On today’s show, we welcome back Jay Williams of and . Right off, Jay, who was with us in December, talked about preparing and entering the contest for Honey Has WON this very prestigious award for this year. You heard him here first! This time,...
On today’s show, we welcome back Jay Williams of William’s Honey Farm and South Hall Farms. Right off, Jay, who was with us in December, talked about preparing and entering the Good Food Awards contest for Honey Has WON this very prestigious award for this year. You heard him here first!
This time, Jay walks us through his beekeeping operation, looking at the products he sells, the marketing and branding operation he has developed, and his work at South Hall Farm, near Nashville.
Jay spends about 30 – 40% of his time actually managing his 100+ colonies, raising queens and harvesting products. Another 20% or so is spent on marketing the products his bees produce, and about 30 – 40% of his time is aimed at giving lessons and teaching, giving tours and otherwise using what he does to make money by sharing and showing.
His philosophy starts with “What is your time worth?”, and follows that with telling stories to get the customer involved, getting his message out, using social media, finding and catering to his niche market of local honey users, knowing your costs, staying ahead of the curve with bees, beekeeping and beekeeping products, being ready to fail but getting up and figuring it out, and making it all work together.
His work at South Hall Farms consists of managing the pollinator gardens that surround the Southern Hospitality Farm and Resort, supporting the many native bees, birds and butterflies that visit these gardens, and taking care of the bees they have on site.
When you are done listening to this fantastic marketing genius, great beekeeper and award-winning honey producer, you will be much better prepared to make it all work for you, too.
Also in this episode, we welcome back Ed Colby as he reads story from his new book, A Beekeeper’s Life: Tales from the Bottom Board. This time we learn a little about quarterback Terry Bradshaw and spring time management.
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We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer service, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com
Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com
This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode!
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Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com
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Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong"; Musicalman, "Epilogue". Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.
Introduction: Hey, Jeff, and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufacturers protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow.
Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com
Jeff: Thanks, Sheree, and thank you Global Patties. Know each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support and we know you'd rather get right to talking about beekeeping. However, our super sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen from the transcripts, to hosting fees, software and hardware, microphones, and recorders, they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast.
Bee Culture's been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms as being a sponsor of this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is dedicated to protecting all pollinators. You can listen to 2 Million Blossoms podcast at www.2millionblossoms.com from the website or from wherever you download and stream your shows. Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us. Truly happy you're here. Glad you stuck through that opening. Hey, Kim, happy January.
Kim: Yes, it's January and it's cold, but it could be worse.
Jeff: Yes. Anyway, it has, too, hasn't it?
Jeff: I'm actually rejoicing right now. Yesterday and today, it's been in the 50s and the bees are out. It's really, really fun to see and I was able to check on feeds supplies and put a couple of pollen patties out there and just it's good to work with the bees again.
Kim: Yes. You've been measuring rain by the foot, haven't you lately?
Jeff: Well, it's been the Pacific Northwest liquid snow, yes.
Jeff: You said rain, didn't you? Yes, it's been rain, and rain, and rain. Seeing the sun really makes a difference, puts a smile on this boy's face. Kim, we have received in our email box a new story update from Ed Colby. You know, Ed, from your editor days at Bee Culture?
Kim: Yes, I'm looking forward to hearing him read this. I worked on the book when he was putting it together. I'm looking forward to him reading this one.
Jeff: Real good. Well, let's get right into Ed's reading of the story about-- He calls Terry Bradshaw and it comes from his book A Beekeeper's Life. Tales from the Bottom Board, and that's available wherever you download and you buy your books.
Ed Colby: The reason I call her my gal Marilyn is because Terry Bradshaw does. She taught him to ski. A few weeks later on the David Letterman Show, the iconic Hall of Fame quarterback gushed about his vacation in Aspen and about that gal Marilyn. At one point, Letterman interrupted to say, "Wait a minute, Terry, you're a married man. Who's this gal Marilyn?" Bradshaw's ah shucks persona is no put on according to my gal. While he was making a cell phone call, Marilyn overheard him say, "How's your mom and them?"
Marilyn cracked the whip on me after we got back from the Apimondia bee conference in Ukraine. I landed in the hospital prior to the trip and couldn't do any fall bee work before we left. Now, it was mid-October Indian summer here in Colorado, and I hadn't poked my head inside a beehive for six weeks. Paul pulled my honey for me in September, but I hadn't treated for mites or fed any late hives. I still needed to get 40 colonies ready to go to California for the almonds on one of Paul's semi loads. I wanted to get going because you never know when old man winter's going to show up around here.
