When it comes to honey bees, Garry Whitley could probably be called an expert around these parts.
Actually, the real expert is his father, Edward Whitley, who recently turned 82. Edward had more than 500 hives and 1,000 nucs — starter hives later turned into larger colonies of bees — during his heyday. People would come from all over to purchase queens, honey bees, nucs, honeycomb, honey ... you name it.
Garry, 55, calls his father a mentor and — next to his wife Shelia — a driving inspiration for his establishment, G&S Beefarm in Palestine.
Garry has been operating G&S Beefarm for three years. When he’s not working one full-time job, he and his wife take part in another with their farm. They have approximately 50 hives they use to generate everything from queens and worker bees to honey comb and pollen, all for sale to those interested. He also manages 45-50 hives of his own for honey and as another way to ensure the entire farm continues to grow.
So what’s the buzz all about?
“Everything in a hive of bees is marketable,” Garry said.
“Some people collect pollen. There’s a big market for pollen. There’s a big market for honey and there’s a big market for propolis, which is nothing but glue. But I sacrifice all of that to sell honey bees.”
Garry learned so much from his father that he applies today. His father still comes out to Garry’s farm and checks to see how things are going. Garry also has a brother, Edward Whitley Jr., that raises bees and another brother, Billy Joe Whitley, that has bees at his home he uses to help pollinate his garden.
“I was in it for 52 years,” Edward Whitley Sr. said.
“But I’m getting old and retired from it now. We used to haul bees down to Clinton and Faison and help pollenate cucumbers. We ran bees for orange blossoms for 7-8 years and we made a lot of honey down there. One year, we made 16 55-gallon drums of honey.
“I helped him (Garry) get started. He’s done all right. I told him if he sells bees to run an honest business and treat customers right and they would make it if they did that.”
Garry got bit by the bug to start his own honey bee farm after trying to grow an organic garden. He needed bees to help pollenate and saw that someone in Troy was selling his honey bee equipment. So Garry took his tax money, $2,000, and bought two hives and the equipment to get started.
“If you are getting into bee keeping, you need a good mentor to learn,” Garry said.
“Something like this is years of hands on. This isn’t an overnight thing. This comes from me watching my dad. You just need a mentor, read a bunch of books and watch a bunch of videos. That’s what I did.”
With things in place and the number of bees growing, Garry needed a place to put his expanding farm. He found a plot of land, purchased it, put the farm in place and watched it take off.
“I already had the bees, then I saw this plot of land and I thought, ‘That’s out in the country, it ain’t gonna bother anybody and it would just be a nice place to put my bees,’ ” Garry said.
“I didn’t even realize then that I would expand into a bee farm. It’s just gone from 0-65 in three years.
“And I’ve been riding my daddy’s coat tails also. I tell everybody Edward Whitley is my daddy and that goes a long way.”
Garry and Shelia put in 12-plus hour days on the farm. Both go to it two to three times a day to check on the bees, make sure they have sugar water to be fed and that everything else is progressing like it should. Since one honey bee produces 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime, one can imagine how many bees are needed to not only make honey but to also keep the farm growing.
That includes the work of the queen bees, which are a big-ticket item for purchase. A queen bee usually oversees up to 60,000 honeybees in one hive. She can also lay 1,500-3,000 eggs a day after only mating once. That cycle continues for up to two years.
“Got to make sure they keep syrup on them,” Garry said.
“They’ve got to eat to draw out the foundation. It starts out with the foundation, wax. Then they convert that to honeycomb. They use sugar water, they convert to wax, make wax in their bodies then spit it out and it makes honeycomb.
“I’ve got a full-time job and this has turned into a full-time job. If it wasn’t for my wife helping me … that’s why it’s G&S. G couldn’t do it.”