About this project
The West Hill Honey Company is a beekeeping business founded by Natalie Abbott and located in the beautiful Chippewa Valley. Due to increasing interest in locally produced honey, the company needs to expand. This Kickstarter project is about outfitting a honey harvesting room to help us produce more delicious honey for our growing customer base. There are three tools that are required for this to happen, a Chain Un-capper, a Radial Extractor and two Bottling Tanks.
Natalie began The West Hill Honey Company as a 4-H project while in fourth grade. She is now 13 years old and into her fourth year of beekeeping. Running a beekeeping business is a lesson in entrepreneurship from her parents who are teaching her marketing, accounting and finance of a cottage industry. It is a lesson in the keeping of bees for the whole family. It has been an amazing experience and we hope you will join us by funding this project!
Funding is easy. If you have ever bought anything from amazon.com, you are already set to go. It is as easy as buying a book.
The short and sweet version:
Our Current Extracting Process
There is a lot of beekeeper technical jargon in here but we can give you a quick overview. The bees put honey inside of honeycomb that is structured inside a wooden box called a super, with some more removable wooden pieces called frames that hold the honeycomb straight. The bees bring in nectar from flowers and dry it down, until it is dry enough at which point it has become honey. Once this is done, and the dryness has been achieved, the bees put a little wax cap over the top of the honeycomb cell to protect it from the elements. That is how the beekeeper can tell its ready for harvest, the wax cap is there. When a full box of frames is capped over, currently we pull it off the hive and bring it (unfortunately) into our kitchen, that has to double as our temporary honey harvesting room.
Using borrowed tools and equipment; Natalie extracts the honey from 15 hives three to four times a year. Due to her smaller size and the inefficiency of the equipment, this process is very time consuming. In addition, since the equipment is borrowed we often do not have the use of it when the need arises. Owning our own good-quality extraction equipment would make our frequent extracting task much easier for Natalie.
How You Can Help
What we want to do with your help, is convert a room in our basement to dedicate it exclusively to honey. We can provide the space. What we are looking for in this project is the machines to do the extracting.
• An Uncapper, which removes those little wax caps the bees put on the cells.
• An Extractor, that is basically just an oversized centrifuge, spinning the frame and making the honey fly out.
• Two Bottling Tanks able to hold twenty-five gallons of honey each instead of the five gallon buckets we now use.
So, there you have it. Who we are, what we do, and what we need. You have everything you need to join our project and invest in the future of beekeeping. But, if you want to know more, we would love to tell you. Read on...
The long and sweet of it:
There exists a growing market for locally produced goods. And, local honey is a prime example of one of the best local foods. Local honey will contain pollen particles from around your area, so eating it will lessen seasonal allergies. People are understanding the goodness of natural, raw, unprocessed honey. This is a trend that has been happening for years, but it is timely The West Hill Honey Company is poised to provide for this growing market.
Natalie started out four years ago with just three hives and no experience. The first year she got a little bit of honey and it sold out immediately. The next year with five, last year with nine, this year with fifteen hives. The demand for her honey keeps increasing. Assuming this is a good year, and it has been so far in this area, she will have enough honey stocks to begin to sell at farmer's markets. Maybe in a few more years, enough to get a spot in the organic isle at our local grocery store, Gordy's County Market.
There is a lot of education that surrounds honey production and marketing. And people are curious. They are caring like never before about what is happening. There have been lots of news stories about the bees and the troubles they are having. Whether it is pesticides, cell phone towers or disease, the troubles of Colony Collapse Disorder and the bees disappearing is big news. A beekeeper is helping keep the population of bees up.
Bees are important to the ecological cycle. They are some of the most important pollinators we have, and the effects on our food supply are catastrophic if there are no bees around. So, a beekeeper does more than just harvest a sweet treat. They are a host for ecological stability. Natalie teaches many people about bees and in particular, she talks about it with her peers. These kids are the people who will be the future beekeepers. When she is talking, these kids are even more willing to learn. They are learning from someone their age rather than from a teacher, and the message goes home.
A beehive, fully outfitted costs about $400 so at this point with 15 hives and all the things to go around it: bee suits, hive tools, spare parts, handy gadgets and all the other stuff that adds up, West Hill Honey has about $8000 in capital invested. And, though the money from sales is flowing in, coming up with the cash to buy these very expensive items would require outside financing of some type. We think it would be a great investment, but traditional financial sources are somewhat out. What banker would want to talk to a kid and her parents about a six thousand dollar loan?
