Savannah Bee Company: Marketing Analysis

John Anderson

Computer Science Department, Morningside University

BUSN 341-2: Principles of Marketing

Dr. Marilyn Eastman

February 25, 2021

Savannah Bee Company: Marketing Analysis

Savannah Bee Company founder Ted Dennard usually gave away the honey he harvested.  He had been a long-time beekeeper when a friend opened a downtown store in Savannah, Georgia, and convinced Ted to sell honey on her shelves (Savannah Bee Company, n.d.).  Ted’s honey products attracted enough attention through small boutiques that he soon moved the operation out of his kitchen and officially started the Savannah Bee Company in 2002.  In 2003 Ted visited the Fancy Food Show and was discovered by Williams-Sonoma, Neiman Marcus, and Crate & Barrel, among other large retailers.  Seventeen years later Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel are still offering Savannah Bee Company products for sale on their websites.  In 2008 Savannah Bee Company opened its flagship store in downtown Savannah Georgia.  Today the company owns and operates 15 retail stores in the United States and continues to also wholesale honey and honey-inspired health and beauty care products to thousands of stores in the United States.  The company has thriving web-based sales and supports a nonprofit business that promotes honeybee education (Savannah Bee Company, n.d.).  The purpose of this report is to show how Savannah Bee Company has expanded by use of product development, market development, and market penetration, and to show how the company has used social media and influencers to increase brand awareness.

Marketing Strategy

In 1999 Ted Dennard, founder of Savannah Bee Company, first envisioned the mission statement for his yet to be formed company as “to sell the best honey and beehive products while educating people about the fascinating world of the honeybees” (Dennard, 2017, para. 2). Savannah Bee Company is not a publicly held company, so the current version of the mission statement is not publicly available.  However, in 2017 Dennard wrote that Savannah Bee Company’s mission statement was almost identical to that original vision (Dennard, 2017).  With that mission statement, customers should expect to find high quality honeys offered for sale coupled with educational opportunities when they walk into a Savannah Bee Company retail store.  While the company does not sell much in the area of beekeeping equipment, Dennard (2017) said, “we do sell a whole lot of exceptional honey, honey lotions, creams, shampoos, lip balms” (para. 6).  Savannah Bee Company also sells honey wines, t-shirts, and beekeeping books.  The educational aspects mentioned in the mission statement have taken the form of: an educational apiary, bee garden, and observation beehive at the company showroom on Wilmington Island, Georgia; the company’s “The Bee Cause Project” supplying grants to put observation beehives in over 500 schools (Alarcón, 2020); The Bee Cause Project’s educational series of digital lesson plans about the lives of bees (The Bee Cause Project, n.d.).  It is evident that Savannah Bee Company takes their mission statement seriously by promoting honeybee education while selling quality honey. 

Savannah Bee Company has used several marketing growth strategies to move from selling in small local boutiques, then moving to wholesaling to large retailers, and finally to owning and operating their own retail stores and online sales website.

One of the strategies they have used is market development by adding retail locations, which has been one of the company’s strategies from the beginning.  Even though the company started by selling wholesale, “the dream was always in retail.” (Dennard, 2017, para. 3)   Their first retail store opened in Savannah, Georgia, in 2008.  By 2017, they opened stores eight, nine and ten.  As of January 2021, the company website listed 15 retail locations, all in the U.S.   

Product development has also been a focus for the company.  From 2012 to 2016 Savannah Bee Company’s overall revenue increased by 164%.  During the same period, their health and beauty line revenue increased by 545% while they increased the number of products in their health and beauty line from 15 to 60 (Kendall, 2016).  Their health and beauty line products are related to honey and bees because they use beeswax, honey, propolis, and royal jelly, as ingredients.  By adding these products, customers who are interested in honeybees and honeybee related causes are not limited to purchasing just honey when they make the decision to buy from Savannah Bee Company.

Savannah Bee Company also takes an interesting approach to market penetration by posting to their social media followers with recipes using honey.  Not just any honey, but specific Savannah Bee Company honeys.  Recipes like “Bourbon Roasted Butternut Squash with Acacia Honey” and “Crispy Black Sage Honey Roasted Brussel Sprouts.”  This approach not only gives followers more creative ways to use the company’s honey, but also creates demand for specific varietal honeys that the company sells.

The company has many strengths.  In this paper I will focus on three.

One key strength of Savannah Bee Company is marketing their honey as a unique, high quality, luxury item.  Their honey is sold in glass jars that have a distinctive shape.  Some of their honey is packaged in jars that look like wine bottles.  Their Gold Reserve line of honey is packaged in wine bottles that are hand dipped in beeswax and are priced at $99 for a 20-ounce jar.  Their Gold Reserve line currently has two honey varieties, tupelo, and sourwood.  Figure 1 shows the elegant packaging and presentation of their Gold Reserve line (Savannah Bee Company.  n.d.).

