Since Ninth Street is one of the busiest streets in Salina, chances are drivers downtown have seen and wondered about a yellow sign with the words Local Honey in front.
The people behind AJ Honey Farms, husband and wife Allen and Judy Stovall, have built a business that not only offers locally produced raw honey, but also helps others learn about bees and beekeeping.
It is also a prime time for local breeders, with demand for honey increasing and the number of breeders being very low.
“Our country right now … has about 25% to 30% of the beekeepers it needs,” Allen said. “The market is really wide open for this area.”
Allen Stovall got into beekeeping about five years ago. He worked at the Pilot Travel Center on North Ninth Street and saw trucks carrying up to 400 hives of bees.
“There are trucks coming from Texas and heading to North Dakota to pollinate the canola fields,” Allen Stovall said.
He said that while the trucks waited in the heat of summer nights, the bees would emerge from the hives and “barber” on the back of the truck.
“The driver wants to leave before dawn because he will start flying,” Allen Stovall said. “He pulls forward, the beard hits the ground and he’s off.”
This forces the bees to stay around the truck stop, as their hives move away, so Allen decided to set some traps to try and catch these stragglers.
“These are scented pheromone traps,” Allen Stovall said. “I put them there, the bees pile up and I bring them home.”
The couple started with a few hives at home around this time and grew to love the process.
“Allen just wanted to have a few beehives in the garden and see what would happen,” Judy Stovall said. “As we got into it, we got more and more excited.”
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Learn from other beekeepers
The couple said that in the first two years things didn’t go perfectly, but they learned a lot along the way.
“Ask anyone who’s been a beekeeper…their first two or three years are all about learning and making mistakes,” Allen said.
Some of those mistakes included going out and tending bees without the right clothes, which Allen Stovall quickly points out is not a good idea for beginners.
“You’ll see a lot of videos, where people come out, open a hive and have no protection,” Allen Stovall said. “No one should think it’s them. Under no circumstances should you open a hive without at least some face protection. If you get stung in the eye, you’re blind for the rest of your life.”
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The benefits of locally produced honey
The Stovalls said that while it may be more expensive than mass-produced honey found on grocery store shelves, there are many reasons to buy honey locally, including keeping that profit at the local level, but also so that people know what they are getting. are they expecting.
“The honey that you get off the shelf from (places like) China or Argentina or Ukraine, it’s adulterated with corn syrup,” Allen Stovall said. “That’s not true, pure honey most of the time.”
Judy Stovall said honey has health-promoting qualities, such as helping people with colds, coughs and allergies.
“There was a wave of people getting sick at (my) work,” Judy said.
She said her colleagues had heard of these benefits and knew she had access to honey, so she brought some to them.
“One of them bought a small jar, two days later his cough is gone and he feels 100% better,” Judy said.
It’s also a great way to sweeten things up. Judy Stovall said she bakes pumpkin pies every year. This year, she cooked them with honey instead of sugar.
“There’s so much you can do with honey that people don’t realize,” said Judy Stovall.
Allen Stovall said honey is also found in so many things people eat or use often, such as granola bars, cough drops and many sauces.
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Beekeepers working with and educating the Salina community
Selling honey isn’t the only thing AJ Honey Farms offers the Salina community. As someone who has learned about beekeeping from others, Allen Stovall wants to make sure others have the opportunity to learn as well.
“I went to Manhattan and met beekeepers who took me under their wing,” Allen Stovall said.
He also took beekeeping courses at the University of Montana.
“They have great beekeeping classes there,” Allen Stovall said. “They are great and really there to help you know everything you need to learn.”
Now Allen Stovall uses the skills he learned in those classes as well as what he learned when he was with bees and around hives.
“Hands-on training is your best training,” Allen Stovall said.
Due to Stovall’s interest in education, AJ Honey Farms offers training to anyone who may be interested.
“You’re welcome to hang out with me and I’ll teach you everything you want to know about (bees),” Allen Stovall said.
The Stovalls treat this free training and education as a service to the community.
“We won’t charge people to teach them,” Allen Stovall said. “I think information should be given freely.”
He also doesn’t care what people do with the information he gives, whether they use it to become a backyard beekeeper or venture out and become a big farm themselves.
“If I’m teaching you and you decide to go be my competitor, so be it,” Allen said. “I agree with that. We need you here…and if this is a passion for you, we need you to do it.”
Another way the Stovalls are helping the local community is by working with the Land Institute. AJ Honey Farms currently has about 30 hives at the Land Institute that will feed on acres of flowers until July, when a perennial plant called silflower will begin to grow.
“It’s like a sunflower that grows about six feet tall and the bees go crazy for it,” Allen Stovall said.
This year, AJ Honey Farms will take 10 hives that are close to silflowers, then examine 10 other hives that don’t have access to silflowers and see how much honey each produces. Production information will be forwarded to the Land Institute for research purposes.
“That could be a good factor for beekeepers and farmers because it’s such a diverse plant,” Allen said. “It’s very healthy for livestock to eat and very healthy for the environment and pollinators.”
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Learn more or buy honey from AJ Honey Farms
As AJ Honey Farms becomes more and more present online, including a current Facebook page and an upcoming website, at this time the best way to find out about the company is to call them at the number listed on the yellow panel. Ninth Street or on the bottles they sell, 785-342-694.
Honey prices range from small two-ounce bottles at $3 to two-pound bottles at $19. The Stovalls said people can collect them directly from their homes or deliver them to the location for free.
Additionally, AJ Farms honey is available for sale at Prairieland Market, Bravo Sliders and Pettle’s Flowers.
Allen Stovall said spring is when swarms of bees are often found, and if people know of any that need to be taken care of in the Salina and Saline County area, AJ Honey Farms will come to help. to catch the swarm and will give you one for free. -book bottle of honey with it. Just call them or message them on Facebook.