What we do now
First, let me explain how things work now. We have borrowed from the local bee club a plastic uncapping tank and a four frame extractor along with a hot knife and some filters. And, we have a bunch of white, food-safe buckets culled from a bakery. When we are harvesting, we remove a frame of capped honey from the hive. We use a hot knife to cut off those wax caps, first on one side then flip it over and remove the opposite. What we cut off are a high grade of beeswax called cappings, the beeswax of lip balm. Then we load four frames into the extractor. We hand crank the extractor one hundred turns. Not too fast, because the wax is fragile and we don't want to damage it or it takes the bees longer to fill it up the next time because they have to fix it first. Not too slow or the honey won't be removed completely. Then, we stop the cranking, remove the now very sticky frames and reverse them. We have to do this because the small extractor can only remove honey from one side of the comb at a time. Then it is another hundred cranks to get the other half of the honey.
Once extracted, the honey comes out of the bottom of the tank but it is full of wax chips, pollen bits, a few bee parts and general cruff. Some people actually want their honey that way, unfiltered, and we are examining that as a potential market. Currently though, all of our honey is filtered. Initially it passes through a coarse filter to get the larger bits before it drains into a bucket. Later on, when we are ready to bottle we run the honey through a finer filter as it drains into our bottling tank. Which, in our case is just another white five-gallon bucket. Only this bucket has a honey valve at the bottom so we can control filling the honey jars.
As you can see, this is all a fairly labor intensive job. It takes a couple of minutes to remove the wax caps, it takes a few minutes to hand spin the extractor, rotating the frames takes a couple more sticky minutes. All of this to extract four frames of honey. Maybe eight pounds of honey in total. A honey harvesting season would involve at least eighty frames and has to span over a few days.
So what do we need?
So, what we would like to do, with your help, is buy some things that would make this go a lot smoother. We would like to buy a Motorized Chain Uncapper. This is the most expensive of the tools we want, but it does a better job than we can do by hand. Currently we use a combination of a hot knife and a dinner fork along with lots of labor to get the caps off. With the new uncapper it works sort of like an electric toaster, we put a frame of honey into it and five seconds later it pops out with the wax caps removed. No fuss, no muss. But, it is an expensive item at $2375.
Next, we would like a Twenty Frame Radial Extractor. This machine has two really huge advantages over what we are now borrowing. First off, it is motorized. No more hand cranking. We can load it up with twenty honey frames, push a button and wait. The extractor spins at the proper rate of speed. So, no damaged frames or ruined drawn foundation because Natalie spun it too fast. No wasted honey because Natalie spun the extractor too slow. The second really huge advantage is because this unit allows the frames to be put in radially, the extractor can remove the honey from both sides of the frame at the same time. This makes for a lot less sticky mess. The cost is $1495.
And finally, we need two Bottling and Storage Tanks. This will replace the white buckets we now use. Most honey will crystallize if it is stored for a length of time in the cold. And, since we are pretty thrifty during the wintertime we keep the kitchen and family room in our house warm. But, the rest of the house we keep at 58 degrees. Far too cold for liquid honey. So, to keep our honey liquid, we store the plastic honey buckets around the parameter and corners in our kitchen. Something that does not make the lady of the house particularly happy. A bottling tank can sit in what we call "the bee room" which is a small room just off our basement garage. It is minimally heated but the tank can keep the honey a little warmer. It can warm it up even more if we need to decrystallize some dormant honey. And, it makes bottling go faster because warm honey flows so much quicker and easier. We need two of them because we keep our springtime and fall honeys separate. --A fact that is appreciated by customers who are either spring or fall allergy sufferers. They can buy just the honey they need to help. The pair of bottling tanks will run $2500.
So for these four items a total of $6370. All of these machines are manufactured by Maxant Industries and some of the best equipment the industry has to offer. They are well built and long lasting. They have enough capacity to cover from the size of our business currently until well into the future.
So that sums up what we really need. Are there other things? Sure! If we end up getting more in pledges than what we have asked for, there would be an uncapping tank ($849), clarifier ($895), pump ($775), filter ($750), even a cappings spinner ($3995).
All tools that can make the honey harvest a more automated, less labor intensive process. It would allow us to keep more bees, and sell more honey and that is what we would really rather be doing!
We are amazed you have stuck with us this far. But, if you want to learn even more about us, or find out how to buy some of our delicious honey, please visit our web site at http://www.westhillhoney.com
The music behind our video is by the band Merry Weathers, and for more information visit their web site at: http://brianbethke.bandcamp.com/album/merry-weathers
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