Experience taught me long ago that the bees always have to come first. Once upon a time, I went to Santa Fe for the weekend. When I got back, half of the queens I'd left on the kitchen table were dead. You never forget something like that. I was scheduled to speak on the bus tour on the last day of the conference. The bus tour featured a visit to the tiny historically Hispanic communities in the rugged mountains on the high road between Taos and Santa Fe, highlighted by a visit to Melanie Kirby's Zia Queenbee farm.
The lunch stop was at the Santuario de Chimayo, an early 19th-century church. Pilgrims believe that holy dirt from a hole in the church floor heals the sick. Some believers eat that dirt. "You should rub some on your bald head," Marilyn said. At the community theater in Peñasco, I gave my talk about our adventures in Ukraine but first I had a little surprise for the audience. I pulled out a frame of new comb riddled with textbook American foulbrood. There were puddles of goo in the bottoms of cells, so you could do the ropy test. You dip a match stick in the goo and when you pull it out, the goo sticks to it and stretches like the mucus.
There was dried-up scale in the bottoms of cells. The cap bridge cells were sunken and shot with holes, and it was all easy to see because it was a new white comb. I handed the frame to someone in the front row and told her to pass it around because you can talk about American foulbrood all you want, but you really have to see it. Then you don't have to send off samples to labs, or wonder. Once you've seen it and smelled it, you don't forget. I thought my sample might be a rare educational gift for some. I dived right into my talk which had nothing to do with American foulbrood, but I wasn't very far into it when a gentleman raised his hand.
He suggested that my sample was an inappropriate gift because, by virtue of handling it, folks might transmit the bacteria to beehives. This struck me as far-fetched, like catching aids by shaking Magic Johnson's hand. We weren't even looking at bees that day. I brushed off his remarks and kept to my topic, but did I detect the pulse of alarm ripple through the crowd. Outside in the sunshine after my talk, I saw beekeepers talking animatedly as they examined my frame, but some stood back as if it might be radioactive, or maybe harbored Ebola virus.
I thought somebody might want to keep my specimen for reference but before the bus took off, a woman handed it back to me, wrapped in its original plastic bag. "We didn't know what to do with it," she said. Well, I didn't know what to do with it either, so I brought it home. It's still wrapped in that plastic bag in my closet. Back in Colorado, Indian summer droned on for weeks. Then one stunning blue sky late November day, I did a final round of sugar syrup feeding. That night it snowed 17 inches. A couple of nights later, the mercury dropped to single digits. Old man winter was here.
Jeff: Ed's quite a character.
Kim: That's putting it mildly.
Kim: Yes, he's entertaining, and he's fun to be around, and he tells a good story. He learned that somewhere and every one of his articles and every one of the things that he's reading now tells a good story.
Jeff: Sure, he does. Well, I'm glad that he's able to participate and send us updates as they go along, and I look forward to hearing some more throughout the spring. All right. Today we have an interview with Jay Williams. If you remember, Kim, Jay was part of the Good Food Awards honey finalist. We get to hear from him today about South Hall Farm exploits.
Kim: How he did in the contest. That's what I'm waiting to hear.
Jeff: That'll be good. I'm looking forward to that update as well. All right. Well, let's get right to that. First, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
Strong Microbials Representative: Hello, beekeepers. Your honeybees face a lot of challenges out there, unbalanced food sources for monoculture crops, holding yards, drought, food shortages, antibiotics, pesticides, and pathogens like chalkbrood. To overcome these challenges, your bees need the multiple bacteria that are in all nectars, pollens, and the environment. These bacteria aid honeybees' digestion and improve your honeybees' response and resilience to pesticides. Now, you can help improve your honey colony health with a quick, easy, and safe-to-use product. Strong Microbial's SuperDFM®-HoneyBee uses naturally occurring bacteria to restore the healthy gut biome of your honeybees. Check them out today at www.strongmicrobials.com.
Jeff: Hey, and while you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey everybody, welcome back to Beekeeping Today Podcast. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now, we want to welcome back Jay Williams of South Hall , right there by Nashville, Tennessee. Welcome back, Jay.
Jay Williams: It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jeff: Oh, you bet.
Kim: Good to see you again, Jay.
Jay: Yes, it's a thrill to be on the wires with you guys. I love listening to you and it's always exciting to actually see you in person.
Jeff: Well, we're happy to have you back. Many of our listeners will recognize Jay was on our show last fall as one of the Good Food Awards finalists and we'll be talking about that here coming up. It's great to have you back, Jay.
Jay: It's awesome to be here. I feel like we have a lot to talk about. I'm going to try and scale or pull back the reins a little bit so I don't yap on too much. You guys keep me in line because I love bees and I can talk about it all night long.
Jeff: Well, that's 99% of our audience. The 1% is the spouse sitting next to the beekeeper listening. Jay, we didn't get into this Good Food Awards. I just want to just start off with how did you start your interest? Give us some of your background in bees and beekeeping. How'd you fall in love with bees?