Figure 1


Screenshot of Savannah Bee Company’s Gold Reserve honey webpage 

The second key strength is the high number of varietal honeys the company markets.  Most U.S. grocery stores carry only a handful of varieties of honey.  Savannah Bee Company currently offers 31 different varieties and forms of honey on their website.  Figure 2 shows a sample of some of the honeys available (Savannah Bee Company.  n.d.).  The number of choices and flavors available can keep customers engaged and keep customer’s taste buds interested.

Figure 2

Composite image of screen shots taken of Savannah Bee Company’s honey sales webpages

Note.  This image only shows 16 of the 31 different varieties and forms of honey on Savannah Bee company’s website.

The third key strength is their idea that above all else, a customer’s visit to a Savannah Bee Company retail store should be fun, educational, and influential, when it comes to protecting honeybees (Dennard, 2017).  Dennard (2017, para. 9) said he considers the staff of their retail stores as Bee Educators and said of the staff “they are what makes the experience successful” “for the most part, our Bee Educators seem to truly want to be working the floor of their store and they somehow manage to enjoy the day-to-day endless and mundane task(s) of any retail employee. I venture to say it is because they have fun and leave their shift feeling like they are making a positive difference in the world”.

Savannah Bee Company has a competitive advantage that comes from its niche strategy of providing unique varieties of honey to customers who have a sophisticated palate and by positioning their honey as a luxury item.  Customers who just want something sweet will be satisfied with almost any honey that is readily available to them.  Savannah Bee Company customers are not looking just for something sweet but something that is sweet and buttery or sweet and floral or sweet with notes of caramelized molasses.  The 31 different varieties and forms of honey currently offered on their website should keep those discerning taste buds interested and coming back as repeat customers.

Savannah Bee Company occasionally uses green marketing.  On Earth Day in 2017 they posted to their blog with ideas on how customers can reuse honey jars to store dried herbs and spices, store paper clips and thumb tacks, or use as a flower vase (Savannah Bee Company, 2017).  The post goes on to list ways that the company recycles all glass, cardboard, packing materials, and paper, that is used in their retail stores.  The last section of the post says that all of the honey tasting bars and mead bars in their retail stores are made from recycled barn wood.

Marketing Environment

The marketing environment is full of trends that could affect Savannah Bee Company.  Three that appear to be important to the company are cause related marketing, the increased use of social media by consumers, and the increased attention being given to social influencers.

Events during the 2020 pandemic brought many social issues into the public eye.  However, even before the pandemic, companies were realizing that when done correctly, cause marketing can improve a brand’s appeal (Gilbert, 2020).  Gilbert writes (2020, para. 1) that “81% of consumers say that brands must earn their trust and 66% think that brands should take a stand on social and political issues”.  This trend is an opportunity for Savannah Bee Company to build customer loyalty by working to further causes that their customers relate to.

Savannah Bee Company has worked to raise public awareness of honeybee related causes since the company was started in 2008 (Dennard, 2017).  In 2013, company founder Ted Dennard partnered with Tami Enright to create The Bee Cause Project, a nonprofit that focuses on empowering teachers, students, and members of the community to learn about, and protect honeybees (Alarcón, 2020).  As of February 6, 2021, The Bee Cause Project has provided honeybee observation hives for 330 schools in 50 states and four countries (Savannah Bee Company, n.d.).  The Bee Cause Project’s website also has a free digital series of lesson plans and educator guides that can be used to teach school children, or anyone, about the lives of bees (The Bee Cause Project, n.d.).  In 2015, Dennard and The Bee Cause Project flew 12 beehives to the island of Exuma in the Bahamas where there have been no bees as far back as the locals could remember (Alarcón, 2020).   Collaborators on the project were concerned that the absence of bees was posing a threat to the pollination of native flora.

Another trend affecting Savannah Bee Company is the increase in consumer’s use of social media.  Alcántara (2021) stated that in 2020 the average number of impressions received by sponsored posts on Instagram increased by 57% compared to 2019.  See Figure 3.

Figure 3

The Increased Reach of Social Influencers in 2020


(, 2021)

One specific aspect of this trend is that mobile and social technologies can allow consumers to have easy access to information during the decision-making process and at the point of purchase (Choi, Froth & Hearm, 2014)

Savannah Bee Company is using this opportunity to provide customers with easily accessed information at the point of sale by providing food recipes that feature their own special varietal honeys as a key ingredient.  Links to these recipes are placed on the website sales pages for each variety of honey and are a featured item, usually placed above the fold of the page (Savannah Bee Company, n.d.).  Recipes that feature specific varietal honeys are also the focus of the majority of Savannah Bee Company’s social media posts and these posts always have direct links to the web pages where the varietal honeys can be purchased.  Figure 4 shows a typical Instagram post from @savannahbeeco that features a recipe using Savannah Bee company honey (Savannah Bee. 2020).

