putting into all the boxes that go out shipping-wise. We have them on a roll that we use to sticker all of our bags that we give away at shows too. When people buy products, we have a little custom bag for them.

[00:23:42] Megan: Put your brand on everything.

[00:23:44] Beth: Put our brand on everything. You put our brand on everything. [laughs]

[00:23:50] Megan: Well, we help you put your brand on everything.

[00:23:52] Beth: Yes, true, you do.

[00:23:53] Megan: We help you tell your story. That's what we love. What's coming up next for Bee Squared Apiaries?

[00:24:02] Beth: Gosh, I don't know if we should let the cat out of the bag quite yet.

[00:24:05] Megan: Well, if you're not ready to, you don't have to.

[00:24:06] Beth: There you go, that's it. We are always experimenting. I'm not going to let the cat out of the bag on the one.

[00:24:20] Megan: Keep some mystery to it.

[00:24:22] Beth: Yes. We are very, very close on it, but it's a little too early to make that announcement on air. Jamie, the inventor of the Whiskey Barrel Aged Honey, is working with a coffee-infused honey right now, called Morning Buzz is his tentative title for it. That's still in the experimental phase. Then, we have some work going on on some various peppers, so infusing some spice into the sweet. We've got actually four different varietals running right now, trying to see whether we'll do a pepper pack if we'll just do one that's flavored or how that's all going to come down, don't know exactly how that's going to look yet but those are the two that are in the pipeline.

[00:25:24] Megan: Something to look forward to.

[00:25:26] Beth: Always.

[00:25:31] Megan: What else is on the plate with Bee Squared? I know you personally are involved with other things throughout the community. Is that something that really supports Bee Squared Apiaries or just farming in general?

[00:25:48] Beth: I am Co-founder of a nonprofit organization called People and Pollinators Action Network, PPAN. We work on pollinator and policy issues here in Colorado. I am Treasurer of the Pollinator Stewardship Council, which works on pollinator and pesticide issues at the federal level and state level across the nation instead of just focusing in Colorado.

Bee Squared is very generous with our proceeds to both of those organizations as well as to other environmental organizations that focus on pollinator health. There's Xerces Society, for invertebrate conservation, Earthjustice, let's see, Friends of the Earth, there's quite a few other NGOs that we contribute to. All of them supporting pollinator health in some form or fashion. It's nice to be able to bee good with our proceeds.

[00:26:55] Megan: I heard how you snuck that in that.

[00:26:58] Beth: [laughs] I didn't even need a lead on that one.

[00:27:01] Megan: I know. You did it all on your own.

[laughter]

[00:27:03] Beth: That's it.

[00:27:04] Megan: Where can people find Bee Squared Apiaries products if we're just a consumer out trying to find your delicious products?

[00:27:14] Beth: Well, we certainly have a web presence, it's very fairly easy to find us on the web at the bethsbees.com. We have lots of retail outlets. They are listed on our website, thank heavens, so that you can just go to local sources for Bee Squared honey and it will come up with a list of all of the retail outlets for our product. Most of them, of course, are in this area, so Lyons, Longmont, Berthoud, Loveland, Fort Collins, Denver are all places that you can find the retail outlets.

[00:27:51] Megan: Wonderful. Are there any places on social media that people can find you? Any channels that you want to shoutout?

[00:27:59] Beth: Well, you know [whispers] we're not great about social media. We do have a Facebook page, and we do have an Instagram handle... but God knows what they are. [laughs] That's Jamie.

[laughter]

[00:28:18] Megan: Well, it sounds like you’ve got your website full of all the great information so people know where to find you.

[00:28:24] Beth: Yes. It's facebook.com/bethsbees. Instagram is bethsbees too.

[00:28:29] Megan: You do know it.

[00:28:33] Beth: Well, I say, "Thank heaven for staff."

[laughter]

[00:28:36] Beth: This is what that comes down to.

[00:28:39] Megan: Yes. Good teams behind you can make all the difference.

[00:28:42] Beth: That's exactly right. It's exactly right.

[00:28:44] Megan: Is there anything else that you would love our listeners to know about Bee Squared Apiaries?

[00:28:49] Beth: No, I would just encourage all of your listeners to pay attention to bugs, do the best they can to help them, plant flowers, don't spray them.

[00:28:59] Megan: I support that. Get out there, plant flowers, and help the bees.

[00:29:03] Beth: The season is right now.

[00:29:06] Megan: It is. As the snow is melting, is the perfect time to get out there and start planting some flowers.

[00:29:11] Beth: Bingo. Bingo.

[00:29:13] Megan: Wonderful. All right. Well, that will do it for our show today. Thank you, Beth, so much for joining us.

[00:29:20] Beth: Thank you, Megan. I appreciate it.

[00:29:21] Megan: This was a great conversation. We learned so much about bees today. Hope our listeners enjoyed. Have a great day.

[00:29:31] Beth: Do the same.

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