Jay: Yes, sure. I'm from New York and I grew up in a family of actors. We had nothing at all to do with agriculture, bees, you name it, nothing. Literally, I grew up making plays with my sisters in front of my parents. That's all we did and so I never thought I'd be in the position I'm in right now. We moved to Nashville about 13 years ago and right when we moved here, my wife read a newspaper article about how the bees were in trouble. I was like, "Why are they in trouble? Why is everybody afraid of honeybees? What can I do to help?"
I've been a fireman for about 20 years and I just like helping people, helping with things and it was this natural progression of like, "All right, well, here's something else that's cool, and a little exciting, a little adrenaline rush." You guys are just like me. One thing led to another. I started with two colonies. I was so proud of my double deeps is what I would always call them because that was a big deal to me that they were [chuckles] two double deeps and it turned into just an obsession.
I feel like I should say, "My name is Jay and I'm addicted to beekeeping," because it's true. I live and breathe this stuff. I can't get away from it. I'm the guy where my wife is literally elbowing me saying, "Quit talking about virgins and mating in public. This is really awkward. You're way too into beekeeping. You need to throttle it back." It's just been the case ever since I started. I manage between 75 and 100 colonies, but really, this has taken off and the business of beekeeping, to me, is more about protecting the bees, and preserving the bees, and educating others.
I'll be honest. It's not really about the honey but over the years, I've failed a lot. I want to say that openly here. I've failed a lot and it has taught me a lot and I can say with confidence that you can make money at beekeeping. You can survive at this. When I first started, an old guy sat me down and he was like, "Dude, you need to relax. You're not going to make money at this thing. Beekeeping is fun, but it's a money pit." He's like, "You ever seen the movie Money Pit? This is it. This is beekeeping."
I disagree now. I'm living proof that you can actually make a living doing this. I'm really excited that in 13 years that it's been a great journey. I in no way know what I'm doing. [laughs] As most beekeepers out there, we're all trying to do the best thing we can, but it's any man or woman's game and that's what's really fun. That's what keeps drawing me back in and trying new things and hopefully, we'll talk about some of them.
Jeff: Tell us a little bit about your Williams Honey and the relationship with Williams Honey and South Hall and how that got started?
Jay: Yes, I've been running Williams Honey Farm in Nashville for a while now and, like I said, my business started out as I wanted to make some honey and do what everybody else who usually gets into beekeeping wants to do. I started to realize that if I do everything perfectly and my mating cycles go right and the basswood blooms at the right time and all these other things, I may get a certain amount of honey crop. If Mother Nature decides, "Well, I don't really feel like having the perfect weather," and I, again, do everything perfectly, I'm not going to make that honey crop and as a result, I'm not going to be profitable.
I think the lesson that I've learned over the years is that you've got to at least make your money back. [chuckles] You can't keep pouring money into this thing because you're not going to get support from your family, or in my situation, my wife. She's just going to say, "What are you doing? You're just throwing money into this thing.” At least make your money back. The business of Williams Honey Farm grew into, "How do I teach people? How do I become a consultant for people? How do I mentor? What are the niche markets that I can get into, so that I really can make money?"
Like I said, it's not about the honey, but you'll never see my honey in a standard Queenline jar. You'll never see me do exactly what the rest of the guys are doing out there and because of those little tweaks that we've made, I've been able to finally become profitable and survive. Then this business has turned into we teach beekeeping in schools every single year. I have this thing called Tactical Beekeeping Academy, which is an online school so that people can take classes any time of year.
Then I've really tried to take technology and use it to my advantage to reach as many people as possible, beekeepers, and non-beekeepers believe it or not, which is an important distinction to make.
Kim: Jay, it sounds like you've got a 40-hour day.
Jay: I outsource the heck out everything, Kim, don't worry.
Kim: Squeezing all of that in and it sounds impressive, all of the things that you're involved in. Let me back up a half a step and if you were going to categorize this as your business, some percent of this is keeping bees, some percent of this is marketing, and some percent of this is all the other things you mentioned, teaching and touring and all of those things. How does that percentage work out for you the way that you're doing it?
It's not going to be the same for everybody. I appreciate that, but if I'm looking to get started, or I'm started already, and I'm looking at what's the next, what can I think of how much time this is going to take out of my life the way you're doing it?
Jay: I think that's a great question because when you're first starting out, all you're trying to do is keep your bees alive. All you want to do is make it through that 18 months or so where you can get to your honey crop and have some jars to pass on to your friends and that's the bulk of your time. I feel like I guess my week or my month or however you want to describe it, I would say really in the end, is about 30% to 40% actual beekeeping, the same if not more of consulting or teaching or mentoring or just coaching, and then the rest of it is marketing.
Maybe 20% or so of really trying to get your brand and your marketing tactics or techniques out there so that you can build your foundation and be able to survive tough times or great times.
