Enterprising teen turns beekeeping hobby into business
Nicholas Simpson was 11 years old when he showed his first interest in beekeeping. Five years later, he’s got a honey business that’s abuzz with activity.
Simpson, 16, received a bee hive from the St. Croix Valley Beekeepers Association five years ago. The association gives out one hive and the necessary equipment to an area youth each year to see if it will spark an interest in the hobby. Simpson was one of the first area youth to receive the donation.
Simpson and his family have built the donation into a thriving bee business. Simpson now has 21 bee hives at the family’s home in rural New Richmond. He estimated that the bees produced more than 220 pounds of honey in 2014.
Simpson markets his honey locally under his “Nature’s Gold” brand name. With his honey selling at $10 a pound, he’s turned the hobby into quite a successful venture.
Simpson is scheduled to give a presentation on his beekeeping business at the St. Croix Valley Beekeepers Association’s March meeting. The meeting will be held on Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m. The meetings are held at Peace Lutheran Church, 2084 County Road N, south of Baldwin. The meeting is open to the public. Youth, especially 4-H clubs and Scout troops, are encouraged to attend. The group, which has nearly 100 members, meets the second Tuesday of every month at the church.
The family’s introduction to beekeeping came in 2009 when Nick and his dad, Jay, visited Chuck Hansen in rural Somerset. Hansen has been an avid beekeeper since the early 1990s.
Hansen told the Simpsons about the Beekeepers Association and its newly formed program to get youth involved in the activity. Nich, the fourth of seven Simpson children, decided to apply. He was given the hive and equipment ranging from a beekeeping outfit to tools, a smoker and enough bees for one hive. This is given with the proviso that the youth can keep everything if they’ve shown progress with their project at the end of the first year.
By the end of his first year, Nich had three hives. A few years later, a neighbor who kept bees had a fire and was forced to sell their hives. Nich purchased that collection and he’s been keeping at least 20 hives ever since. When he made that purchase he bought most of the equipment that went with the hives, included an extractor and a wax melter.
With the rapid growth, Nich had to rapidly become a knowledgeable beekeeper. He also had to become an entrepreneur. He found several outlets to sell his honey. The Simpsons homeschool and a number of other families who homeschool became customers. He reached an agreement with Doyle’s Farm and Home in New Richmond to sell his product. Nich’s mom, Jeanne, also sells the honey at farmer’s markets and craft fairs. She said the honey sells well because it is a natural sugar and that some honey sold in stores can have additives.
Nich talks like a seasoned veteran in discussing the ins and outs of the bee business. The family extracts honey once a year, usually on Labor Day weekend, while some others extract more than once a year. Nich said he’s studied the honey industry to learn a fair market value for his product. He’s also investigated which businesses purchase large amounts of honey, like the companies that produce granola.
Nich is a strong proponent of youth getting involved in the beekeeping hobby.
“I think it’s very informative and you get a sense of ownership. You can learn to be a businessman and manage your own property. You learn your own business,” he said, with a clear sense of accomplishment in his voice.
He readily discussed the different breeds of bees, preferring an Italian strain because it is more docile, yet delivers good honey production. Temperament is something Nich considers in his bees. He said he probably gets stung about five times each year.
There’s a clear respect that Nich shows toward his bees and all his family members have learned to be careful to prevent their odds of getting stung.
“Bees hate the color black,” he explained, saying they will find even the smallest amount of black clothing showing.
Weather can be a challenge for beekeepers. In his first winter, all Nich’s bees overwintered successfully. But with the harsh and bitter cold last winter, he lost nearly half of his bees and had to purchase new ones to replace them.
There also can be predators for bees, especially bears. The Simpsons built an electric fence around the hives to discourage bears from visiting.
The Beekeepers Association is now taking applications for this year’s recipient of a bee hive and equipment. Youth interested in applying for the donation from the Beekeepers Association can do so on the group’s website at stcroixbeekeepers.org.