Figure 4

Instagram post from @savannahbeeco that features a recipe  

When customers consider purchasing a food item that is novel or unfamiliar to them, they doubt that they will know how to use it effectively and “the provision of recipes at the point of purchase could help people lacking this sense of self-efficacy to overcome the perceived risk of purchase.”  (Choi, Froth & Hearm, 2014, p. 126, Para. 3).

The third trend affecting Savannah Bee Company is the increased attention consumers are paying to social influencers.  In January 2020, in a survey by Think Now (2020) asked consumers, “Have you ever (learned about and subsequently) purchased a product because of a social media influencer”?  The percent of respondents who said Yes was 44% (Statista, 2020).  Figure 5 shows that the two age groups from 18 to 22 and 23 to 38 are the most likely to pay attention to social influencers (ThinkNow, 2019).

Figure 5

Graph showing the effect of Social Influencers

The increased attention consumers are paying to social influencers is an opportunity that Savannah Bee Company has started to explore.  Their Instagram feed shows some limited use of social influencers, but most cases are organic, where the influencers themselves choose to use the @savannahbeecompany tag in their post.  The company founder is occasionally a featured guest on some social influencer’s feeds (Fezziwig’s Marketplace, 2021).  In addition, Savannah Bee Company has co-marketed food writer Sheela Prakash’s cookbook, “Mediterranean Every Day”, on social media sites (Savannah Bee, 2020).


While starting from humble beginnings, Savannah Bee Company has demonstrated an ability to grow by expanding their retail stores and by working with wholesalers.  The company has also used an innovative marketing technique with their use of recipes that feature their varietal honeys.  These recipes can take honey from being the nice to have, but not essential cherry on top, to being the must have, cherries in the cherry pie filling. 

Savannah Bee Company has also been able to distinguish themselves as offering luxury items.  While honey is the number one alternative to refined sugars (Food and Drink Innovation Network, 2017), honey is already somewhat of a luxury item with its per capita consumption rate below that of maple syrup and jelly (Store Brands, March 31, 2020).  Savannah Bee Company takes luxury honey a step further and almost exclusively offers single varietal honeys, honey made from mainly one floral source.  Most consumers are unaware of the variation of flavor available in honey because the market is dominated by honeys that have been blended to reach a uniform taste from batch to batch and year to year.  The difference in flavor of single source varietal honeys will “hit you over the head” (Jampel, 2020, Para. 2) and is much more pronounced than the difference between single-origin coffees.  While Savannah Bee Company has a strong social media presence, their use of social influencers has been limited.  This is one area where they could stand to improve.  With the popularity of celebrity chefs and cooking shows on channels like the Food Network, there are many opportunities to collaborate with chefs that would be a good fit with the company’s image.  Gourmet chefs should be able to find successful ways to incorporate the single varietal honeys into recipes the likes of which grace the pages of Bon Appetit magazine. Social influencers could offer a successful way to increase brand awareness and promote the use of Savannah Bee Company’s unique honeys.   


Alarcón, C. (2020, April 22). How a honey company in savannah is helping 15 beekeepers in the bahamas.  Forbes Magazine.

Alcántara, A.  (2021, February 1). app tweaks search function, as shopping sites battle for users.  The Wall Street Journal.

Jaz Hee-jeong Choi, Marcus Foth, & Greg Hearn. (2014). Eat, cook, grow: Mixing human-computer interactions with human-food interactions. The MIT Press.

Dennard, T. (2017, June 30).  Retail dreams.

Fezziwig’s Marketplace [#feeziwigs]. (2021, January 13). What’s the buzz at fezziwig’s? [Photograph]. Instagram.

Food and Drink Innovation Network. (April 1, 2017). Refined white sugar substitutes that are appealing to consumers in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2016 [Graph].  Retrieved February 15, 2021, from

Gilbert, J. (2020, March 31) Why cause marketing matters more now than ever before.  Forbes Magazine.

Jampel, S. (2020, November 13). The honey bear is cute, but these unfiltered versions taste so much better.  Bon Appétit Magazine, Retrieved from

Kendal, J. (2016, October 7). International company small winner—savannah bee distributors aid growth.  Atlanta Business Chronicle. (2021) State of influencer marketing 2021. [Graph]

Savannah Bee [@savannahbeeco]. (2020, October 25). Who doesn’t love Mediterranean food we know we do.  Instagram.

Savannah Bee  [@savannahbeeco]. (2020, December 28). Figs, gorgonzola, honey and sirloin steak make the best new year’s eve appetizer. [Photograph]. Instagram.

Savannah Bee Company.  (n.d.) Black sage honey.  Retrieved February 10, 2021, from

Savannah Bee Company.  (n.d.) Gold Reserve.  [Photograph].   Retrieved February 20, 2021, from

Savannah Bee Company.  (n.d.)  Honey.  [Photograph].   Retrieved February 20, 2021, from

Savannah Bee Company.  (n.d.) The bee cause project.