Kim: Well, the number of hives that you're running, what did you say? 75 to 100 colonies?
Jay: About 75 to 100, yes.
Kim: Okay, so you're making barrels of honey. I mean, that much honey. You're selling some of that not over the counter at the local farm market. Where else are you selling your honey?
Jay: Yes. The majority of my honey goes to-- We only have less than five wholesale accounts. A lot of people actually buy our honey and we ship it, but I only ship it usually within the state of Tennessee because the majority of people, as you know, they want local honey, so really in the end, a lot of my stuff I can handle the selling of my honey at night when the kids go to bed or on an off-day or whatever because I'll package it up in my shop and just ship it out in the mail.
The wholesale customers are great because they give you a little bit of street credit so that people know you're local and know that you're around here. I may be jumping ahead but where you make your money is a wedding comes in and they say, "We want 300 honey vials that are an ounce and a half each and we want to custom our name on the side of the honey vial," or honey straws.
If you heard of Publix Super Markets, I'm in 60 Publix Super Markets right now with our honey straws across the southeast. That may sound like just a massive operation but in the end, you want to get down to the details. I make 4,400 Honey straws in a single five-gallon bucket of honey, so you can get your name out there with a tiny little bit of honey and still turn a pretty good profit. Your ROI is very, very good for a smaller quantity of honey with a good message, and a good packaging, and a story. That is really the core. That's the essence of the survival here is you've got to be able to tell a story. You got to be able to give an experience to your customer. You got to have them feel like they are a part of your organization, a part of making a difference, and also part of the celebration, as corny as maybe as that sounds. It's true. People want to celebrate this honeybee, celebrate the honey and the sweat that you put into it, and the backaches that you went through and they're willing to pay for it. Because of that, I'm here today to be able to say, I'm surviving as being a beekeeper.
Kim: You said you have kids going to sleep at night. Are they any part of your business yet?
Jay: Yes. They help bottle honey in the shop. They're tough because they're always raising their cost per hour. They're always asking me for more money. I think that might be mom coaching them a little bit, but they're doing great. If you follow any of our social media stuff, they're always wanting to play around in bee suits and hang out with bees and stuff like that. I would say that I'm the guy on the ground really doing it. They are having fun with me, and then my wife is the one who keeps us all in line.
It's a fun little happy family we got here that loves bees and loves everything to do with pollinators in general. Very lucky.
Jeff: Very lucky for sure. You're talking about the marketing, so let's just touch on that real quick. One of the things that I think the first time I became aware of you was on Instagram and just a funny little skit you did on that. Can you talk a little bit, how you're utilizing social media in your beekeeping business as part of your overall plan?
Jay: Yes. I think something that may help your listeners to go through, like walk with me down this like quick little road here. When you're wanting to get your name out there or you're wanting to try and figure out how do you survive a beekeeper? How do you make a little bit of money? You have to ask yourself, this is all just my opinion, but you have to ask yourself a couple of key questions. You have to go down a road of self-discovery.
You got to know the difference between branding and marketing. I won't get too deep in the weeds here, but branding is who you are. Branding is what are your values? What are you trying to accomplish? Marketing is more how do you get that message out there and the tactics? Once you discover the core of who you are, and then you discover how are you going to get that message out there, things speed up a little bit and it becomes a little bit more fluid.
One of the ways that we get our name out there is through Instagram Reels or just in general, social media. I'll say that it's actually really fun. You shouldn't do any of the stuff that I'm telling you to do by the way, unless it's fun to you. You don't want to get down into this thing and just feel like it's another job or another responsibility. You got to have fun making these silly reels and full disclosure I'm not saving the world with my Instagram Reels.
I'm not trying to do anything other than enjoy bees and try and share the love for them, but I never thought that a silly Instagram Reel of me singing some trendy song for 15 seconds and then falling down in the end, it's literally getting 15,000 views these days. Right after I put out a reel, I notice a bump in our online sales. That can lead to appearances where people want you to give a talk about bees or show up at a fair or a festival or something.
Jeff: Appear on a podcast.
Jay: Appear on a podcast. Yes. Those things have fingers that take over and really can dictate successes or where you're going to try and go in your career.
Jeff: Oh, definitely. Yes. You're quite the dancer too. You have some moves.
Jay: Terrible dancer.
Jeff: You have some moves.
Jay: It's funny you say that because I think another lesson is you got to be transparent. Don't try and be some like, everything's perfect. That's one thing. It's a love and hate with social media because everybody wants to show how everything is perfect. Well, if you look really closely at some of the stuff I put out, I'm showing you how badly I screwed up. I'm showing you that super, that I forgot that I didn't have any frames inside, and now is a big chunk of honeycomb, and what are you going to do?
