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A business as sweet as honey

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Bee Boys Honey hitting commercial shelves

By Ashley Wilkins

There is a serious buzz around the new business of friends and neighbors Dr. George Raque and Steve Smith.

Over the past five years the two have been working together to build one very sweet business. Raque and Smith are the co-owners of Bee Boys Honey, a quickly growing Shelbyville business.

Never heard of them? That’s about to change.

“We just started going after it,” Smith said, explaining that they just began selling their honey commercially over the past year.

Currently, Bee Boys Honey can be purchased in Louisville at Paul’s Fruit Markets and at Lucky’s Market on North Hurstbourne Parkway. However, Smith said Kentuckians will soon be able to purchase Bee Boys honey at Kroger stores throughout the state.

“The bees gotta get working,” he joked.

The company recently was a part of a large Kentucky Proud tasting session where Kroger representatives sampled different items produced by Kentucky farmers.

And while the business has began to blossom, Smith said it’s taken a couple of years to get to this point.

 

Forming their swarms

“There was a guy in the incredible food show in Lexington and…I started talking to him [about the honey business], and I said that sounds neat. He said, ‘you should get into it.’ So I went home and told my neighbor (Raque) we should do it.”

Raque, who owns Infinity Stables in Shelbyville where they farm soybeans, have 20 head of Angus cattle and breed Saddlebred horses, said the idea of beekeeping sounded interesting to him.

“He (Smith) always expressed interest in it,” Raque said. “He asked me if I was interested in it, and I thought it was different thing to do.”

Raque, a neurosurgeon by day, said the honey business was something completely different than his regular job and thought it would be a new thing to do.

The man Smith had met at the food show, Richard Hosey, began teaching the two neighbors the ropes of the business.

“In the first year, we put about five hives out and got stung about twenty times per hive,” Smith said.

This year Smith said they have 35 hives and are working on 15 more for a total of 50 hives.

Smith explained however, that the amount of honey that can be produced is dependant upon various factors like the weather and the amount of bees the queen produces.

“One year we did thirty pounds a hive and another we did three hundred pounds,” Smith said. “There are so many factors that affect the amount of honey.”

And with honey production in the balance, The Bee Boys sent their bees south for the winter a few times.

 

Growing the business

“For a couple years we sent them to Florida to help them [survive],” Raque said.

However, Raque explained that many of their bees were killed by chemicals that had been sprayed in order to eradicate the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect that can destroy orange and other citrus crops.

So this past winter the bees remained in Kentucky.

However, the harsh winter took a toll on the hives.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Raque said.

Smith and Raque agree though that this summer has been provided perfect honey producing weather.

And it’s a good thing too. The Bee Boys are dedicated to producing natural hives and natural honey, so they do not use chemicals to fight diseases or to help them survive adverse weather.

“We use what we call survival bees. They’ve survived [those] harsh winters and diseases,” Smith said. “Those are the ones we keep.”

The Bee Boys say they do not feed their bees corn syrup either.

“We leave them with a lot of honey to survive the winter,” Smith said.

And what the boys are doing seems to be working.

“Everybody that tastes our honey says it’s the best honey they’ve ever tasted, that they didn’t know honey could taste so good,” Smith said.

Raque believes what makes the honey taste so good is what plants the bees are utilizing, which varies according to season.

“In the fall it’s made from goldenrod,” Raque said. “In the spring it’s clover.”

Raque said the clover honey is lighter and sweeter, and he added that it tastes delicious on a biscuit.

And while Smith and Raque originally started the business as an exciting hobby, this year they are watching the business blossom before their eyes.

Smith joked that he desired to have “maybe a thousand” hives, but in all honesty, he just wants the business to continue to grow.

“We’re not just in it to have fun,” Smith said. “We have fun, but we want to make money, too.  I can see some expansion in the horizon.”

Raque agreed that the business is an enjoyable hobby and said he feels there’s some money to be made.

Hosey Honey, a honey business owned by Raque and Smith’s mentor, which is sold in nearly fifty stores across three states, is one such example.

But for now, Raque and Smith are just looking to put a little extra money in their pocket from their hobby.

 “We could probably make enough to break even or make a little money,” Raque said. “But let’s put it this way, I’m not going to retire from neurosurgery [from making] money in the honey business,” he joked.