The Field Trip
Not all field trips are memorable, but visiting a local beekeeper made a lasting impression. Young Toby Sewell and his 3rd grade classmates watched as he cut the capping, put it in the spinner, and extracted the deliciously sweet stuff. Toby was immediately taken with the idea of beekeeping – until he got home and was reminded by his parents that he was still pretty young. Still, he tucked that idea away for his future.
Throughout his 20-year military career, Toby was quite certain the military wasn’t going to move a swarming hive for him every few years he was relocated. Retirement meant a whole new world in so many ways. For two years, Toby and his wife looked for just the right property and in July 2007 finally closed on the house they call home. And Toby got his bees!
That first year, he started with two 3# packages of Italian bees purchased from Terry Klein. Finding the dimensions online, Toby made his own boxes and ordered his frames and foundations. Those two hives did wonderful, producing over three gallons of honey! [note: if you get one to three gallons of honey off a hive your first year, you’re doing well] The bees made it through the winter. Through reading, talking to experienced beekeepers, and researching online, Toby learned to split hives and ended up with six hives that year.
Calls started coming in from people who had bee swarms they didn’t know how to capture. Once again, Toby did his homework and learned how to capture swarms (he says Google and YouTube are his best friends)! His first tear-out was from the side of a barn. What a mess when you’ve never done it before! However, he ended up with nearly 95 pounds of honey from that one tear-out. By the end of that second year of beekeeping, Toby had at least 15 hives.
In his third year, Toby got more ambitious, buying 50 hives, splitting them into singles, ending up with about 123 hives from splits, tear-outs, and swarms. And then came the big loss. About 70% didn’t make it through the winter. Toby took this loss, though, as a great time to improve his beekeeping methods by replacing them with 8-frame hives, finally realizing that they are a lot easier to fill for the bees and easier for him to handle. After all, he’s all about simplicity. And bees don’t care… as long as they have a framework, they’re happy. Since then, he only uses one size box and one size frame for all his hives.
Toby sat down to put together additional frames for his ever-growing hives and it finally occurred to him that it was taking 5+ minutes to prepare just one frame. That’s when his research brought him to Pierco. Already assembled, already waxed frames. All he had to do was drop them in the box. Perfect!
Having experienced so much growth in his beekeeping, he could now buy boxes at quantity discount. Soon requests from other beekeepers started coming in… and a beekeeping supply business was born!
In the Marine Corp, Toby learned how to teach, how to communicate, and how to be comfortable in front of people. He enjoys teaching, especially new beekeepers. The first year that he offered a beekeeping class, about 15 people showed up. They so appreciated his approach that they requested more classes and it tripled in size. Since some had been beekeeping for 3+ years, Toby’s concern was that he wouldn’t be able to teach anything helpful. Yet at the conclusion of his class, those were the beekeepers saying “I learned more in these two hours than I have in the last 3 years.”
Toby’s daughter Jessica completed university with a Biology/Chemistry degree which fits her perfectly. In childhood, Jessica was on the hunt for toads and frogs or anything else she could find by hanging out at the lake with a bucket and a net. So when Toby was deciding on a name for his business, Jessica’s love for and knowledge of biology immediately came to mind. How about Jessica’s first letter and Toby’s! And there you have it: J&T Beekeepers!
As For The Future…
Toby says: “When people tell me they learned more in two hours with me than they had in the previous three years on their own, that makes me feel real good. And that’s what I want to do. I’d like to make a little bit of money on this business, but I’m happy helping people.”