The Savannah Bee Company
A Fascinating Creation That Has Taken the World by “Swarm!”
The Savannah Bee Company is one of the most amazing ‘corporate stories’ you will ever hear. From a lone man’s interest in beekeeping came a company that now has a warehouse, beautiful store locations and over fifty employees.
Ted Dennard is the creator behind this successful enterprise. Beginning in 2002, this company came into being because Ted devoted his life to a ‘relationship’ with honeybees. In his terminology, the company has grown into a mega-hive, requiring more and more workers to tend to her needs.
For a man who studied religion and philosophy at Sewanee, it was his passion for honeybees and honey that brought him to where he is now. He actually sees the ‘hand of God’ in these small creatures – these most benevolent of all beings. He has stated that:
“Honeybees live a poetic life of Midas, where all they touch is benefited. They have created a place on this Earth that is the most admirable of the species. The song they sing each day, and have been singing for 150 million years, is a harvesting of the collected sunshine that gives us life. Their symbiotic partnership with the plant world is the reason our world looks the way it does with all of its flowering plants.”
And this is true. Without honeybees, in fact, our world would be in a serious state of duress, mainly because most people do not understand the ‘gifts’ that these tiny beings give to them.
It was with great pleasure that we were able to see the inner workings of Ted’s business, and to sit down with the man who has a true and utter passion for something that many of us do not even think about – except when it comes to the fear of getting stung. But being able to learn something from a ‘professional’ and ‘learned man’ in the beekeeping industry has changed my mind completely about honeybees. In fact, with the greater knowledge came a kind of awe and inspiration.
So head with me into a world that you, most likely, don’t know anything about, and find out everything there is to know about the Savannah Bee Company.
“See him wiggling?” Ted Dennard says as he points into the hive. “They do a circle – a tangent line – and how much they wiggle is actually a sign of how strong the nectar source is. Honeybees map out where they need to fly in order to get to these high-nectar sources.”
He continues, “They also communicate with one another through this wiggling action, as well as other things. And you can see that the little ones are lighter and fluffier when they’re first hatched.”
So how long will it take them to fill that (frame) full of honey?
Just a pound? That’s crazy.
It is crazy.
So when this is full you simply pull it out?
When you have a full frame of honey, you pull it out and put an empty frame in; I keep giving them space so they don’t overpopulate and swarm. Of course, when they swarm it’s cool, although others will use a different word. (LOL). In fact, one time the police came because people were complaining about bees on the road, so you always have to be really careful to make sure they have the room they need. It was funny, though…my wife sold the police some honey butter, so it was all good. But for months after, and even now, everyone will say, “You got those bees under control?”
It’s great advertising.
Oh, yeah. And the sound – the hum – is very interesting. Up until December we had sort of a daycare in here, now we have a population hive of bees – so it’s basically the same thing. (LOL)
I have to say, your stores are amazing. We went to one downtown and the displays, products, gifts – everything was awesome.
Thank you. I have to say I was shocked when we opened that because we were really concerned about it. But, right off the bat, people started swarming it just like the bees – which is all good.
Can you give us a little background on honeybees and the population in the U.S., etc.?
There actually used to be about five million hives in the United States, whereas now we only have about 2 ½ million.
Is that because the bees are dying for some reason?
Yes, that’s one reason. I have no idea how many feral hives there were at one time, but by the 90s all of the feral honey populations were gone. The mites decimated them – and keepers have been losing bees.
Where did the mites come from?
Europe, and Asia before that, which makes beekeeping a lot harder to do and a bit of a dying art form. So part of it is hives are declining, but beekeepers are also getting out of the industry because the work is very difficult and it takes a great deal of time to get any money out of it.
Any good news?
Well, beekeepers will keep it going. We have to have them! The food we all like to eat is dependent on them. They are definitely a keystone species, but not only for us – they are also crucial to the plant and animal world.
Before honeybees were brought to the U.S. over 400 years ago from Europe, there were others. In fact, there were over 3000 different species. Bumble bees, leaf-cutters – a bunch of different ones. They did a good job of pollinating what was here, but with their loss in numbers from mites, disease and habitat destruction, it’s been difficult.
