Justin Hill, a fourth-generation farmer, found sweet success when he turned his bee-keeping hobby into the Eastaboga Bee Company in 2009. Now his bees’ honey is sold to many of the area’s finer restaurants, at stores and farmers markets including Birmingham’s Pepper Place Saturday Market, and through direct sales via EBC’s website. They’ve also expanded their offerings to make beeswax candles and body care.
The 300 acres of land that straddles parts of Calhoun, Talladega and St. Clair counties originally was farmed by Hill’s great grandfather, Evan Hill, and has remained in the Hill family. An old tractor with a tree growing through it marks the spot where the farming patriarch parked the vehicle before a fatal heart attack; the image adorns labels of Eastaboga Bee Company products. We asked Justin Hill to tell us more about his bees and their work product.
How does a bee make honey?
They gather nectar from a flower, bring it back to the hive, and from there they reduce the moisture content to turn it into honey. You know how people sometimes call honey “bee vomit?” The nectar never goes to their stomach. They have a separate stomach — basically it’s a sac — that holds the nectar. It never goes through their intestinal tract.
How many bees do you have?
We’re just a little under 500. It started as a hobby so I think I started with three or four. I bought a small hive from another beekeeper.
Where do your bees get their pollen for honey?
Honeybees travel in a three-mile radius from the hive. So, they’ll go out and find it and come back. Ninety percent of their honey is wildflower. We have done some sourwood before.
How do you use the beeswax from the hives?
We make lip balm, candles, hand balms, lip polishes, leather creams.
Why do beekeepers pump smoke into hives when they need to gather honey or check on the hives?
What it does is it really inhibits their ability to communicate. As long as you’re gentle with them they don’t have their alert pheromones going off.
How do you like to consume your honey?
My favorite way is to put it on a peanut butter sandwich and fry it just like you would a grilled cheese. It’s heaven.