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Early April Newsletter: Sarasota Honey Company's 2023 Season recap: Honey, Bee, and Business

Hello all! We apologize that it has been a while since our last newsletter…so much going on…where do we start?! We feel a special connection to our loyal customers. You are the heart of our "hive" and the key to the continued success of our bees and business. Therefore, we feel it is essential to keep you in the loop. Every January, we recap the closing year and our hopes for the coming year. So, I guess let's start with the 2023 recap...

Sarasota Honey Company

2023 We found ourselves cautiously optimistic. The citrus blooms kick off the honey bee season. Unfortunately, the trees were damaged due to Hurricane Ian. We hoped the storm would be Mother Nature's way of pruning trees and that it would stimulate growth for the 2023 spring. Alas, we were wrong; the trees were significantly damaged. It became apparent early on that there would be minimal harvest if any at all. This revelation was troubling because our largest harvest was a bust due to Ian. The blooms happened the very week Hurricane Ian came. The honey typically yielded from our fall harvest is usually so large that it can get us to the summer months and pays for any new equipment for the bees. When the fall harvest was a bust, we had no choice but to be hopeful for the citrus bloom.

Although the fall harvest was nowhere near what we were used to, we were blessed to get just enough honey to get us by.

We were even more blessed that Alma still had honey in our "honey bank." Every year for the past 10 + years, if there is any surplus of honey, Alma puts it in our "honey bank" for safekeeping/emergencies. Most honey operations sell their surplus to packing houses. In January of 2023, we had our state inspection of our honey processing facility. The inspector asked how Sarasota Honey Company would handle the Statewide honey shortage. Alma explained that we were already tapping into our "honey bank" and that she was concerned about the citrus trees. Alma asked about the process of purchasing honey. The inspector advised Alma to ask for testing results of any honey purchase as another local honey producer's honey did not meet Florida's standards during a spot check of the product. When the local operation was questioned, they said the honey was purchased from Georgia. Alma decided to research honey testing further. She found out that only 10% of the honey crop is tested. Her thoughts were, just because one barrel is tested to be ok, what is to say if the remaining nine are safe? The SHC management team decided that it was not worth the risk of purchasing honey. It was not worth potentially damaging our reputation.

The result of choosing not to jump on the Florida beekeeper bandwagon of purchasing honey resulted in us freezing our wholesale accounts and limiting how much honey was taken to markets or put on the shelves at the store. With the announcement of the honey shortage, our customers rushed to the store. We now joke it was like the 2020 toilet paper rush! We had to limit the honey every customer was allowed to purchase.

We had to get creative with the little honey we had. Creativity led to an array of honey candies and infused honeys! The orange blossom harvest ended up being a bust. We did have a bit of a naughty "ha ha" moment after the citrus bloom. While on the citrus blooms, we notice quite a few beekeepers feeding their bees sugar or corn syrup water while on the bloom. (Feeding the bees is a way of watering the tap. The bees will take the sweetener and mix it with any nectar they may find and make what we call "funny honey.") The citrus bloom was so minimal that we moved most of our hives to the coast one month early, hoping to be ahead of the game for the early summer blooms. We refused to feed the bees in groves, resulting in only one honey drum. We heard that other beekeepers were trying to cheat and over-fed their bees, resulting in something that had no flavor and could not be sold. Hince the naughty "ha ha" moment. The early summer harvest couldn't come fast enough, and we were blessed with an average harvest. We felt a bit of relief that we were back on track. We were wrong.

We were completely caught off guard by the non-rainy season of summer and how dry it was. The dry, hot weather affected the blooms and the bees' ability to finish their late summer honey production. The bees did not have the resources. The bee lets us know that the honey is honey and ready for harvest by putting a layer of beeswax over the honeycombs. We had frames filled but no way of really knowing it was prepared for harvest. The honey bank was empty, the honey was running low, and we gave the farmers markets a heads up that we may have to take a break due to lack of product. Then Alma had a crazy idea; she decided to take a gamble and make an "executive" decision. The bees just needed a little help to finish the job. She didn't want to feed them sugar water as it would compromise the quality of our honey, which is known for being like an icky fast food for the bees.