I feel like the more you get into this thing, I feel like it's an inherent responsibility that all of us, all three of us, we have to show that we are not perfect, that there's a lot to this hobby and we need to be stewards of good information too. You mentioned I do silly videos, but I also put out things that I believe will help new beekeepers. If you are going to get into that, if this is the road you want to go down with your honey business, just make sure that what you're putting out there is vetted, peer-reviewed, or something other than--
When I first started, I went to the bee clubs and I would overhear someone saying, "Oh, this is how you fix small hive beetles," or, "Oh, no, what you're doing's totally wrong. This is how you fix a might infestation." If I turned around and just blasted that all over the internet, I feel like that's irresponsible. I don't want to get on a high horse, but I do feel like if you are going to be given this chance and this microphone to really try and promote beekeeping and your business, just take a moment and make sure that what you're putting out there is good information and it's from a reputable source.
Jeff: We totally agree.
Kim: Yes. Good advice.
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Jeff: We first met you when we were talking to the good food awards people, and you were part of that discussion. Do you want to share with us how that went this year? First off, let me interject something here. One thing I'm really curious about is what kind of honey did you enter?
Jay: We entered wildflower honey which is one of those catchalls for everything that we can put together in a season, the full breadth of all the different flows and tastes and whatnot. I'll say that I don't know if I give you guys 100% of the credit, but I will give you guys something. You are definitely good luck because we ended up winning, which is really exciting. They just announced it last Friday.
Jay: Commission checks are coming your way.
Jeff: I'll be checking the mail.
Jay: Yes. Keep checking. It was really exciting. I'm really proud of the honey that South Hall made. We did spend a fair amount of time trying to make sure that what we were putting out there was right and worthy of winning. I didn't harvest my honey. Like I said, I got the entire season's worth of flavors which I'm more partial to. I feel like I have more room to pair that with different foods and really talk about the beginning, middle, and the aftertaste.
Before we submitted it, we actually got all the whole culinary team and the farm cultivation team, as well, to come together and taste it and decide, "Do we want to put this out there in the public? Is this worthy? Do you really feel like this is a good year, a good vintage?" Everybody tasted it together, and then bottled up three jars and sent it off and fingers crossed. We got super lucky and we got fairly good notes back from the tasters. It's a thrill to be on this national platform from our honey. We only have about 40 hives there, and these hives are something special if you ask me.
Kim: It's something to be able to say, "The best honey in the world." [chuckles]
Jay: Yes. I don't know if I'm allowed to say that, but it's very exciting to say we are a Good Food Awards winner, for sure, especially across the Southeast.
Jeff: It was extractive honey, too. When you prepared your honey through the season, you said it's all through the season. Did you collect everything by month or did you just put everything into one-- How did you prepare it?
Jay: Great question. Our season here in Tennessee, technically about mid-April or so is when it kicks off. May 1st and the locus really gets going, and it ends usually by about the end of June with the basswood. That entire flow was scattered obviously throughout the honey supers. Then I extracted everything at once on about July 5th or July 6th or so, let it sit for a little while, steep or whatever you want to call it, and then filtered it through a 600-micron filter.
The minimal amount that I could, so that there was still some good pollen in there. It was not clear. It was cloudy honey, which is in my opinion better honey because it's got some good stuff in it. It hasn't been stripped of all the good stuff. Litter really that's it. You bottle it up and send it off. With the Good Food Awards, you don't have to worry about your labels or the stuff that your standard honey competitions where there's no honey on the lid and all that. It's really just about the taste, which is cool.
Jeff: No fingerprints on the label, perfect glass. Oh, that's horrible. I hate that.
Jay: My kids could bottle it all. No one cares.
Jeff: One of the things we haven't talked, and you mentioned it, and I do want to understand better what you're doing there at South Hall and the relationship with Williams Honey and South Hall Farms and the whole operation as that goes.
Jay: Like I mentioned, Williams Honey Farm over the past 13 years has grown to teaching queen production, things that are really fun and stimulating. I started working for South Hall Farms about five or six years ago, just as their beekeeper on the side. We started with just 10 colonies or so. It's a farm-based resort, that's a luxury resort that actually is set to open in June of 2022. It's on hundreds of acres and really it's an amazing little gem of a property and a project because they are trying to return to a sustainable and a traditional Southern hospitality model.
People will come in and stay in amazing inns or cottages in the hills like treehouses. Then while they're there, they can go on apiary tours with me. We will do honey tastings. We have the highest all-star culinary team around, so we will pair our honeys with certain products that are either grown on the farm or sourced locally from around town. It's really a collaboration of really good chefs, a really good farm team that we all support each other. There's quite an extensive pollination program. That's actually what I've been hired to do full time now is be the pollination program manager for South Hall .