Savannah Bee Company.  (2017, April 21)   Bee green: Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Statista. (January 16, 2020). Have you ever (learned about and subsequently) purchased a product because of a social media influencer? [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from

Store Brands. (March 31, 2020). Dollar sales of the syrup and honey category in U.S. retail stores in 2019, by segment (in million U.S. dollars) [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved February 15, 2021, from

The Bee Cause Project. (n.d.). Explore the six week bee unit.  Retrieved February 6, 2021, from

ThinkNow. (October 11, 2019). Share of online users in the United States who say they pay attention to recommendations from social media influencers as of April 2019, by age group [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from

Sourdough Bread

What better way to enjoy honey than on a fresh slice of sourdough bread? Here are some of my favorite sourdough bread recipes.

Sourdough, Five Grain White


290 grams purified/filtered water (about 1&¼ cups)

140 grams sourdough starter

15 grams honey

10 grams olive oil

300 grams white bread flour  
100 grams whole wheat flour
60 grams Bob’s Red Mill 5 grain rolled hot cereal mix

⅛ tsp. bread machine yeast

1 1/2 tsp. salt  * 8.5 grams

Yield: 1 Loaf

Instructions: Dissolve the starter, honey and olive oil into purified/filtered water.

Add the dry ingredients including yeast and stir until the water is incorporated, about 20 strokes.  DO NOT NEED at this point.

Cover and let rest (autolyze) for 2 hours.

Add the salt with  ½ tsp. of water (to help it dissolve). Lift and fold the dough over itself several times, and squish with your hands to incorporate. The dough will tear slightly as you fold, and the salt will not fully dissolve. Don’t worry- this is normal. Work the dough as best you can until it comes back together into a rough ball. At this point, you shouldn’t feel any grains of salt beneath your hands.  This is a really wet dough.

(See Schedule for detailed instructions)  Cover with plastic and let sit roughly 10-14 hours at room temperature (~ 68 – 72F).

Punch down and transfer to a well-floured towel or proofing basket.  (I have not tried the towel.  I think it would spread out way to flat if you did it that way.  I am using a floured proofing basket.) 

Here is the proofing basket I use (from Amazon)

Cover with wax paper or a towel and let rise about 8 hours – or – up to 3 days in the fridge.  Bake in a covered La Cloche or Dutch oven preheated to 475 degrees for 25 minutes (French Bread pan max 450 degrees).

Remove cover; reduce heat to 450 degrees and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes.  Internal temp should reach 185 to 200 degrees when you remove the cover.  Let cool completely on rack (at least 1 hour).


DAY 1 

6:00 AM (before work)

Take the starter out of the fridge and add flour and water (about 100 grams total).  

Leave at room temperature for 9 to 13 hours. 

6:00 PM (after work)

Mix dough without salt and let autolyze for 2 hours.

Feed starter about 40 grams total and return starter to the fridge.

8:00 PM

 Add salt with a little water and mix in.  

If yeast was not used, cover and leave at room temperature for 10 hours.  

If yeast used then you need to watch it and only rise a few hours before 

putting in the fridge.


6:00 AM (The next morning) 

Punch down and transfer to a well-floured proofing basket. 

Cover and put dough in the fridge from 10 hours up to 3 days.

DAY 2 to 4

6:00 PM (day 2)

Remove dough from fridge, 

Let rise at room temp for 1-4 hours.



Yield: 1 Loaf: 57 Percent Whole Grain


290 grams purified/filtered water (about 1&¼ cups)

140 grams sourdough starter

15 grams honey

10 grams olive oil

200 grams white bread flour   
200 grams whole wheat flour ( Bob’s Red Mill )
60 grams 10 grain flour

⅛ tsp. bread machine yeast

1 1/2 tsp. salt  * 8.5 grams

Yield: 1 Loaf: Two Thirds White


290 grams purified/filtered water (about 1&¼ cups)

140 grams sourdough starter

15 grams honey

10 grams olive oil

300 grams white bread flour     
100 grams whole wheat flour
60 grams 10 grain flour

⅛ tsp. bread machine yeast

1 1/2 tsp. salt  * 8.5 grams

Yield: 1 Loaf: Half Rye Ingredients

290 grams purified/filtered water (about 1&¼ cups)

140 grams sourdough starter

15 grams honey

10 grams olive oil

230 grams white bread flour      
230 grams Rye flour 

⅛ tsp. bread machine yeast

1 1/2 tsp. salt  * 8.5 grams

Yield: 1 Loaf: Half 10 Grain Ingredients

290 grams purified/filtered water (about 1&¼ cups)