You need up to 80,000 in a hive and 100 hives to bring to various locations in order to pollinate the flowers, so in order to keep our natural balance, we gotta have them. It’s the same for everything. In the plant world – mulberries, wild cherries, etc. – have to be kept up for animals and birds to live. They depend on these nuts and seeds from the plant world, therefore the bees are needed to keep the plant world going. It really is a circle of life; the lynchpin of our whole world.
I never knew all that. This is a really important issue.
Apparently, 150 million years ago we saw nectar, then we saw this explosion in the geological record – amazing numbers of flowers and plants came into being. Hence, honeybees pollinating and producing nectar, and the existence of the plant world, have obviously been here far longer than we have. They have a dependency on each other. And with cross-pollination, honeybees have brought even more diversity to the plant world, making them resistant to various diseases, building up immunities, things like that.
Now…we begin with your background. What is the story behind the beekeeping and the Savannah Bee Company?
Wow…long history. Honeybees have been in my life for a long time. A man named Roy Hightower put his honeybees on land my dad owned. I would work weekends with Roy – pulling up frames of honey gum – and he would educate me on all the different colors I’d see. Some of the gum was red, greenish, yellow – they were all different, and each had a different taste/flavor. I was and still am fascinated with that.
When Roy died, I kept his bees through high school. In college, I had a landlord who was a retired minister and he had bees. Super cerebral, he would teach me cool facts about honeybees. Such as, the queen versus the worker bees; how the queen is fed royal jelly and lives 40 times longer than the rest of the hive; the fact that she can lay both fertilized and unfertilized eggs, and more.
When I graduated college with a religion/philosophy degree I wanted to give back. So I joined the Peace Corp and taught Beekeeping in Jamaica. I literally learned to love bees and to not be afraid of being stung.
A very odd fact is that there must be some sort of ‘zen’ state when you’re in the beekeeping industry, because it’s a fact that beekeepers are supposedly more healthy and live longer than any other professional.
Maybe it’s the calm and serenity you experience?
I think that ‘zen’ nature is part of it, yes. Being out there is almost like a religious practice.
And then the stores came into being?
I actually didn’t want to make money with my beekeeping, believe it or not. I didn’t want to ‘adulterate’ my passion. A friend had a store that wanted honey, then another store called, then another and another – it all began to snowball about twelve years ago.
Then, ten years ago, I decided it was becoming too large, so the business came into being. It went from my kitchen to a big warehouse, and it not only outgrew my imagination but it also outgrew me. I got someone else to be the CEO of the company and I’m trying to get back to my roots of designing, packaging, etc. On to the next pursuit!
As I learned more and more about beekeeping, I could truly hear that ‘zen’ Ted spoke about flowing through his voice. When he is in ‘beekeeping’ mode, it is almost a religion to Ted, and the majesty he holds in his eyes for his chosen career is almost awe-inspiring. He uses a quote on his website from Pliny the Elder (circa 400 BC), which truly does hit the ‘nail on the proverbial head,’ if you will:
“Nature in her entirety is nowhere more seen than in Her smallest creatures.”
I could not agree more!
For anyone who is lucky enough to be taking a vacation, make sure you check out a Savannah Bee Company location at your destination, or as you head through. Not only are we speaking about some amazing products, from body, hand and lip lotions to ‘Varietal Honey,’ the ‘Everyday Honey’ line and ‘Raw Honeycomb’ – to gifts like magnets, baseball caps, shaving mugs, books and more – the Savannah Bee Company offers it all! Not to mention, the store locations – especially the Flagship store opened in 2009 – offers a theatre as well as interactive education which is a really cool place for the whole family to visit. Enjoy!
Until Next Time, Everybody!
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Savannah Bee Company
211 Johnny Mercer Blvd.
Savannah, GA, 31410
We had our first taste of Savannah Bee Honey at the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. Ted’s honey in our humble opinion is superior to any honey we have tried elsewhere. That is what lead to our trip to Savannah to spend time with Ted and all of the wonderful folks at Savannah Bee Company.