That will mean that I have to not only take care of a bunch of honey bees but also manage their native bee population so mason bees and leafcutter bees. Also, manage the butterfly breeding, make sure that we have enough foliage, nectar-producing sources around the property that not only helps the bees but also teaches and provides an educational environment to everybody who visits South Hall . There's something called the signal tree that we have there, which is like the redbud.
The redbud is now going to give us a signal that it's a certain time of year. We have to do certain things in our bee colonies. Bottlebrush buckeye, all these kind of trees that to me, they give me a signal for what I'm supposed to do in the year. That's an example of why this project is like nothing I've ever experienced before and I'm super excited to be involved in it. I only could have gotten to this point if Williams Honey Farm, number one, survived, that we charged enough for our honey.
Number two, we love what we're doing. It's not just me. It's my whole operation here. We love talking about bees. We love teaching people and I am trying to raise bees that my kids can enjoy someday, not just me right now. I feel like we need to look even farther. It's that kind of a system that I've been super blessed to be able to now be able to do this full time for South Hall farms.
Jeff: Sounds like a great operation.
Jay: Yes, it's really fun.
Kim: I think we're going to have to visit, Jeff.
Jeff: Yes, and I have family members who love Lynchburg area for the bourbon tours. I can stay there at South Hall Farm and work the bees with you. The rest of the family can go to the Blanton's or wherever. I don't know. They could tell you all about. I don't know. Yes, let's do it, Kim.
Jay: Yes. Come on by. We'll be grafting about three or four times a year, so I'll put you guys to work.
Jeff: No, I didn't want to work. You said resort, and that's what I'm keen on.
Jay: Well, it's a working farm.
Jeff: Oh, I see how this works.
Kim: Yes, it sounds like it's a working farm, definitely. One of the things that you brought up and we've just left sit there for a moment was how do I put it? If I wanted my business to grow, and I can't grow and spend a lot of money and not make that much money back. I don't have that kind of background. As you started or you've seen other people start how do I approach this from a breakeven perspective, not knowing whether I'm going to be able to-- You see where I'm going here?
Jay: Yes, definitely. Again, this is just my opinion, but I feel like there's a couple of steps you need to take. First, you got to figure out who your audience is and then it's actually easier than it used to be. We'll just use social media, for example. If you're online right now, I know, I can tell you I have 82% of my followers are female. I know that their ages are between 34 and 55 years old. I know their general income levels and what they're interested in. Once I know all that stuff, and this is all free and open information, believe it or not, I can then figure out, okay, this is the person that likes to hear what I have to say or my messaging.
What are the other things that they may be more interested in? Once you figure that out, then you actually can find your niche. Once you find your niche, that's where you start to make your money. Like I mentioned earlier, wedding favors and event gifts, you can make a whole lot of cash that way and offset any losses you might have in your business. I think it's important, too, to look at, let's use a honey super as an example. A full honey super of honeycomb, if I'm going to harvest that honeycomb, or even not, even if I'm just going to take a frame out and sell it to a chef who wants to have a cut comb honey charcuterie tray at his restaurant.
I know that in my market, it's going to be about $115 a frame. I run all eight-frame medium supers, so in an eight-frame medium super, that's about just over $900 that I will get in return for one honey super of honeycomb. If I'm going to extract that honeycomb, and not make it cut comb honey, then it's going to come out to about $450 in retail value for that super. Once you figure out those little techniques, and you figure out, "Okay, well wait a second here." I can get a niche of just-- I'll be the honeycomb guy, then believe it or not just all of a sudden, everything turns on.
Now you're making a whole lot of money because you've now niched down, you've focused down to something that you're really good at. If you want to make propolis. I can go on and on. As you guys know, there's many little markets to go through, but once you figure out my customer loves raw honeycomb from Franklin, Tennessee, and my customer is basically in Middle Tennessee and they are willing to spend $22 or $25 for a small almost business-card-sized chunk of honeycomb, then you really can start to turn your profit and you can reinvest it and build your business slowly.
You don't ever want to do this on credit or anything like that. You build slowly over time by finding this niche. I want to make sure that I stress here that I feel like I am producing a rare and valuable commodity. I feel like I need to charge something for it. This is a hot debate in some beekeeping clubs because inevitably, you'll get an older timer that says, "I've always charged $6 a quart, and that's what I'm going to do and that's how things work."
That's great, but for me, I have hurt my back, broken bones, had to have eye surgery, gotten tick diseases. I'm really out there working very hard and I feel like I need to charge something to be able to keep doing this. It's because of that, that I'm able to say what I'm doing matters and my audience, that person that I've figured out is my follower is willing to pay for it and everybody's happy. I've given them an experience that they can be proud of and I'm happy about it too. No one feels like they're taken advantage of at all.
Again, we're joining in this journey of trying to protect the bees. I feel like that's how you do it. You got to break it down that way.
