JENNINGS, La. — Wes Card is busy. As a third-generation beekeeper, Card manages the family’s Louisiana-based commercial beekeeping business, which produces nearly 75 barrels of honey a day at its operations in Jennings and Bunkie.
“This is the busiest time of year for us,” Card said, as a swarm of bees buzzed around his head. “From July to August we are busy harvesting.”
The following week, 80 barrels of honey would be loaded into a tanker at the Louisiana Evergreen Honey farm northeast of Jennings to be marketed and sold.
The family sells much of the local honey in five-gallon pails around Louisiana and other states. The rest is marketed and sold in-house in 55-gallon drums to other companies, many of which blend it with other honey.
The family also sells beeswax to candle and makeup companies and “nucleus” replacement and starter hives of bees to other beekeepers.
For Card, beekeeping is somewhere between a full-time hobby and a business venture.
“It’s year-round for us,” he said, noting that time is everything in the business. “If you are too early, you waste money. And if you are too late and the bees aren’t ready to produce a crop, you won’t have honey and you lose production.”
When not harvesting honey at the family’s 9,000-square-foot facility nestled among the tall pine trees near Jennings, Card works on pollination projects, replenishes lost colonies and raises his own queen bees.
Evergreen Honey and Merrimack Valley Apiaries, the family’s Billerica, Mass.-based company, maintain more than 27,000 colonies, including about 3,500 honeybees in rural Jeff Davis Parish and neighboring Acadia Parish.
Many of those bees help with crop pollination for almonds grown on the West Coast and blueberries, cranberries and apples grown on the East Coast.
Card admits he occasionally gets stung, but isn’t afraid of bees and often works around them wearing a T-shirt.
“I have good days and bad days, but most days I don’t get stung,” he said. “The bees are busy doing their thing, and I am busy doing my thing.”
Beekeeping came naturally for Card, who grew up working with bees on his family’s farm in Massachusetts. His grandfather, parents and younger brother are also beekeepers in New England.
“I grew up doing pollination and honey production in New York and as opportunities for growth came along, I ended up in Louisiana,” he said.
He’s worked for the family’s locations in Florida, Georgia and across New England and has even dubbed himself a “bee brat,” referring to his constant travels.
He used to travel 11 months out of the year, but now spends most of his time closer to his wife and two children. He still spends about four months in California and Maine.
“My family just moved with the bees,” he said. “When bees went south for the winter, we moved with them.
“I couldn’t see myself working in an office. It just gets in your blood. It’s addictive.
“Anybody that’s kept bees knows it’s fascinating work and it’s very rewarding watching them grow and see what you can do to help with the success of their hives and production.
It’s a practice that has been in the family for more than five decades, beginning in 1949 with his grandfather, Andy Card, and a single colony.
“He was given one beehive as a gift from Sears, and he started towing it behind the family car, bringing it to victory gardens after World War II,” Card said. “One beehive became 10, then 100 and it just grew from there, becoming a sideline business for his pollination for apple farms in Massachusetts. He didn’t produce much honey at that time.”
Card’s father, Andy Card Jr., later joined his father and in 1958 the family created a partnership to form Merrimack Valley Apiaries.
Today they are among the nation’s largest beekeepers, producing more than a million pounds of raw honey.