We were delighted to speak with Jennings Apiary co-owner Aaron Jennings about the Jennings business, foundationless beekeeping, and the very best advice for new beekeepers. Read on for some sage words and a lot of southern charm!
We donated hives to your project with Louisiana Bee Sanctuary. Can you talk about the project and how the sanctuary is growing?
Yes! We got three hives from Bee Built. The 8 frame Langstroth, Warre, and top bar hives are all awesome. We’ve got bees in all three now and are waiting on final approval from Louisiana Tech University to place them in their sanctuary.
We will have access to a lecture hall and the ability to host field trips. It’s really exciting and we look forward to sharing about our favorite little pollinators as well as providing habitat for native pollinators.
Why is it important to you to be a treatment-free, foundation-less beekeeper?
We care about our bees and want the best for them. We call ourselves bee stewards and emphasize the steward part.
Our business runs on 3 principles that helps guide us in our beekeeping decisions.
- Bees know how to be bees. I trust them to know what to do and when to do it. When someone asks me how to “make bees do ___,” I always answer that you can’t make bees do anything. It is better to work nature than against it.
- Our role is to be good stewards. I am responsible for the my bees and try to put them in the best environment possible so that they can reach their full potential. I want to enhance what nature is providing by small interventions at critical times.
- We consider short term vs long term consequences of our actions. Every time we intervene in our hives we consider what the effects will be in the short term and long term, always giving more weight to long term sustainability.
There have been times where we could have made some short term gains, but it would’ve caused more stress on the bees than necessary. I’m 34 now and want to keep bees until I die, so I focus on improving our bees over the long haul.
Have you experienced any push back regarding your management philosophy from the beekeeping community?
Yes. Beekeepers are an opinionated bunch and everyone has their own twist and style. When beekeepers get offended by differences in management techniques, I think it’s because they are so identified with their own beekeeping methods and want to be “right.” Just because I keep bees this way doesn’t invalidate the ways other beekeepers run their outfits. It’s different for everyone’s unique situation and philosophy.
Personally, we think that folks should keep bees the way that works best for them. I can’t tell you how to keep bees, I can only share my experience and opinions. I work to keep an open mind and learn from as many different people as possible.
Bees know how to be bees. I trust them to know what to do and when to do it. When someone asks me how to “make bees do ___,” I always answer that you can’t make bees do anything. It is better to work nature than against it.
What is your best selling item at Jennings Apiary? What makes it stand out from similar products?
While we sell a lot of liquid honey, our current best seller is the Powerseed Honey. It’s a mix of 5 different raw, organic seeds in our honey. It can be used as a spread, but usually ends up just going from spoon to mouth!
I think most beekeepers I’ve seen miss the importance of packaging. You can have the best, purest, rawest, most unfiltered, pristine product, but if it isn’t presented in an attractive way customers will not buy it. It’s not enough to just have the best products, you’ve got to be able to sell them as well.
Besides packaging, our passion is the other big influencer on how well we do. We love keeping bees, talking about bees, using our products, and growing plants. People can sense that when they talk to you.
How do you hope to grow your work and the Bee Sanctuary in coming years?
We are expanding into a regional grocery store in the next couple of months. That’s a huge deal for us. I always make plans for my next season and inevitably plans always change, so we try to stay flexible and take life as it comes. We will continue to develop the relationships we currently have and grow as much as our limited supply will allow.
I’ve been focusing on products and ideas that will allow us to extend our supply by using honey as an ingredient and not just selling pure honey. This will help us differentiate ourselves from other beekeepers and allow us to maintain a high quality and diverse catalog of offerings.
I had a podcast, Bees and Such, and am restarting it this fall as well. We talk about beekeeping, sustainable living, agricultural practices, philosophy, and running a small business.
The Louisiana Bee Sanctuary will be open for tours and events starting spring 2019 and we look forward to continuing to educate the public about honey bees and other pollinators.
Best piece of advice to new beekeepers?
Patience and observation are essential. Patience with the bees, and perhaps more importantly yourself, are necessary. You will make mistakes when you begin. Bees will die and you will get stung. Beekeeping isn’t something you start doing and instantly excel at. For us, that’s part of the appeal! I’ll never learn everything about it, so it’ll always be interesting and exciting. Remember that when you’re working with nature, you work at nature’s speed. If you’re not patient, beekeeping is an excellent opportunity to learn how to be patient. Patience, patience, patience.
The other important skill to develop is observation. Sometimes I talk with beekeepers that say things like “every May 1st do this or that.” The weather isn’t the same every year and bees don’t keep calendars. It’s more important to observe the bees and try to act with them. Enhance what they naturally do instead of trying to manipulate them into what you want. In the end, nature always wins.
Biology books on bees can help you understand the reasoning behind what bees are doing. I’ve learned more by just observing the bees daily and not trying to figure them out or “understand” them. I just watch and notice them, acting based on observation instead of abstract concepts or ideas.
Bees and their environment are intimately connected, just like us, despite how we usually act. Understand the environment and what bees are foraging on at different times of the year where you are. Learn about and observe plants and flowers. When do they release nectar? Are they pollen producers? Suddenly, you may find yourself just observing the natural world around you in a new way. For me keeping bees has changed how I live and I am so grateful for the new perspective keeping bees has allowed me to develop.