Kim: Jeff, I think we've just had a whole semester of marketing.
Jeff: That's right. You're treating it as a full business not as a glorified hobby because when you treat it as a full business you understand, as you've laid out so eloquently, you understand your market, you understand who your customer is, you produce a product specifically for them or actually, you produce a product and you have the right market for it. You find the right customer for that product. You treat it as such and you work within your means. You don't go out extend yourself on credit.
For someone who's wanting to take their hobby and become a sideliner ultimately to a commercial beekeeper who can spend their life with bees, that's what you have to do.
Jay: My wife is an actuary, which I don't know if you're familiar with that is but she's a number cruncher and she will shoot you straight. If you are not making money at something or something is taking too much of your time, and you think it's the best idea in the world, you got to be cutthroat about it. She is a perfect partner in this. I used to think that chapsticks were the best thing in the world, lip balms. It cost me around 80 cents to make a lip balm tube and I would charge $4 and people would happily buy it all day long. Well, guess what? It took me forever to make those stinking lip balm tubes and my time is worth something.
If I'm spending forever making these things and taking over the whole shop, and it's a big mess, it was not a good product. I had to swallow that pill and accept it. You got to have someone that helps you and says, "Stick with what you're good at. Don't start getting into something you don't know how to do."
Jeff: Well those conversations are hard enough, but having it with your spouse would be even more difficult. That's a big pill to take. [laughs]
Kim: It goes back to a lot of things in running a beekeeping business and that's the basic functional question, what's your time worth? If you know what it's worth, and you're not making that worth during the time that you're spending, then you're exactly right. You got to do something better, different, faster, smarter, and make it worth your time. Good advice.
The toughest question you can ask a beekeeper-- I can stand in front of a roomful of 50 beekeepers and then say, "How much does it cost you to make a pound of honey?" I can count the people that actually know on one hand with fingers left over. What you're saying is you got to be able to answer that question. What does it cost to produce a pound of honey or wax or whatever? If you know it costs you $12 to produce a pound, you're not going to sell it for $10.50? Well, you shouldn't sell it for $10.50.
Jeff: Or give it away.
Kim: Yes. [laughs]
Jay: It's a hard conversation to have because your ego always gets in the way because you want to be like, "I'm everything to everybody and I know what I'm doing." In the end, again, we're all trying to figure this out and you can't please everybody either. That's a really, really hard thing that I've had to go through is I can't be that great beekeeper for every single thing out there. I've got niche down. I've got to say, "All right, I really like grafting queens, that's what I'm going to do. I don't produce packages."
I love making creamed honey, but it takes an awful long time so instead, I'm going to stick with liquid honey. You got to figure this stuff out too, so you should be able to experiment. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
Kim: Good point. Exactly because your audience isn't permanent. Your market isn't permanent. It's going to change. It's going to grow and or evolve in some way and you're going to have to be ahead of it. You got to be able to read the handwriting on the wall and say, "Okay, I can see next year. We're going to need to be a lot more than that." Good advice, Jeff. I'm glad I tuned in.
Jeff: This has been a great talk with you, Jay. I found some great information and gosh, to find out that you won the GFA awards or Good Food Awards is really good too. What a great treat.
Kim: I got to say one thing, Jeff. If I'm not mistaken I think this guy read a book I know about called In Business with Bees. There's a lot of that in there.
Jeff: We ought to have that author on the show sometime. Do you think we can arrange that?
Kim: Look at that.
Jay: I think half of Kim’s books are on my wall behind me.
Jay: I didn’t plan this at all, but it’s good.
Jeff: Yes. I was going to say you just set him up, didn't you? Come on.
Jay: You or Larry Connors is basically all over the house.
Jeff: You're keeping good company, Kim.
Kim: Yes. Well, that's good to know. Well, what have we missed? What gem of information have we not asked you about so that we can wrap this up and we'll know it all? [chuckles]
Jay: I don't know. We've been all over the place. There's a lot to it. I feel like there's a couple of key things that I want to make sure I stress which is try, try, try, be ready to fail, and use your failures to bounce right back up. It's not about what you fail at. It’s what you're going to do afterwards, and put things out there that you're not sure if they're going to work or not. I got a lot of my boost from a silly iPhone video that was literally 30 seconds long that I took in 2013 or whenever it was.
I put it on the internet and it went viral. It's sitting at around 6 million views right now. It's literally just some slow-motion bees in a field. I bring that up because you never know what you're going to find by just putting things out there and experimenting with your bees and showing the world how much you love them. Again, inviting the world into your transparent environment where things may go wrong but things also go right and they get to enjoy or celebrate in the journey with you.
Once you do that, I think you'd be surprised. I think things will start, hopefully paying for themselves and going in a positive direction instead of in a negative direction. That's my advice. Sticking to it.
Jeff: That's a good one. That's good advice.