The solution… honey water. Alma brought in a good portion of our honey and ordered, "Everyone, we are making honey water!" When her partners found out, it was already on the hives! Many were skeptical; some were plain upset…" Storage was already low, and the little we have, you feed the bees?!" Like a mantra…like a prayer… Alma kept saying under her breath, "If we take care of the bees, they will take care of us."

A few weeks later, we were able to harvest, thereby avoiding having to pull out of the farmer's markets. Alma's gamble worked in our favor! It was one step back but two steps forward. We had given the bees what they needed to finish the job, letting our team know what was ready for harvest. We took care of the bees, and they took care of us!!!

We had a late fall bloom. We were blessed to have a typical harvest, enough to get us to early summer and purchase some much-needed mechanical equipment to help us keep up with demand.

Now, some of the 2023 curveballs:

MEAN Girls. After the hurricane, many feral beehives' homes in trees were destroyed, and they found refuge in some of our spare boxes. In the state of FL, beekeepers must re-queen feral hives to have nice bees and ensure that the Africanized bee genetics population does not spread. However, beekeepers cannot re-queen when they have entered "winter" mode. We contacted the state and told them that feral hives moved in and looked pretty rough.

The inspector we spoke to instructed us to nurse them back to health and re-queen them in the spring.

The hives slowly returned to total health. Once the bees were fully recovered, they showed their true colors—nasty, feisty, and ungrateful bees. Their bad attitude, damage to our garden, and down fences are why we chose not to have honey bee tours. The new queens we raised were not as feisty but still did not meet our standard of "Bees of good etiquette." Therefore, we planned a trip to North Carolina. We took future queen bees to hatch and mate with nice NC male bees. The mating went off just as planned! Their offspring resulted in well-bee-haved, hard-working southern belles! Now our girls (beehives) etiquette met our standards.

Our Honey Store: This summer was a hot one! Our store building is the last standing structure on University Parkway that was original to the University when it was County Line Road. With an old structure, there are going to be problems. We had issues keeping the building cool. With the lack of rain, we had problems with water as the building was still on a well. We had to pivot by cutting store hours, growing the online business, and promoting our customers' finding us at a local farmers market.

Our Jar: You may have noticed our jar changed. We went from a tall, skinny jar to a short, wide jar. In mid-December, our standard jar increased in price and was back-ordered. We could only find the tall jar out of state. The shipping cost exceeded the price of the jars! Since it was mid-December, we had to pivot quickly with a new jar and label.

2023 Happy Wiggle Dance Moments:

- Happy Results and Overcoming: Every year, there are new challenges. The knowledge we gained from the 2023 challenges and the fact that our gambles/ theories were successful warrants the biggest happy dance.

Stop the Presses: Cleo the Beekeeper!!! Cleo has been part of our "hive" for two years. She helps with production, the gift shop, social media, and the newsletter. What many don't know is that Cleo was extremely scared of bees. She and her family thought it was ironic that her first work experience would be at a honey store surrounded by thousands of honeybees! Well, this fall, we were able to convince Cleo to overcome her fears and try beekeeping for the day. Check out the video on how it went!

Accolades for Alma: Another happy waggle dance moment that I felt was overdue was when Alma was asked to travel to part-take in a special program at UF. Sarasota Honey Company was honored to be recognized by the University of Florida honey bee lab as one of Florida's top 5 innovative and successful honey producers! UF contacted Alma after researching honey producers across Florida and invited her to participate as a panelist promoting agricultural businesses. This was extra special because it was not something we entered for consideration but an independent study by UF. Sarasota Honey Company is one of the oldest woman-run honey businesses in the state. When Alma started Sarasota Honey Company, she was only one of 5 female owners running a honey/beekeeping business in Florida. Only Alma and one other female remain among the five from long ago who were able to stay in the industry for over the years! When Alma entered the industry, being a female in a male-dominated profession was not easy. She is pleased to see more female beekeepers with every coming year. This will conclude our 2023 recap. I will reach out within the next week or two with some significant and exciting changes coming soon! Stay tuned!

Stay Sweet!



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