140 grams sourdough starter

15 grams honey

10 grams olive oil

230 grams white bread flour
230 grams 10 grain flour 

⅛ tsp. bread machine yeast

1 1/2 tsp. salt  * 8.5 grams

Bee Forage and Permaculture Swales

In 2016 I started on a project to add swales to my property to hold some water when it rains and give it time to soak in rather than running off. On the downhill side of the swales I planted Aronia berries where they can take advantage of the extra moisture. Above the swales I planted yellow sweet clover and white sweet clover so the nitrogen they add to the soil will work its way down the hill, into the swales and to the roots of the Aronia berry bushes. In the wetter side of the swales I planted a pollinator habitat seed mix designed for wet areas and in between the Aronia berry bushes and the downhill side of the swales I planted normal pollinator habitat seed mix. The pollinator seed mix and the sweet clover both offer nectar and pollen for my honeybees and the native pollinators in the area. 

One of the biggest permaculture principles is stacking functions.  The plantings 1) hold the soil in place, 2) keep the weeds down, 3) provide food for my bees and native pollinators, 4) add nitrogen to the soil in the case of the clovers, 5) provide seeds for birds and other wildlife and 6) look attractive.  This is in addition to the Aronia berries and wildflowers I can harvest for personal use or for sale.

The most labor-intensive part of this project was making the swales.  After marking the location on contour with an “A” frame level, the swales were created with a road grader blade on the 3 point of a tractor.  The blade is angled steeply to one side so that it digs the soil out on the uphill side and dumps it out on the downhill side.  This goes a little beyond what the blade was designed for but if you make multiple passes and remove a little soil each time it works really well.  

Making the swales with a tractor:

Making the swales with a tractor:

The first and second year required quit a bit of time cutting the weeds down with a weed wacker. I also mowed the wildflower patches, about 6 inches high, Three times the first year and twice the second year.

This is three years after planting the swales:

Beginning Beekeeping Series: Session 0

It takes over 750 bees to make one pound of honey.

The bees need to visit nearly 2 million flowers to fill a 1 pound jar of honey.

The circle of life and honeybees

Before beekeepers came around, honeybees did fine all by themselves.  They lived in hollow trees and they spread clear across the country all on their own.  I think it is best to start by talking about how bees survive on their own, out in the wild, and not in those neat little white boxes we beekeepers put them in.  So think about a colony of bees living out in a hollow tree in the forest. “Colony” is the name we give to a functioning, self sustaining group of honey bees. A colony of bees has one queen, a few thousand drones (male bees) and several thousand worker bees (female bees).  They will build honeycomb out of wax that they secrete from glands on their abdomen. They attach the comb to the inside of the tree, starting on the top and the sides of the tree and building it all of the way down and through the hollow cavity. They will bring in pollen and nectar from the flowers in the area all around the tree, and they will store the pollen in those wax combs they built, and they will turn the nectar into honey and fill the combs with honey.  They will continue to do this until the entire space inside the tree is completely full and they run out of room.  

If they run out of room in the fall that means they have all the honey that they should need to get through the winter.  They will just hunker down all winter and eat honey to stay warm and wait for spring to start the whole process all over again.

If they run out of room in the early summer this means they had a really good year!  And it means there is plenty of summer left and they could use that time making more honey if they had space to put it.  It also means that even though it is early summer,  the colony should have enough honey stored to make it through the coming winter.  So this is the point in time that a colony of honeybees will essentially split in two and become two colonies.

Swarming is reproduction

This ‘out of room’ situation is the beginning of the swarm process.  Swarming is the honeybee colonies way of reproducing. When the bees get to this point early in the summer they will raise a new queen.  This new queen and half of the bees will get to stay in the hollow tree with all of the honey that is stored. This new queen and her half of the bees have it pretty good with a “turn key” house that is fully furnished with comb and the pantry is fully stocked with honey.  The old queen and the other half of the bees will all fly out of the tree together and go out to find a new home. They have a challenge ahead of them. First they will all cluster together on a tree branch in a big ball like a basketball or volleyball. And the old queen will be in the center of the ball for protection.  Then scout bees will start looking for a new home, a new hollow tree or something they can all move into. When they find a place to move into, the whole group will fly there and go inside. They will start building comb right away. All of the bees filled up on honey before they left their old home and if it did not take too long to find this new home they will still have honey left to store in this new comb.  But it is not enough honey to last more than a few days. They will have to find more nectar and pollen from the flowers in the area. They will need to make honey and they will have to build more comb to store it all in. They will have to work all the way through fall to build enough comb and make enough honey to get them through the coming winter. If the swarm is successful and survives the winter, then next spring there will be two colonies of bees in the forest where there had been just one.  If next year is good for both colonies they might both swarm and then there will be four colonies in the forest where there were only two. You can see that over the years honeybees can really spread if conditions are good. Honey bees are not native to the United States. People brought them over when this country was first settled and the bees spread faster than the settlers did. These days the bees are facing a lack of forage and pest pressures and they don’t spread too much on their own now. 

