Amanda Neal: Queen Bee at Silver Sage Honey

I (Anthony Crosby) can’t bee-lieve who I was able to sit down and chat with this week, a beekeeper! And, if you’re already getting nervous about all the bee puns that could be in this article, I promise that was the only one I’m going to make. However, I was excited to have a conversation with this week’s guest because I love being able to learn about new topics from people who are doing some fascinating and unique things in our community. So, without further ado, let’s get this conversation going and see what all the “buzz” is about! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

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Today, we’re joined by Amanda Neal, beekeeper, and owner of Silver Sage Honey. Amanda and her family got into the apiarist game nine years ago and have been running their honey/wax product business for six years. Although there are other beekeepers in the area, I haven’t come across anybody doing the work on the scale of Silver Sage Honey. Therefore, we’re excited to have Amanda join us!

Amanda, before we get into hive-talk, can you please tell us how long you’ve lived in the Elko area and what brought you and your family here?

“I’ve lived here for almost sixteen years. We moved here from central Utah because there were no, real, jobs there; my husband worked eight jobs in a year so we could make end’s meet. So, when an opportunity came up here, we had to jump on it.”

Now, let’s talk about Silver Sage Honey. How did you go from beekeeper to business owner?

“Becoming a beekeeper and having my own business was sort of an accident. My husband has always wanted to have his own business, but I would fight him, tooth and nail because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle.  So, he had to trick me into it. One day, we went to my brother’s house; he is a beekeeper who had two hives, and we started talking to him about what it takes to care for beehives. He took us out and showed us all the equipment and bees; we ordered our first hive on our way home. We thought it would be a fun little hobby to have a hive in the backyard. It wasn’t going to be a big deal.”

“However, we then found out that you really need to own two hives because if you have a problem with one, you can fix it using the other. So, the next year we had two. Then, one of our neighbors, who had three hives, found out that he was very allergic to bees, so he sold us his two. Therefore, by the end of the third year, we had five hives! The next year, we ordered seven more and the next year fourteen more. Then, we started splitting our own hives, so now we’re up to about three hundred!”

“When we got to that point where we had the fourteen hives, we realized we had more honey then we could use, so we wondered if we could sell it. I put on Facebook that I had raw honey, and within twenty minutes, I had sold more than I even had. So, we got our business licenses and ran with it!”

For the readers of this feature who enjoy honey but have no idea what it takes to produce it, can you please walk us through the steps for making your product?

“We would need to start around this time of year, in the Spring, getting your hives ready to produce honey. We have to treat the bees for mites because bees do get flees. We need to spend time doing what you need them to do to get healthy and strong, which includes feeding them because there are not enough flowers blooming this time of year to keep them alive. We feed them right up until the honey starts flowing in July. We’ll do this until they’re strong enough to go out to our ranches for the Summer. While they’re there, we’ll go and check on them every week or two until the honey flow starts. We only get one harvest a year here, which happens around July/August with us finishing up in September. We store the honey in five-gallon buckets until I need it; we received six thousand pounds last year and eight thousand pounds the year before. Each hive will produce around forty pounds of honey, and each of our bees will make a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its life.”

Amanda, what do you love the most about working with your bees, and what have you come to appreciate the most about the bees themselves?

“There’s a sense of peace that comes from watching them work. The hum and buzz of the bees create a real calming effect, and I enjoy that. One thing I appreciate most about them is their lives are so complex; I could study them for my entire life and still not know everything there is to know about them. They are very complex creatures.”

I have to ask because I’m sure many are wondering; how many times have you been stung in your career?   

“Oh, hundreds! On average, when I’m working with the bees, I’ll get stung four to six times. You never get used to it; it hurts! Getting stung is never fun. However, bees don’t really want to sting you. If I get stung, it’s usually because I didn’t notice a bee under my finger or one of them got under my veil and got trapped. They don’t want to sting; they know they’ll die.”

Well, thank you for taking those hits for the benefit of our taste buds, Amanda! Finally, because I don’t want to “swarm” you with too many questions, is there anything else you’d like to mention before we let you get back to work?

“I’d like to bring up the Farmers’ Markets we do around town. There’s so much work that goes into that fresh, local, healthy food. For us, every jar of honey someone buys right now in May, came from months of work the year before. It doesn’t happen too often, but every now and again, we’ll have somebody complain about the price. However, they’re not getting something that has been imported from China; they’re getting something that a local produced with their own blood, sweat, and tears.”

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See you around, Elko!

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