By Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal
Most 26-year-olds would be thrilled to have just a few workers on their payroll. Justin Estes has more than 10 million – worker bees, that is.
Hidden on the back roads of Itawamba County, near the Evergreen community, Justin and his wife, Anna have a sizable garden abuzz with the sounds and smells of a Mississippi summer.
Just a few years ago, while sitting on the back porch watching carpenter bees burrow into the wood, Justin decided having a bee hive or two might be a nice hobby.
“At first I thought he was crazy,” Anna said.
But Justin’s natural talent and passion for his newfound hobby easily won her over.
“Two books and a bunch of phone calls” later, the Estes Family apiary now houses more than 200 hives and has become a full-time job.
“I was fortunate enough that there are some larger operations in the area that I could call for advice,” he said. But despite his relatively short career as a beekeeper, at least to an outsider, Estes already looks like a seasoned professional.
Bees do not react well to swift or aggressive movements. So beekeepers benefit from patience and methodical, fluid movements, not unlike the hive itself.
By the looks of his garden, Justin has a natural gift for cultivating and growing. He has three different varieties of grapes, muscadines, tomatoes, countless lilies, enormous butterfly bushes, hydrangeas and too many more treasures to list.
It seems completely natural that all that pollen should be put to good use.
Just on the border of the garden are the first half-dozen towers of wooden boxes that house a small portion of his bees. Estes carefully unstacks the tower, one level at a time to check the drones, egg cells, honey cells and even the queen.
And he already is teaching his 2-year-old son, Lucas, as much as he can.
With Lucas often in tow, Justin moves from hive to hive checking the combs for progress, crowding and harvesting those that are ready. He said one day he hopes Lucas will follow in his footsteps and keep the family bee yard going.
Estes strains and pots all the honey on site – more than 30 unfiltered, unadulterated gallons already this year. By the end of the season, he expects to collect about 1,000 gallons.
He sets up once a month at the Tupelo Flea Market, but the majority of his customers so far have found him through word of mouth in the community.
He also sells five-frame nucleus hives and single and double hives for anyone looking to start their own bee yard.