So that we can harvest honey, and to make inspecting a colony of bees possible, beekeepers put the bees in little white boxes called a hive.  These hive boxes have frames in them that can be removed and the bees build their comb within these removable frames. We can remove the frames and look at the bees and the comb and honey.  Removable frames have made it possible to observe and learn many of the things that we know about honeybees. 

Typical year in a beehive 

Whether they are in a hollow tree out in the forest or in a hive, there is an incredible amount of change going on in a beehive throughout the year.  In the summer months the bees are working really hard. The field bees are flying out to get nectar and pollen and bringing it back to the hive almost anytime the sun is shining.  Usually they work within two miles of their hive, but they can go as far as six miles to find flowers if they have to. They actually work so hard that they wear their wings down and burn themselves out and die in 4 to 6 weeks.  In the fall things slow down and the bees live a little longer. Those bees that get to stay in the hive and eat honey to stay warm all winter will live the whole winter and still be alive come spring. But the total population in the hive drops quite a bit in the fall and some of the bees die in the winter too.  The hive seems to find a balance between bees and honey so that there are not so many bees to feed in the winter that they run out of stored honey.  


When spring comes the hive is at its lowest population of the year.  And as those bees that lived the whole winter start to fly out and bring pollen and nectar in they start to work hard and they will start to die off after 4 to 6 weeks.  To replace the bees that are dying, as soon as the weather warms up enough in the spring the queen starts to lay eggs. All bees start out as a tiny little egg that is about the size of a grain of salt.  The queen will only lay as many eggs as the bees can keep warm when it cools off at night. Each time the queen lays an egg she can choose to lay a fertilized egg or an unfertilized egg. Fertilized eggs will develop into female worker bee.  It will take twenty one days (3 weeks) for each new worker bee to go from egg to larva to pupa and finally emerger out of their cell. Unfertilized eggs will develop into male drone bees and they take 24 days to emerge. Honeybees raise their young in comb that is the same shape as the honey comb you are probably familiar with.  As it gets warmer and as the population of the hive grows the queen will lay more and more eggs and can eventually lay up to 2,000 eggs per day.  

So if most bees are living 4 to 6 weeks,  and it takes 3 weeks to raise new bees, then each generation can live just long enough to raise one or two more generations.  The population increase starts slow at first but will eventually snowball and a typical hive managed by a beekeeper can reach 60,000 bees or more by early summer.


When things are timed just right, this population peak happens about the same time the resources available to make honey also peak.  You may think that there are always plants blooming and the bees should have a constant supply of resources. While there is usually something blooming that the bees can work, the amount of necare available fluctuates and  is usually only enough to build the hive up slowly or just maintain the hive. Then suddenly the amount of nectar available jumps up and peaks in what we call a nectar flow. When this happens there is more nectar available than what the bees have time to bring in.  If the hive population peaks before or during this nectar flow the colony can make a very large crop of honey. When conditions are right a hive of honeybees can make 5 pounds of honey in one day. The vast majority of the honey any hive will make all year comes from nectar collected during this flow.  In our area the flow starts around the second week of June and ends some time in July. That is a short 4 to 6 week period in which the bees make the majority of the years honey crop!  

The most likely time for a hive to send out a swarm is during the nectar flow or shortly after the nectar flow.  Remember, swarming happens when the colony has stored enough honey that they are prepared for winter, are out of space to store more honey and out of space for the queen to lay eggs in. And there must also be enough time left before fall so the swarm can make plenty of honey for winter stores. 


If the hive does not swarm then they will slow down a bit and only bring in necar when there is space for it.  Usually by the middle of August the nectar flow will reduce down to a point where the colony is actually eating more honey than they are making.  This opens up some space for the queen to lay eggs again and the colony will raise some new bees and start to balance things out so they have the right amount of honey and bees to get through the winter. 


In the winter the bees stay inside the hive and can only go outside and fly if it is above 50 degrees and sunny.  To stay warm they bunch together in a ball with the outside made up of tightly packed bees. We call this the winter cluster.  They will expand and contract this ball depending on how cold it is outside. They vibrate their wing muscles to generate heat and eat honey to give them energy to continue to do this all winter long.  When necessary they can generate enough heat to keep the center of the cluster at 96 degrees. Throughout the winter each bee is totally dependant on all the other bees to stay warm. If the number of bees is to few this winter cluster may not be able to stay warm enough to survive the cold.  If the number of bees is too many they may eat all of the honey before spring. There is no food source available to them other than the honey they stored last summer. So if they run out of honey before spring, then all of the bees will freeze and die.  


Spring again

It is difficult for the bees to survive until the first spring flowers provide an opportunity to bring in more food.  Some of the earliest sources of pollen and nectar that honeybees can use in the spring are Maple trees and Dandelions.  So don’t treat your lawns for dandelions. You can tell your neighbors you are saving the bees!  

