SIOUX CITY |  Many days, Kris Hurlbert's business is literally buzzing with activity.

This is a good thing since his more than 2 million employees have a tendency to be a bit flighty.

Nevertheless, Hurlbert is as content with his workforce as they are with him. With more than 40 hives with around 60,000 bees a piece, he realizes the marketplace can be sweet but he acknowledges it can also sting likes the dickens.

More than six years ago, Hurlbert began producing raw, unfiltered honey at his home in rural Sioux City. Deciding to go into business, he named the company Ollie's Little Honey Bees, after his son Oliver, who is now 5.

"I want to eventually pass the business down to Oliver and his 2-year-old sister Agnes," he said. "You're never too young to start acquiring a good work ethic."

Perhaps the two can look to honeybees for inspiration.

"The lifespan of honeybees is typically about 40 days and they literally work themselves to death," Hurlbert explained.

Ollie’s Little Honey Bees

Bees are the type A workaholics in the insect world, according to Ollie's Lillte Honey Bees' Kris Hurlbert. Their single-minded work ethic will keep them from living beyond a lifetime of 40 days.

The typical day in the life of a honeybee consists of visiting a flower and gathering nectar -- a sugar-rich liquid produced in the glands of many plants.

Nectar can keep a colony of bees alive in the winter. But, when left alone, nectar can ferment. This is why bees turn the nectar into honey, a greater source of honey.

This requires a whole lot of teamwork. 

From the worker bees searching for nectar-rich flowers to the hive bees who turned it into honey, all have an important job to perform.

And how much honey can a single bee produce in its lifetime? About 1/12th of a teaspoon.

That's why operations like Hurlbert's require so many hive and so many bees.

"Each year, we increase the number of hives we have," he said. "First, we had one. The next year, we had four. After that, 12. Now, we have 40."

Ollie’s Little Honey Bees

Oliver Hurlbert, 5, smokes a bee hive at Ollie’s Little Honey Bees. The son of Kris Hurlbert, Oliver is the namesake for the honey business. Ollie's Little honey Bees honeys may be purchased at the Hamilton Blvd. and Southern Hills Hy-Vee stores.

"I think 40 is manageable," Hurlbert said. "We don't want the business to grow too big."

After all, Ollie's Little Honey Bee was created as a way to teach his kids the importance of hard work.

So, how is that working out?

"We sell Ollie's Little Honey Bees products at both the Marketplace and Southern Hills Mall Hy-Vee stores," Hurlbert said. "Oliver loves to tell people it's his name on the label."

Likewise, Agnes is intrigued by the buzzing little hive dwellers.

Ollie’s Little Honey Bees

Kris Hurlbert checks his bee hives at Ollie’s Little Honey Bees in rural Sioux City. Hurlbert said the cool nights in September will soon put an end to this year's honey production.

"Yeah, they've been bitten before," Hurlbert said. "But I've been bitten a lot more."

Watching over his hives in mid September, Hurlbert knows it is getting close to the end of honey-making season.

"Bees are most productive in July and August, when the days are hot and sunny," he said. "By September, they aren't quite so active."

Which just means Hurlbert will have more time to sample the handiwork of some honeybees.

"I love sweetening my morning coffee with a spoonful of honey," he said. "I also love using it on any type of grilled meat.

"There's something wonderful about pure honey. You can really taste the difference."


Food and Lifestyles reporter

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