Four Generations of Beekeeping: Hard Work, Pride, and Family

Posted February 22nd, 2017

Almond Board of California is celebrating its community by running occasional features on farmers, processors, and others who support the industry, highlighting their commitment to sustainability.1

Jacy and Jamie Johnston’s great-grandfather started a family bee business in 1908 as one of the earliest beekeepers in Colorado. Continuing the legacy, Jacy and Jamie started working for their dad, Lyle, from the time they were 8 or 9, and would help as much as they could as they grew up.

“I left for college but would still come back home for the summers to help,” Jacy says. “And after I finished school, I just realized that I didn't want an office job or to work for anyone else but myself and my family.”

Jamie, on the other hand, got a job at the World Trade Center in Denver after graduating from college. “And I remember always looking out the window of the skyscraper I was working in and wondering how the bees were doing…if they were out flying that day or if they were on a honey flow,” Jamie says. “I knew I was not where I needed to be. Now I am the fourth generation and first female to carry on our family tradition!”

The daily tasks at Johnston Honey Farms are always changing, as this small family business runs a large commercial operation. Jacy and Jamie wear many hats and take care of the hives, as well as sell, market, and distribute honey through their companies Beeyond the Hive and The Beekeeper’s Honey Boutique.

“This is our life and our legacy that we are carrying on. It is much more than just a nine to five type of job,” Jacy says.

The Johnston family has several decades off years of experience in the migratory beekeeping world. In 1982 Lyle started sending hives to Texas, and in 1986 he started shipping his hives to California for the annual almond pollination. Nowadays, Jamie works with Lyle to take care of this part of the business.

“There are a lot of crops in the United States, and a large percentage of them need bees,” Jamie says.

Each year from October to May, the Johnstons move more than 60,000 hives, some their own and some on behalf of other beekeepers, to pollinate almonds, oranges, cherries and melons. Jamie herself oversees 20 bee yards in Colorado. She and her bees follow the bloom, and she joins her hives in their annual migration pollinate crops across the U.S.

The Johnstons have numerous best management practices for migratory beekeeping and pollination that they’ve fine-tuned over their four generations of beekeeping. One of their best practices is remaining in close communication all year long with the farmers who use their pollination services, and ensuring there is a proper balance between protecting the crop and protecting these vital pollinators.

To find out more about best practices, almond growers and others in agriculture can consult the Almond Board’s Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs), which give guidelines on treating diseases during bloom, as well as recommendations for planting blooming pastures to provide nutrition to honey bees before and after almond bloom.

“I feel like beekeeping and the honey industry are just in our blood. It is such a family legacy and passion that seems to be ingrained in all of us!” says Jacy.

“I feel so lucky to have been born into such an awesome family, and family tradition!” adds Jamie.

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1California Almond Sustainability Program definition: Sustainable almond farming utilizes production practices that are economically viable and are based upon scientific research, common sense and a respect for the environment, neighbors and employees. The result is a plentiful, nutritious, safe food product.

All photos provided by the Johnstons.

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