597
8 min 29 sec

Six-Figure Beekeeping Biz Buzzes for Minnesota Couple

The buzzworthy journey of Minnesotan bees and their keepers. These hardy bees don’t mess around—last year they produced $150,000 in sweet sales.
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What It's About

A Minnesota couple creates a buzzworthy new income!

Business Model
Product
Skills Required
Beekeeping & Experimentation
Complexity
Medium
Profit Potential
High

Words of Wisdom

According to Chiara and Travis, beekeeping is a rather tricky business to get into because the struggles that you have one year may not be the struggles that you have the next. When you’re working with elements that you can’t control like climate and weather, you have to think on your feet and be flexible.

Fun Fact

Last year, Chiara and Travis started putting their hives up around pollinator-friendly solar arrays and partnering with solar developers who are being intentional about their land use. This has really taken off, and they discovered that there are a lot of farmers eager to develop the land into something more bee-friendly! This led to the launch of a new side hustle called the Solar Honey Company where they extract and sell their trademarked “Solar Honey." Check it out!

Notes from Chris

Episode 597
Neither Chiara nor Travis grew up around bees. (Who does, really?) And they certainly didn’t have any childhood fantasies about becoming beekeepers. To see where it all began, let's buzz back to 2005 where Chiara, still in college, moved to China to further her education in international relations. She ended up staying several years. While there, she was invited to help on a sustainability project in a mountain side town in the Himalayas. The project was all about bee hives.

Fast forward to 2008 when Chiara returned home with a lot more than a cultural experience. In her years away, she developed a passion for what would become her life’s work… beekeeping! Like a true worker bee, she didn’t waste any time turning this passion into a real hobby. She bought her very first hive and convinced her grandfather to let her house it in his yard. It was a hobby that would soon consume not only her life but that of her future honey-bee and husband… Enter Travis Bolton!

At first, Travis didn't really have an interest in bees, but that didn’t bother Chiara… because beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder. That was until Chiara decided to buzz off to Texas to visit an apiary—a kind of bee city—leaving Travis in charge of her beehive! Turns out, the responsibility didn’t sting Travis at all. You could even say he was bee-witched.

The absence of his "Queen Bee" had the positive effect of kickstarting his own passion for beekeeping. When Chiara returned, he had dozens of questions for her about the hive. And it wasn’t just lip service, a week later they returned to Texas together to work at the apiary. Travis took a day job in construction to pay their bills, and instead of accepting payment for the beekeeping services, they asked to be paid in bees. Bee-lieve it!

When they returned to Minnesota, they had 20 bee-hives in tow, quite the colony for an amateur operation. They hoped to turn these Southern bees into Northern bees, but the initial results were not exactly promising. They learned quickly that bees bred in southern climates simply couldn’t handle the brutal northern winters. They forgot to bring their winter coats, and nearly half the bees didn’t survive their first winter. This was a stinger in their plans!

To combat the problem, they began to breed the bees using a survival of the fittest. The bees that produced more honey and showed they could survive the cold were breed with others who did the same. This resulted in what can only be described as super-deluxe, casserole-eating, wood-chopping Northern bees. The bees were so hardy that in 2015 only 7% of the bees didn’t survive the winter. An improvement of over 40%!

It was in this same year that they felt more confident in their breeding operation. They started selling some of their hives to other aspiring beekeepers in Minnesota. They figured this could be a nice little side business to supplement their incomes.

While conducting all this breeding, they were producing a lot of honey. So much so that they needed 55-gallon drums to store it in. While the original plan was to sell queens and hives they quickly realized they could make more income from selling honey. They started with a few niche gift shops and the turnover was fast.

2016 was the year they finally decided to go all in on Bolton Bees. Both Travis and Chiara quit their full-time jobs and became full-time beekeepers. It was the culmination of years of work and passion. But things weren’t slowing down, Bolton Bees was becoming a hive of activity.

Last year was the first six figures year for Bolton Bees. They brought in a total income of $150,000! That’s a lot of honey! The additional income came about mostly through sales of honey and being featured in several high-end grocery stores throughout the state. What are they doing with this influx of income? Naturally, they are buying more hives…. Stay tuned for a future episode titled, “Minnesota Couple Makes Seven Figures From Bees.”

Travis and Chiara’s success is proof that fantastic things can happen if you stick to your passion and bee-positive!


MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

  • Bolton Bees: See what all the buzz is about—beeline to Chiara and Travis' website to learn more about their bees and new solar honey project!
SEE ALSO:

Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,

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Resources

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Quote of the Day
"We’re constantly trying to tweak things and find ways to adjust our operations so that they are more profitable. There are always going to be struggles in a market like this, so it’s good to remember the 'why' of why you got into it in the first place."
—Chiara & Travis Bolton #SideHustleSchool

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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau