How to Be a Beekeeper

What do you want to be when you grow up?” At some point every child is asked this question. Very few of them ended up in the professional life they wished for when they were 5 or 6.

Tom Bench, owner of Hollow Tree Honey, always wanted to be a beekeeper.

“Like a lot of kids, I spent a lot of time running around catching bees in a Mason jar. I was fascinated by them and loved looking at them up close,” he says. “But I really wanted to taste honey from my own bees.”

Now he looks at thousands of bees every day. And tastes their honey.

Bench majored in Environmental and Sustainability studies at The University of Utah and became interested in local food systems and their effect on local economies. Afterwards, he went to USU to specifically study his favorite arthropods. He learned how vital bees are to our food system—many foods we eat are pollinated by and wouldn’t exist without bees, almonds for example. There are more than 16,000 kinds of bees. What Bench is interested in is apis, the Western honeybees brought to the east coast of America in 1622; it was 231 years before they reached the west coast. With professor Amy Sibul, who had studied bees at USU, and Salt Lake County Bee Inspector Chris Rodesch, Bench began work on a project to establish a bee colony at the U and to be a beekeeper.

Hollow Tree Honey gives away a packet of wildflower seeds with their honey.

“It took 50 or 60 hours of writing proposals to get the first two hives,” Bench says. “Now there are 20.”

Bench worked with the U program for several years before going out on his own. He and a partner, Adam Maxwell, each got two hives.

Bench’s bees live mostly in the foothills of Davis County in an orchard at an altitude of more than 8,000 feet. He packages the honey from each location separately.

“The quantity fluctuates from season to season, but usually we harvest 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of honey a year. We’ll never be a really big operation,” says Bench. “Because we still harvest the old-school way—unheated and unfiltered.”

The company started by selling at farmers markets; now Hollow Tree Honey is sold in many local stores including Harmons. And Bench spends most of his time tending hives.

“That means opening up the hive and checking for overcrowding, mites and foulbrood, but mainly, you’re making sure there’s a healthy queen. You don’t see the queen herself but you do see the eggs—that’s the sign of a healthy hive.”

As the saying goes: If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Beekeeper knows this.

Available at Harmons,, 385-355-4233

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Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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