Kim: Good advice.
Jeff: Good advice for everything, actually.
Kim: Jay, this has been fun. Certainly, I'm going to say profitable. That's a double-edged sword here, how to make money and how to learn how to make money. Thank you for being with us today. Congratulations on winning the Good Food Award Honey Contest. I look forward to tasting some of this.
Jeff: Jay, also, you mentioned on so many different things and I know you're working on a lot of different things. We look forward to having you back here not too long down the road to find out what's happening at South Hall Farms and Williams Honey Company.
Jay: Thanks a lot. It's a pleasure being here. I love talking to you guys. I feel like there's a lot to talk about so even if we got into little nooks and crannies here and there, it's still a big thrill. Thanks and I look forward to being on again someday if you let me.
Jeff: Count on it. Well, thanks a lot. You take care.
Kim: Thanks a lot, Jay.
Jay: All right, have a good one.
Jeff: Jay Williams. Man, he has a lot going. I am really excited to have him on the show.
Kim: Yes. The amount of information that he gave today you could write a book on beekeeping business marketing, and how he has accomplished with what he has. I got to say one thing. I wonder what it would be like talking to him after two cups of coffee.
Jeff: Yes. Oh, man. He's got a lot of energy in there. More power to him. He's got a lot of irons in the fire and they're all just doing a great job, it sounds like.
Kim: Yes. He's got his three kids, Jack and Sam and Leo working with him. I tell you, if you got to have a family business, the whole family's involved. That is maybe the neatest part of this, all things considered.
Jeff: Yes, it makes it all click. Speaking about his business, I do want to correct myself. I think throughout the entire conversation with him I was calling it Sout Hill Farm there in Tennessee. In fact, it is South Hall Farm. That is correct in our show notes and the links and everything, but I do want to correct myself and apologies to Jay for my stumbles.
Kim: Okay. That's good.
Jeff: Also, we were talking to him after the show and he was talking about how important it is when you're doing this business to try to batch, what he called batching his work efforts, which was I think a good advice for anybody running a business.
Kim: Well, it keeps you focused. That's for sure. If you get your hands in a beehive, you don't want to be taking them out of a beehive and going over to the truck and fixing something there and then going over to another hive. You want to finish that hive and beyond. That's the kind of thing I think he's talking about is do one thing, do it well, get it done, and go on and do something else.
If you can stay focused like that, and I don't have any trouble with that at all, you know me.
Jeff: Yes. I’m like a ferret on a double espresso most days. I thought it was a great approach where he was saying in this business when you sit down to do something, try to get it all done for the week. It's analogous to if you're working in the bee yard, work in that bee yard, get that bee yard done, and then move on to your next thing.
Don't start in that bee yard and say, "Oh, I need to go down to the drugstore," and leave the bee yard and go to the drug store. Just get all the work done for the week. I think that's really good.
Kim: Good advice.
Jeff: We had fun with Jay and look forward to having him back.
Kim: Yes. I think can learn more.
Jeff: Yes. I do too. Well, that about wraps it for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars in Apple Podcast. Wherever you download and stream the show, your vote helps other beekeepers find us even quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for new podcasts know what you like.
You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any web page. As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of the Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com.
We also want to thank Strong Microbials for their continued support of this podcast. Check out their full probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Betterbee for joining us as a supporter. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on this show.
Feel free to send us questions or comments or questions at beekeepingtoday.podcast.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?
Kim: Yes. Don't be afraid to share either. The advice you heard today on this program should be shared with every beekeeper you know, I think, just because it's good solid marketing advice. Hit that share button and send it along to your friends.
Jeff: Absolutely. Sharing is good. All right, Kim, thanks a lot. Thanks, everybody.
[00:50:15] [END OF AUDIO]
Sideline beekeeper. Columnist, Bee Culture magazine "Bottom Board" column since 2002. Author, A Beekeeper's Life, Tales from the Bottom Board. (https://www.amazon.com/Beekeepers-Life-Tales-Bottom-Board/dp/1912271885)
Actuarial tables indicate I should be retired, but I continue to be obsessed with Apis Mellifera. I live in western Colorado with the gal Marilyn, the blue heeler Pepper, 15 chickens, three geese, four lambs and way too many bees.
Pollination Program Manager
Jay has been working in and around pollinators for the past 13 years and currently serves as the Pollination Program Manager for Southall Farms based in Franklin, TN. Southall Farms is a luxury farm-based resort dedicated to sustainability, agricultural, culinary discovery and the circle of life. Set to open in the late spring of 2022, we will showcase interactive hive tours, honey tastings, and various educational opportunities. Our bees (Honeybee/Mason bee/Leaf Cutter Bee) have been a central focus of this farm since its inception 5 years ago.
We're excited to be a finalist with the Good Food Awards!