without going into too much detail, we want to give a shout out to our advertising and marketing producer from day one, alex smith @thatsmithcray. All our labels, signage, twitter pages, web pages and so much more were put together by him and continue to be monitored with his careful attention to detail. He works for a big firm in NYC now but finds time to help us out when we need some (much needed) social media and tech guidance.
He is also my younger brother and he has faced cancer head on this year and is currently in remission. He leaves the confines of our small town in michigan tomorrow where our parents and other siblings and everyone in the fam has helped him and his amazing girlfriend Taylor overcome this insanely dark period in their very young lives. I am so proud of you little brother for kicking cancers ass!!!! Now go take the world back, it's waiting for you xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo
One of the things that really sets Sunny Honey Company apart from other honey brands is our commitment to producing and sourcing from close personal beekeeper peers and carefully vetted honey operations. We will not ever, and I mean never, go to a large distributor or commercial packing house to source honey if we run out. We will just stop doing business. Period. No exceptions!
One of the best things about our little business of bees and honey being busier than expected is that we get to grow and become a larger employer and supplier and producer than ever before. One of the bad things about our little business of bees and honey is that we are always facing shortages of certain honey varieties that people have come to love and trust. Many of the honey varieties that we produce and source from small producers have an absolute finite amount and when it's gone, it's gone until the next year.
After the christmas holiday season, we found ourselves on the brink of running out of at least 3-4 favorite small crop honeys and we decided that instead of sell it all over the winter and face the possibility of having only 1-2 varieties of honey over the spring and early summer until 2017 crops are ready (honey harvest season in the pacific northwest is primarily in the late summer / early fall with the exception of some spring flows), that we would pull back and be reserved and play it safe. So we shut down the website sales and probably made a bunch of people upset. We also stopped accepting special orders and additional wholesale.
This, of course, is the exact opposite of what most businesses (especially in amazon's seattle!) would do but we are not most businesses. We do not have everything in all sizes, all the time, for everyone, everywhere.
In all honestly, when we decided to agree to take over the location inside Pike Place Market where we currently reside, it was our choice to add an addendum to our lease agreement with the historic commission that stated if we had a crop failure and couldn't find honey from an actual local beekeeper to sell that we would be able to close the store and break our lease! For the traditional business model of supply and demand that would be insane to do, but we don't have a traditional model of business. As a business We enjoy growing larger and supplying more but we have boundaries because we are farmers and we produce and sell seasonal food.
So thank you for being patient while we weathered the winter months. Spring has sprung all around us and our bees are fat and happy and ready to produce! Fingers crossed that this year will be the best yet!!!!!
Because of a confluence of recent events, we are backpedaling on our earlier claim of opening a second retail location in bellingham, wa.
Well, sort of...
In our haste to find a new production facility, we found this one on ohio street and really thought we'd make a go of opening an additional little honey shop. We rented a rototiller and replanted the entire front garden bed with bee friendly flowers, we had custom signs made for the marquee we painted the interior and exterior of the building and set up a rudimentary honey shop that has garnered quite a bit of attention. The momentum was there and then a couple very important variables emerged that gave us pause in our ambitions.
firstly, our store in Pike place market has been keeping us more than busy on it's own, and to grow bigger before we have seamless systems in place could potentially lead to disastrous levels of burnout and frustration. in fact, we are limiting many other ambitions, including farmers markets that we used to attend (sorry guys!) and not accepting any more wholesale accounts until we are steady on our ever growing feet.
Secondly, we have noticed right off the bat that this new industrial fringe downtown location has almost no walking traffic, and those that are passing by are usually just wandering around, either from the brewery or towards the food bank. Multiple times in the last few weeks we have had the doors closed and been working when men have decided to come in, unannounced and uninvited, and either tell us what to do or start asking questions and looking around. WTF???!!! Seriously, we are dealing with live bees coming and going all the time on honey supers, the door says private property and is the back delivery door anyway. Additionally, we are staffed predominantly with women, often times working alone and having the threat of strange men just walking in the door anytime is terrifying. Soooo, we tried locking the doors. Men (well one, who was wearing a blanket on a 90 degree day) have decided then to pound on the door and shout until we pay attention to them. Good grief! The entitlement is astounding! So we posted signs, indicating a potential for harm by live bees, private property, and to literally go away. These signs hang on the back roll door and delivery door and are meant to offer us some privacy while working. We have a bare bones skeleton crew of people responsible for quite a bit of work, and we simply don't have time to answer questions or explain what we are up to. But it's great that the interest exists, and reminds me personally of how much more I need to share here on the website.
Are you still here? Still reading? good, cuz now its time for the good news! We have partnered with our old friends growing washington and their wildly successful and totally amazing local choice food box csa program this year, and not only are we offering 7 different honey sizes to it's current members, we are opening our showroom every thursday from 11-6 as a drop spot for members to pick up their farm fresh foods! which means we will be open to the public and will have all kinds of honey and honey products for sale!!! It's true! and it starts tomorrow!!!!! 11am-6pm each thursday and we are really excited to see what happens.
