A Naturally Sweet Business
By Leigh Ann Green
Belmont, a small town in northeast Mississippi, is home to a unique industry with a specialized work force numbering over 100,000. Workers live on site, make their own food, and never ask for a raise. There is no sales force in this company, no marketing strategy, 401K plan, or human resources department. However, laborers for this family-operated business are treated with respect and care by husband and wife, Justin and Brandy Waddle, owners of Belmont Bee Company.
With no previous experience in beekeeping, the Waddles started Belmont Bee in 2012. Initially, Justin had a reluctant partner in Brandy. Brandy laughingly admits, “Justin kept wanting to get bees, and I kept saying no. Then one day I came home, and we had bees.”
From that day forward, the Waddles were committed to being “natural beekeepers.” This meant raising and keeping bees as close as possible to the way they would live in nature.
Natural beekeeping presents some unique situations for the Waddles. For example, only animal-produced fertilizers, as opposed to chemical-based fertilizers, are used on company land. Another dilemma faced by natural beekeepers is how best to deal with common insect predators. Mites and beetles prey on bees and their larva. Justin is quick to point out that strong hives are naturally resistant to attacks by these insects; but occasionally, a hive will need some extra help in its fight. Rather than using chemical insecticides or pesticides to combat these predators, the Waddles prefer natural methods such as essential oils and diatomaceous earth.
Lemongrass oil helps boost the health of hives by providing nutritional supplements for bees while being lethal to mites. Diatomaceous earth, a sandy powder made from fossilized remains of tiny aquatic plants is spread under hives. As natural as both insecticides are, they must be administered with knowledge and care to prevent bees, which are also insects, from being harmed.
These natural methods do more than aid and protect bees. Each year, the Waddles’ beehives generate over 600 pounds of honey after an adequate amount is left to feed the bees over winter. The Waddles are adamant about producing chemical-free honey. In addition, Belmont Bee honey is never heat-treated. Heat can weaken, and potentially destroy many nutrients honey provides.
When Belmont Bee honey is harvested, some of it will be flavored and bottled, some will be used in lotions and lip balms — all made by the Waddles. There is no store front for Belmont Bee. Honey products are sold through word-of-mouth, starting with a Facebook posting. The Waddle’s two children, daughter Maylee (age 9) and son Jack (age 5), participate in honey harvest. They wash bottles, apply labels to products, and travel with their parents to area festivals where some of the honey will be sold.
Not only does raising a family in a natural beekeeping environment result in a good bit of fun, family time; it also provides many learning opportunities. For example, both Maylee and Jack have an exceptional awareness of springtime and what the emergence of pollen-bearing plants means to their family’s business. They have learned there are better, more earth-friendly alternatives to chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Any downsides to raising children in a beekeeping business? Brandy says the biggest challenge for her family comes in summertime: “reminding the kids to keep their shoes on when they go outside.” After all, the fewer stings from accidentally crushed workers, the better.
For more information, check out the Waddle’s Facebook page @ Belmont Bee Company.
Leigh Ann Green resides in Corinth, MS, where she is a scientist, a writer, and a lifelong learner with a passion for people and nature.
All of us can play a part in helping our bees survive and thrive. Here are a few bee-friendly tips and resources for everyone in the family!
Plant flowers, fruits, and vegetables attractive to bees. Honeybees are especially fond of wildflowers native to their area. Mississippi wildflowers include dandelion, phlox, cone flower, morning glory vine, black-eyed Susan, common yarrow aster, and goldenrod. Blackberry and okra are examples of blooming fruit and vegetable plants bees find attractive.
Provide a shallow water source (such as a bird bath) for bees to drink from. Be sure to include rocks or some other landing surfaces.
Reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals and pesticides when flowers are in bloom. Or consider making your own bee-friendly pesticides and weed-killers. Find recipes at www.naturallivingideas.com/homemade-organic-pesticides/.
Take a family trip to the Pollinator’s Playground at The Mississippi Children’s Museum in Jackson. There children and adults can learn more about pollinators including bees, butterflies, birds, and bats.
The Honeybee Conservancy’s primary goal is bee conservation. Check out https://thehoneybeeconservancy.org where you can find lesson plans for teachers and homeschoolers, bee books for children, and workshops for anyone interested in beekeeping as a hobby.
Hobbyfarms.com provides info on how to make beeswax candles, how bees communicate, how to include children in family beekeeping, and many other bee-topics.