Whether as a hobby or a way to make money, beekeeping is emerging as a popular pastime.
Written by Rachel Burchfield | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Not everyone is fortunate enough to find a passion in life. But there is no doubt Andrew Finch has found his.
Finch, founder of Finch Apiaries in Booneville, discovered beekeeping in 2011 and has been hooked ever since. So much so, he says, that his wife has joked he loves his bees more than he loves her.
“I do love my bees, now,” Finch said, laughing through his Southern accent. “It’s crazy.”
Finch has made his hobby of beekeeping full-time work, and he now runs his own company and manages two part-time employees. Finch, originally from Florida, worked four years for the Florida Department of Agriculture as a state apiary inspector (an apiary, for those unschooled in the business of beekeeping, is the location where bees and their beehives are kept) before meeting his wife, moving to Mississippi, and making Finch Apiaries his full-time gig.
Finch’s company, in part, ships its bees cross-country to places like Gustine, California, a small town in the middle of California that, from the end of January until mid-March, sees Finch’s bees pollinate its almonds. (Interesting fact: According to Finch, 85 percent of the world’s almonds come from California.) From there, the bees head out to the Midwest, to places like Iowa, Indiana and Missouri, and then in the summertime come back to the Mississippi Delta and central Mississippi to pollinate watermelons. In the fall, they pollinate more watermelons in south Mississippi.
How do these bees travel around the country? Finch hires out the transportation of the bees to experienced truck drivers, but the bees are his from his apiaries. He places the bees in boxes with netting, loads them on a semitruck, and sends them on their way to whatever destination they’re headed. Eventually, they make their way back home to Booneville.
“Nobody (else) in north Mississippi puts bees on a semi, straps them down and ships them to California,” Finch said. “People need these pollinators to ensure an adequate food supply, everything from almonds to blueberries and cranberries.”
Finch also harvests honey from his bees and sells it. He finds himself busiest in the spring and the fall, where he can easily clock 70 to 80 hours of work per week. He’s not alone in his passion for beekeeping: This is becoming a burgeoning trend, as both a hobby and as a source of income.
“I think a lot of people, at our roots, want to be farmers and want to grow our own food and have some type of connection to the land,” Finch said. “Beekeeping is a pretty easy way to be able to do that, to grow your own honey and help provide pollination for the environment. A lot of people want to have backyard gardens and eat healthier, and plants like squash and cucumbers do a lot better if there is a beehive in the backyard. It’s something the whole family can enjoy.”
Oxford’s Gray Tollison is not a full-time beekeeper. Tollison, a former member of the Mississippi State Senate for six terms representing District 9, was appointed this summer as a circuit court judge. He has been unwinding through this hobby for three years after taking a beginning beekeeper course.
“It’s just for my own enjoyment,” Tollison said. “The bees do all the work; all I do is try to create an environment for them to do what God made them to do.”
He doesn’t sell his great-tasting honey, but, instead, gives it to his wife, who uses it all the time in different recipes, including bread. He also frequently gives the honey as gifts.
“It’s kind of an escape,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. Working with bees is relaxing, even if I do get stung.”
And Tollison has been stung many times — from on his hand to between his eyes — but, like with anything in life, the better he gets at beekeeping, the fewer errors he makes.
“Early on, I got stung more often, but I learned lessons from experience, making mistakes and learning from my mistakes,” Tollison said. “I like the whole story about bees and how they work; it’s really fascinating to me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but wasn’t able to make time for. I’m finally able to get around to doing it.”
Tollison will tell you that anyone can be a beekeeper, young or old, man or woman. Finch, for his part, agrees. Both men understand the draw to the hobby and to the work, depending on how intense you want to take the craft of beekeeping, and why, following a year in which folks have had more time on their hands thanks to COVID-19, beekeeping is experiencing a spike in popularity. It is an equal opportunity craft, Finch said, all it really takes is the desire to get started.
“‘If I can do it, anybody can do it,’ is what I always tell people,” Finch said. “You just gotta want to. There are some really good videos on YouTube. Get some books, get some bees, and go to work.”