Entrepreneurs, especially Iowa entrepreneurs, have a place in my heart to share their stories. They are out there hustling, burning the midnight oil, often working two or more jobs to fit the need to pay bills, trying new things, and doing a solid job! I’m so proud of them, and I’m cheering them on! I hope you will too!
Beekeeping in Iowa Spotlight: Ellen Bell of Bell Farm
I’d like you to meet Ellen of Bell Farm. Ellen has been doing a fantastic job raising bees, educating beekeepers from around the world, and just being a super star person that I aspire to be more like someday. Ellen and her family operate Bell Farm southeast of Des Moines about 15 miles in the country of a town called Runnells. This is a town you’re going to want to remember the name of, because I just have a feeling Ellen’s bees from Runnells, Iowa, will impact the history of beekeeping in Iowa, as we know it. I feel this because I have experienced her stock first hand! I have seen consistently low mite count, gentleness, overwintering success, great reproduction ability and great honey production. When you think of becoming a beekeeper, these are all qualities you aspire to have in your stock, and I think Ellen has hit the nail on the head. I’m so proud of her, and the business she has built. Learn a bit more about Ellen below from the list of questions I asked her.
Interview with Ellen Bell: an Iowa Beekeeping Entrepreneur
Iowa State Cyclones or Iowa Hawkeyes?
What made you decide to start this business?
We moved to the country in 2014, because I was passionate about local food production and sustainable agriculture. I wanted to have a role in that, but I wasn’t sure what it would be. We experimented with various types of agriculture (meat chickens, a CSA, etc) before we finally settled on growing our beekeeping business.
Why has this been a good fit for you?
I love farming because it gets me outdoors (I’m horrible at sitting at a desk or computer). And I especially love beekeeping because the bees are always teaching me something new and keeping me humble.
If you could choose one treat what would it be?
Like a food treat? I love all things sweet, especially chocolate!
What have been some struggles with starting this business?
The growth of bees is hard to keep pace with, especially when you aren’t experiencing a lot of loss in the form of colony death/collapse. Bees reproduce way faster than any other livestock! Over the years I’ve struggled a lot with equipment shortages. It’s just been in the last 2-3 years that I’ve finally figured out the “right” number of hives for me and how to go about staying at that number by selling excess bees.
What has been the most rewarding part of your business?
Positive feedback from my customers is so gratifying. I raise all my own queens and I work so hard to produce an excellent quality bee for Iowa. I love it when customers comment on how amazingly gentle my bees are, or how productive and prolific they are. Or, best of all, when my bees are the first ones that a beekeeper is able to successfully overwinter!
Beach or mountain? Why?
Beach, all the way! My family loves to travel, and we definitely enjoy the mountains too, but the beach is my ultimate favorite destination. I love the smell of the salty air, sand beneath my toes, and tropical breezes.
How do you do what you do with your beekeeping business? How does it work?
So, in my business I sell two things: bees and honey. I see bees as my primary product, and honey is just a byproduct of the bees. The way that works best for me is by running more hives in the winter than in the summer. By running more hives through winter, I have more bees to sell in the spring. And by selling lots of bees in the spring, I’m able to get my colonies down to a number that’s reasonable for me to run through the summer without producing too much honey. At the end of honey production season (late summer), I then split all my hives so as to increase the colony count going into winter. It’s different from what a lot of other beekeepers do, but it works well for me.
What have you learned now that you didn’t know before?
Beekeeping has definitely taught me to never make assumptions and don’t take anything for granted. As soon as you think you know what you’re doing with bees, they will show you otherwise. In other words, stay humble and keep learning. The bees will always teach you something new.
Favorite thing to do in your free time?
I love to read.
What piece of advice would you give to yourself when you started this business?
Don’t worry about what others think! There are always naysayers out there who are quick to tell you what you’re doing wrong. Don’t pay them any attention. If what you’re doing works for you, then keep on keeping on!
What is the next thing you are wanting to pursue?
I’m not sure! In addition to selling bees and honey, I also teach classes and I really enjoy that! I would like to possibly expand my class offerings a bit more… but right now my kids are teenagers and I want to spend as much time with them as possible before they’re grown and out of the house. So really my focus is mainly on my family right now.
**Fun fact: the last class I took from Ellen she had people as far away as Australia!**
(They see how awesome of a beekeeper she is!!)
Favorite thing to make for dinner?
Our family’s favorite meal is Skillet Baked Ziti. Recipe below!
1 Tb. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
dash crushed red pepper flakes
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
3 C. water
12 oz ziti or penne pasta
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C. heavy cream
1/2 C. parmesan cheese
large handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 C. shredded mozarella cheese
Combine oil, garlic, and pepper flakes to a cold skillet and turn to medium heat. When oil is aromatic and garlic is bubbling, add tomatoes, water, ziti, and salt. Turn heat to high and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn heat to medium, and let cook 15-18 min, stirring several times in between. When pasta is done, stir in cream, parmesan, pepper, and basil. Sprinkle mozzarella on top and bake, uncovered, in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes or until bubbly and browned/blackened in a few spots. Let cool a few minutes and serve.
How do we find out more about you? Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Etsy. Give me all of the ways to see your business/products!
My website: www.bellfarmiowa.com