Like, chill out? like take time to sleep in and watch movies and write letters and read the paper and maybe even go somewhere with a beach and some cocktails? I watch all summer as my michigan family and friends enjoy the worlds greatest beaches and lakes, but i trudge along thinking about january like a carrot dangling in front of my face. then january comes along and all my farmer friends go to mexico and ugh i still have so much work to do! I knew we needed to move our production and bottling facility, that we needed to renovate the back of our tiny shop in order to accommodate more storage, and i knew we needed a new sign made for the front of our shop. So much to do!
I'm coming to understand, though, that most people besides a very specific peer group of new and small independent business owners like myself, have no interest or empathy for someone who wants to complain about being too busy. January had a week of calm before we had a structural issue in the Pike shop which caused us to close for a day and do a small remodeling of our back and side wall display (thus making the shop bigger, thus increasing the area where people can peruse, thus me having to make more stuff to fill the shelves, thus those shelves continue to rapidly deplete, thus the no chilling out). even though it was in the end a really positive change, That remodel kickstarted a winter of growth, rather than a winter of stability.
Previous to january was the big 6 week holiday push, preceded by our big anniversary party, putting us back in October when it was apparent that we needed a bigger and more consolidated workshop and that we needed a new sign. We had been working out of and storing supplies and honey in 2 separate warehouses in Nooksack was well as a storage unit in Everson, an Activspace work area in ballard, and my apartment in fremont, as well as over crowded storage and work area in the back of the pike shop. I knew we had a move coming and a sign to commission but couldn't think about any of it until after the holidays.
So I started looking for warehouses everyday, obsessively scouring craigslist and loop net and commercial real estate websites everyday to find a space with concrete floors, utility sink, hot water, roll doors, and space to make a mess. I never thought it would've been so challenging to find a place that is affordable and clean and conveniently located, but i blame the newly legalized weed industry for scooping up all the available warehouse space up and down the i-5 corridor. What I was left with were choices in places that I don't know anyone, or that will continue to require me to drive all the time. Between tacoma, kent, auburn, everett, seder woolley, and bellingham...I chose to put us back in whatcom county because at least that's where olga lives, and it's in much closer proximity to the 3 main beekeepers that we work with in whatcom and skagit. Meanwhile our darling shopkeeper and illustrator extraordinaire Devon got busy putting together an idea we came up with for a new sign! It came out adorable, better than I hoped for, and now just needs historic approval and hanging (which will take 6 more weeks, ugh!)
So by february I knew if we didn't find a place asap, we would run out of honey(all of our 2015 honey was sitting in a warehouse and had to be moved before warming and bottling). I finally found a huge and expensive and very visible (rather than inexpensive and rural) warehouse/office/retail location in bellingham, and besides it being a refreshingly easy space to work in, it came with the most laid back and friendly landlord. Even my mom agreed (oh did I mention my mom visited for 10 days in the end of february) that the landlord is awesome and the space is way cool.
So then all i had to do was move out of the activspace wax disaster zone, rent a huge box truck and move out of all three everson/nooksack spaces (hallelujah! Finally!), move all the equipment and supplies from my apartment and the activspace unit to bellingham, get the new place painted and cleaned, oversee the transport and delivery of all our 2015 honey back stock and beeswax, train two new staff members (oh did I mention our store manager mary has moved on this month as well?), oh and keep the wholesale orders and shelves of our store stocked in what has unexpectedly been our busiest month since opening the shop!
The good news is that it's done. It should be noted that beekeeper olga helped substantially with the whatcom county move, and without her I might've buckled. Also, my new best friends are the guys at Peninsula trucking, just one block away from our new warehouse. They have been patient with missed jar deliveries, pallets of barrels needing opening, and understanding the pressures of a rapidly growing small business.
So I look forward to another time to chill out. I have no idea when that will be, and that's just fine...
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep -Robert Frost
It feels like August was just yesterday, with throngs of tourists packing the main arcade at Pike Place and bees getting ready for a long break in available forage. And then it was all of a sudden October and I had only done two rounds, maybe three on a few locations, of 2 to 1 thick sugar syrup feed to fatten up food reserves for all our hives. And now it's mid December, and I've let myself continue to prioritize other tasks, projects, and worries over my baby bees.
I think, though, that I tend to be really hard on myself, always driving to do everything to its fullest and to the far reaches of my best try...and I haven't been feeling like a very good beekeeper this fall. I have been feeling neglectful and preoccupied with traveling and parties and bottling honey and well, a little more me time than I've been allowed in the past year.
So last week the weather had it's first sustained cold snap. Cool, clear days and frosty freeze nights for a week. It was beautiful and good for business (humans, like bees, come out of their hives when it's sunny!), but it gave me quite a pause to consider whether or not my bees would be ok. Then the rains started, and have delivered a deluge of, well, typical december proportions. You see, if you don't feed your bees a little extra sugar syrup and pollen in the fall, the colony won't be stimulated to continue raising brood. If the colony isn't very big going into fall, it won't survive winter. When you open the lid of a beehive in the cold months, all the bees cluster together around a few frames up top of the hive. Ideally you'd like to see a basketball sized cluster, indicating a healthy queen and a well organized unit. A softball sized cluster has far less chance of making it through the long, cold months because they simply cannot produce enough heat to stay warm. SO by not feeding through the entire fall, I feared I had made a mortal mistake with many of my hives. Mind you, they all had plenty of honey reserves going into winter...I had made sure of that back in august.
Another reason I just haven't been the best caretaker this year is that I split my time between two places, 110 miles apart. It's hard to just pop in and see beehives when they are 4 miles from the Canadian border and I live in Ballard. I keep dreaming of a rural location where I can have my bees, bottling, waxery, office, and kitchen all in one! Also the store has been tremendously busy and I'm still head of production. This means I'm up in Nooksack bottling honey once a week, but not checking hives.
Anyway, I went up this week and forced myself to stay for 3 days straight. On the first two, the weather was dark and wet and super depressing, so Olga and I committed to bottling as much honey as we could. We emptied two barrels of honey and got the store stocked for (hopefully) the remainder of the holiday season. On the last day, I woke up early and the sun was already up!
olga met me in the field and we proceeded to go through the apiary with bated breath. One after the other, we discovered the hives to be very much alive, very full of bees and honey, and very active for such a cool day! I had never been so happy to see defensive behavior from guard bees! All through this season, I have collected any honey that has either sat out without a lid, or from broken jars at the market, or maybe just was too unfiltered and messy. This honey is what we feed back to the bees in their feeder frames this time of year, because it's safer than feeding liquid sugar (which could ferment and make the bees sick because they don't process it fast enough due to it being so cold out). We also add dry sugar to the hive just above the cluster. By adding a sheet of newspaper on top of the main hive body, then covering it with an empty super and filling that super with dry sugar, this acts as insulation for the hive. The sugar draws moisture out of the hive and hardens up into a big candy block over the next month or so. The bees can chew through the newspaper and have a little snack if they like as well. I know, sugar is weird and I should stay away from it. But it helps the bees this time of year and I liken it to giving your kids McDonalds. If your kids were going to starve to death over the winter, wouldn't you give them mcdonalds? Yes, you would!
I decided to start using old dead-outs as weights after the hives were filled with sugar. I don't want to worry about the lids flying off during the notorious frasier valley wind gusts in whatcom county. The bees won't have access to the tops of their hives until they chew through the sugar, and they usually have to reseal the lids with propolis after i get in there and mess around. Olga, being the hardworking, intuitive, and fearless helper that she is, went and found river rocks to weigh down the hives she had been working on. Her idea was not only cuter than mine, but much more efficient. So you can see my handy work and hers if you happen to be walking down the dike road along the nooksack river!
I'd like to take a quick moment and just say a little something about finding good help. I was, for more than a decade, the highest selling salesperson in my old job. I said yes to everything, worked tirelessly for little pay and even less thanks, and took pride in a hard days work. I have found as now a wage provider, or for lack of a better term, the boss, to be notsomuch shocked as I am disappointed that not everyone works to the same level of dedication that I did, or do. My dad taught me, and still reminds me, to always do more than what's expected. Do more than what you're told to do and good things will come. A perfect example of this kind of work ethic is my friend Olga.
I met Olga when she and I both worked for the greenhouse tulip season on Alm Hill Gardens. I sold at the markets and she worked the fields. She stands about 5 ft tall and must weigh in around 85 lbs, but can carry her own weight across a muddy field day in and day out without complaint. If faced with an unknown task, Olga dives in, prepared to prove that she is capable. She is quiet and reserved, not letting many see behind her serious and focused exterior. I saw in her a work ethic beyond any other young white people on the farm, and when she one day admitted to having a fascination with bees and honey, I knew I had to poach her from the farm and make her my helper! I haven't been able to provide full time work, just here and there bottling and basic beehive maintenance for her to kind of learn the ropes. I can give her very little instruction and she picks it up and runs it without question. I am not a natural teacher, and i actually hate having to explain the process and history of things so much so that I end up just opting to do it myself. With Olga, there is never a feeling that I should do it for her. She is capable and kind, and so so organized. For example, when I take the empty frames out of supers so that we can use them for sugaring the bees, I toss the frames willy-nilly in a pile to deal with later on. When olga empties a super of its frames, she lays them out in perfectly stacked piles. I already told you about her river rock weights, which she quietly and without instruction just chose to innovate. She is a gem and I am motivated to keep her on the team as long as I can!As the sun set on yesterday, I felt happy and relieved and excited for the future. I will have that rural workshop of my dreams someday, and you'd better believe I will have Olga there, working harder and smarter than me.