BuzzBee of Honey Nut Cheerios fame or Barry B. Benson from Bee Movie? Barry B. Benson. The Bee Movie is a classic representation of the whole beekeeping industry.
Most folks likely don’t know that Nature Nate’s, the largest U.S. honey brand, is based in McKinney. Now that the company was just sold to a private equity firm for an undisclosed sum, are all the bees buying hives in Aspen? [laughs] You know, the bees really don’t like Aspen. They think it’s a little too pretentious. The bees like a little more of a slower pace, more mountain valley where there’s a greater sense of floral and community and not a bunch of people walking around with animal furs.
Something else that most folks don’t know is that honey is actually bee vomit, and to make it, they vomit into each other’s mouths. That makes milk almost look normal, doesn’t it? If the milk is provided for you in a bottle, if you don’t have to go and latch yourself onto an udder, then it probably is a more pleasant experience. But if you have to actually go for the udder, honey wins all day long.
You sort of got into this business as a hobby in 1996, when you and your wife bought a single hive, so when was the last time you got stung? Oh, man, it’s been a long time. One of the very first times where I just got absolutely lit up was the first time I helped Fred go out and rob honey. [Sheets bought North Dallas Honey from Fred Richardson in 1997.] I was foolishly wearing tennis shoes, and I tucked my jeans into my socks. I got stung on one ankle, and when a bee stings you, they leave a pheromone to signal other bees. Then another stung me and another. By the time I was done, I looked like I had elephantitis on my ankle.
You used the term “rob honey.” It’s robbing the bees, because the bees don’t want to give it to you. You’re taking it from them, and all the while they’re trying to take it back from you. You could use a nice term like “harvest,” but it sounds a little bit more foolish, a little bit more celebratory.
You buy honey from all over. Are there still bees on your farm in McKinney? I’ve got about 500 hives, each with about 100,000 bees. I have a full-time beekeeper named John Huckle that works with us at Nature Nate’s. That’s something that we started going back to. I’ve always wanted to get back to our roots of beekeeping. We keep our bees right now in different bee yards scattered around McKinney, Prosper, Celina.
I’m going put this next question in layman’s terms. Is Nature Nate’s using nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometry to catch rice-syrup-adulterated Chinese honey being shipped through Malaysian puddle points? I am not a fan of NMR. We do an isotopic test where we test for both C3 and C4 sugars to ensure that there’s not only not any rice syrup but more importantly the corn syrup. The thing that we really watch out for is when beekeepers feed their bees in the wintertime to stimulate that queen to lay eggs. If they continue to feed those bees with corn syrup or sugar water and they get too close to when the flowers begin to bloom and produce nectar, then the bees will actually treat that corn syrup like nectar. We also test for antibiotics because bees get sick like people.
What’s a food that you put honey on? I smoked a piglet a month ago. I take the honey and put it in hot water so you can continue to spray it. You get a savory sweet flavor from the honey. It’s awesome.