That covers the life cycle and reproductive cycle of the honeybee without going into too much detail.  Honeybees are a fascinating subject that just gets more and more interesting the more you learn about them!

Queen Excluders


Why do we use queen excluders?  To keep the queen out of the honey suppers in order to keep brood out of the honey frames.


When do we put the queen excluder on?  When we add the honey supers.


Does this mean anytime we have any honey supers on we keep the queen excluder on?  What about if we leave one medium supper on the hive for overwintering? Should we leave the queen excluder on?  What is going to happen in the winter as he cluster of bees move up the brood boxes and reach the queen excluder and the medium supper?  The cluster will keep moving up, but the queen will not be able to get through the excluder.  The worker bees won’t know this and they will keep moving up and the queen will be stranded.  With no other bees around her, or few bees around her she is going to freeze and die.  


The WHY we use queen excluders is to keep the queen confined in a certain area.  We use queen excluders WHEN we want to keep the queen from moving up into the upper boxes.  If you forget the why or the when and leave the excluder on in the winter you just created a situation that will kill the queen and therefore the whole hive.  


The WHERE with queen excluders is; maybe down south you can leave them on all year.  Maybe it never gets cold enough that the bees cluster and have to move into the upper boxes in Texas or Florida or California.

Varroa Mite Testing

Alcohol wash Varroa mite count.

This year I finally got serious about finding out what my mite count is for each hive.  By now I am well aware that you can not tell how bad your mites are just by looking at your bees.  By the time you notice mites on the bees, or you start finding deformed wing virus, your mite count will be really high.  So I put this test kit together mostly with items you can buy at Walmart.  There is a plastic tub, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, a wide mouth mason jar and a styrofoam bowl.  The mesh is just eighth inch hardware cloth that I cut to fit inside the jar canning ring.

I used a marker to mark the Mason jar at the 1/2 cup mark.  1/2 cup of bees is roughly 300 bees and is what you will usually see recommended as a sampling size.  You can also add a strainer fine enough to strain out the mites and you can reuse the alcohol a few times.


So here is my step by step guide how to test for Varroa mites.


The first step is to find a frame or brood that has at least 50% open brood.  Some times of year you may not be able to find that much open brood so just try to get close.  Make sure the queen is not on the frame!  This is really important.  The bees you will use to get a mite count in the alcohol wash method will be killed.  You don’t want to accidentally kill the queen.  If you are unsure if the queen is on the frame or not, then you may want to look through the other frames until you do find the queen.  Once you find her, make sure to use a frame the queen is not on.



I don’t like dragging the jar down the frame to knock bees into the jar.  I prefer to knock the frame on the bottom of the plastic tub, knocking all the bees into the tub.


Then it is easy to knock the bees into the corner of the tub and pour them into the jar.


Knock the jar down to pack the bees into the bottom and see if they come up to your 1/2 cup mark.  There is no sense using more than the 1/2 cup so check it a few times as you poor bees in.


Put the screened lid on and cover the bees with alcohol.  A little more than enough to cover them.  You want to be able to swirl them around and wash the mites off.

Swirl the bees and alcohol for about 30 seconds.


Then poor the alcohol into the white bowl and shake vigorously for about 10 seconds to dislodge all the mites and shake them into the bowl.  As you learn to do this it is a good idea to cover the bees with alcohol a second time and repeat the swirling and shaking process to see if you missed any.  If you did, then you probably didn’t swirl or shake long enough or hard enough.


The white bowl helps you to see the brownish red little mites.  They can be kind of hard to tell from some of the other debris, but you get the hang of it pretty quick.  This hive had 6 total mites (only 4 are visible in the close up photo).  The sample of bees should have been 300 bees so 6 mites translates to a 2% infestation (6 / 300 = .02 or 2%).  Next you have to decide what threshold you are going to use.  Do you put Varroa mite treatments in any hive over 2%.  Or any hive over 4%.  Or maybe even anything over 1%.  That one you will have to decide on your own.


I think it is important that you don’t just blindly treat all your hives.  I think it is important to find out your mite counts and then only treat the hives that really need the help.  The more often we beekeepers use the current mite treatments the sooner the mites will build up resistance to those treatments.


My mite counts for August 31, 2017


1  2017 NUC #1 from          2 mites


2  2017 swarm from Team Ford                                  1 mite


3  2016 Carniolan package (overwintered)             6 mites


4  2017 split from 2016 Carniolan package           30 mites


5   2017 NUC #2 from         2 mites


6  2017 swarm from Homer NE                                   1 mite


7  2017 NUC from Cecelia (Rosie) Patterson          1 mite


8  2017 swarm in a bait hive                                       0 mites


9  2017 cutout from Dakota City NE                        6 mites


10 2017 split from 2016 Carniolan package          4 mites


11 2016 Carniolan package

(overwintered and split in spring 2017)          50+ mites



Treated the two worst hives with Apigaurd on September 8th.

