Every Friday on social media, we post a Farm Feature Friday showcasing one of our dedicated North Carolina farmers. Will Johnson, of All American Bee Company, is one of those farmers. The #FarmFeatureFriday campaign will run for an entire year on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Be sure to tune in each Friday afternoon on social and help show your support for our local farmers!
From the mountains to the coast, Will Johnson has been buzzing around the agriculture industry for most his life. Owner of All American Bee Company, Will grew up in the mountains of North Carolina where he learned to grow many fruits and vegetables in his families garden. When he moved to New Bern later in life, Will brought his love of gardening with him, but quickly realized that he was not getting a quality output. “My wife and I noticed that we had not seen a honey bee around here in years,” Will said, “so we decided to invest in our first beehive.” Starting with only two hives, the Johnson’s received a lot of help from the N.C. State Beekeeping Association that helped them get to where they are today, including the education that led to Will becoming an NCSBA Master beekeeper.
Now home to roughly 50 hives and over one million honey bees, Johnson and his family are hard at work raising bees, making honey and educating the public on the importance of beekeeping. “The more you know about honeybees, the more you will admire them,” Will says, “they are selfless and do everything for the betterment of the hive.” He loves working with his wife, two sons and daughter every day because they each find a job where they can help out, but he says beekeeping is a little different than traditional farming. “It’s less about the day to day job and more about seasons of time,” he says, “for example, the winter is slower for us so I might do more stocking and painting, but the summer is our busy season, which means that we do a lot of work in the hives.” For those who are worried about being stung, Will breeds his honeybees for gentleness and says that being stung is rare. “When bees sting they usually die, so when they do it’s often in protection of the hive” he said, “when I get stung it’s usually my fault because I’ve squeezed it or something.” Will often uses smoke to calm them down before entering the hive to further lessen his chances of being stung.
Bees are naturally great pollinators due to the hairs on their body and legs that allows the pollen to stick to them. According to Will, once a honey bee returns to the hive, a worker bee will pass the gathered nectar on to other honey bees which put the nectar in the cells of the comb while adding more enzymes to it. Next, it will blow bubbles of nectar over the cells until they are full and fan them until the honey is less than 18.6% water. Finally, the bee will put a wax cap on the cells that the beekeeper will take off to extract and bottle the honey.
Just like many other farmers, the Johnson’s said that dealing with all the various elements of Mother Nature is the hardest part of beekeeping. “We have to work in a time frame and a schedule regardless of the weather,” Will said, “we can’t pick and choose which days we work based on the weather, so we just have to hope for the best.” Despite the challenges, each member of the family finds joy in various parts of the beekeeping process. Will says it is most rewarding to create something people love and interact with other beekeepers and watch each other succeed. For his daughter, however, the honey is the best part. “My daughter absolutely loves honey,” Johnson says with a chuckle, “her favorite part is helping with extraction because she gets to eat all the extra honey.”
Two unique elements of All American Bee Company are that they raise their own queens and make their own soap using bees wax and honey. “Something that many people do not know is that wax making takes a whole lot of energy because the bees need about 8lbs of honey to produce 1lb of bees wax,” Will said, “it is incredibly valuable and rightfully so.” Johnson’s honey, soap and bees are available for purchase through their website at www.allamericanbeecompany.com as well as in select markets in the New Bern area.
Will says that bees are a huge contributor to North Carolina agriculture because their pollination spans across a whole gambit of resources, including most plants and trees. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, local honey has also proven to help reduce symptoms because it exposes you to the pollen’s in your area before they come out. “A third of all the food we eat depends on pollination from bees,” Will says, “many plants, trees, fruits and vegetables depend on visits from honey bees to pollinate them, sometimes up to 20 visits per blossom to properly pollinate, making honey bees flower fidelity important to N.C. agriculture.” Thanks to Will, and educators like him, we can understand what all the buzz is about.