Some farms are home to working cows. I found one that has working bees (along with some working cows.)
Some farms are home to working cows. I found one that has working bees (along with some working cows.) Jacob Tauer, of rural Sleepy Eye, is what I’d call a “bee farmer.” He keeps about 1,000 colonies of bees that produce honey and work as pollinators.
Jacob is the son of David and Wanda Tauer, who farm in Mulligan Township, about 15 miles south of Sleepy Eye. The Tauers run a dairy operation on their farm. Jacob helps milk and does other farm work, but his main focus is on the business of beekeeping. He has established his own business — Jacob Tauer’s Honey Farm.
As a child, Jacob was homeschooled and said a school project about bees and honey when he was 13 got him started on his career. “As a teen, I worked with a beekeeper by Madelia as part of my schoolwork,” he explained. “It was an apprenticeship.”
Jacob’s beekeeping and honey business is thriving, despite the problem of many bee colonies not making it through the winter—something that has been in the news for a couple years now. But, it is not thriving without a lot of work and extra investment by Jacob.
“I have around 1,000 colonies in hives right now,” said Jacob (and explained to this writer that the colonies are made up of around 60,000 bees at the height of summer.) “But it fluctuates, and over the past couple years I have lost too many colonies over the winters, which meant I had to buy more bees and build up the colonies again each spring.”
This past winter, Jacob decided to try something new (to him) with his colonies—send them south for the cold months. “I shipped a good share of my hives to Texas in October,” he said. “The mild weather is beneficial to the bees and builds the colonies up.”
In January, Jacob’s bees traveled from Texas to California, where they were put to work as “hired pollinators” (my term) in the almond groves. The bees stayed there until mid-March and then were shipped back home to start their spring and summer work on the Tauer farm and other sites in southern Minnesota.
And, what happened to Jacob’s colonies that stayed on the farm all winter? “I lost lots of bees again,” he said. “They are all going to Texas and California next winter.”
Jacob is joined in the beekeeping business by his brother-in-law, Jonathan Gardner, who is married to Jacob’s sister Rochella. The couple also live on the Tauer farm and have two young children.
Jonathan has a separate business—Gardner Bees. He has some colonies of his own on the farm, however his business focuses more on the sale of honey and beeswax.
The two men work together to care for bees, extract honey and prepare it for sale. Jacob’s bees produce a lot of honey, which he prefers to sell to wholesalers in 55 gallon drums.
Jonathon sells his honey in two gallon buckets and several sizes of jars. Some customers are individual retail customers who come to the farm for their buckets or bottles, and he also sells through the internet. “I’ll ship it anywhere in the country,” he said. But Jonathan’s main market is in the twin cities, where he takes larger quantities of honey to wholesalers or individual customers—such as breweries and meaderies.
Jonathan’s product list also includes the beeswax that he melts and cleans and pours into one pound blocks. Candlemaking, anyone?
So, let’s review the business model of Jason Tauer’s Honey Farm. Number one is the production of honey; beeswax is bi-product (which is turned into a profit center by Gardner Bees); and hiring out bees as pollinators is another venture for the businesses.
The bees and their keepers are in their busy honey producing season right now. They’ve been busy collecting nectar from dandelions, dutch clover, and basswood trees this spring. “We start collecting and bottling honey in late June and go through early August,” said Jacob.
After the bees are caught up with that work, they will again be loaded on a semi to travel south for their winter in the sun.