I will add the second dose in two weeks.  Hopefully I can do a mite count after the treatment and let you know how well the treatments worked.





Stay open to possibilities, or you never know what you will miss.

Last Tuesday I went the the Siouxland Beekeepers meeting.  Something happened that made me realize, and not for the first time, that you have to always be open, otherwise you never know what you may miss out on.  I was sitting and talking with some beekeepers that I had not met before.  We were talking about pollinator seed mix and how to maintain the plot once the seed has been planted.  I was listening, and I was participating a little.  But I figured I already knew what was important regarding this topic because I had planted my own pollinator seed plot last fall and I had talked to the experts beforehand, therefore I knew what I needed to do.  But luckily I was still engaged in the conversation because one of the other beekeepers said he had a weed called Marestail in his plot and he was having to deal with it.  And I thought to myself “Marestail, that sounds like a name that could apply to the plant I see in my pollinator plot that I can’t identify.  I have been wondering if it is a weed or a wildflower.”  One week ago I had been in my pollinator plot wondering what this plant was and I took some pictures of it.  So I showed the other beekeeper the photos and he said “Yep, that’s Marestail.  That is going to become one of our toughest weeds to control”

Group of Marestail.


So I looked it up on the internet and yes, Marestail, or Horseweed, is a potential problem.  It sounds like if you keep it mowed and keep it from going to seed you can get it under control.  Luckily for me I was able to mow the areas where my Marestail is.  If I keep mowing it every time the Marestail is getting ready to go to seed I should be able to control it.


Marestail about to bloom.














So what if I had not gone to that bee meeting?  When I took the photos I had no idea when I would run into someone to ask what the plant may be.  If I had not gone to the meeting  maybe I would not have identified that weed.  The area most of my Marestail is growing is with the clover that I planted, and I was not planning on mowing that clover.  Maybe it would have gone to seed before I identified it as a weed!  Then I would have hundreds of times more weeds next year!  It is impossible to calculate the potential value to me of that one little statement, “Well I have some Marestail in mine that I am having to deal with”.  I know we all get busy and we have to prioritize, but the next time you are thinking about skipping something, remember to think about what you could miss out on.  You never know.  And always remember to stay alert and engaged, or you may still miss out, even when you do go.





How are your bees? July 2017

Wow June was a busy month for me and the bees.  The big nectar flow started the second or third week of June.  I put some honey suppers on early.  Things never really took off though.  It was unseasonably hot and we were 2 or 3 inches behind on rainfall.  I think that slowed the flow.  We finally got some rain and I hope we will see some nectar coming in full boar now.  The sweat clover around here is the main nectar provider.  The yellow sweat clover is finishing up but the white sweat clover has just started to bloom.  I am hopping it will provide some honey.


I got two swarm calls in June and I caught both swarms.  I had a swarm move into one of my bait hives and I did a cutout in Dakota City.  I ordered some local NUCs and they were delayed due to cold weather so I just got the four of them in place by July 4th.  All in all eight new hives.  That is a lot of increase in one month!  I need a break.


I will keep a close eye on all the new hives and make sure every hive has room to make some honey with what is left of the summer.

How are your bees? June 2017.

New queens from splitting a hive.


Back in the first part of May one of my hives started getting ready to swarm. When I discovered this, they had already started raising queens in special queen cells. Once the bees start this process it is very hard to get them to stop and you usually end up loosing half the bees to a swarm if you are unsuccessful trying to them. Rather than fighting them, I decided to split the hive into three hives.  I made sure each had a queen cell or two so they could finish raising a queen. I also started two tiny hives with queen cells as backups in case the others fail to raise a queen successfully. June 3rd I got a chance to look at the new splits and I found four of the five have laying queens. I am pretty happy with those results. This is a photo of one of the new queens.

The spring fruit tree bloom was fairly strong this spring and some of my hives built up fast.  It was the first week of May when I discovered one of my hives was filling the open cells of the brood nest with nectar.  The more they do this the fewer places the queen has to lay.  Eventually they will fill the whole brood nest with nectar, the queen cant lay anywhere. The bees will build swarm cells and the queen will lay in those.  About the time the queen cells get capped the original queen and about half the bees will fly away in a swarm.  To stay ahead of this you need to make sure they have room in the brood nest when the spring fruit trees stop blooming.  If you find the bees are just starting to fill the brood nest with nectar you can add some empty frames or move some empty frames into the broods nest from other areas.  If they already have more than half of the brood nest filled with nectar then make sure two frames you add to the brood nest are un-drawn foundation.  The bees will start to draw this out and before it is drawn very deep the queen will lay eggs in it.  She can lay in partially drawn cells that they could not put nectar in.  This can head off the swarm impulse.