Norlina native John Earl Alston remembers that, 30 and 40 years ago, there were more beekeepers in Warren County than there are today. “A lot of the older folks, they had bees,” he says, but “they got too old to manage the hives and they just stopped doing it . . . [but] it’s kind of coming back in Warren County now.”
Alston has had a lifelong fascination with insects. As a child, he would save biscuit crumbs to feed ants in order to observe the orderly way in which the colony carried them away. As the owner of a pest control business, he has made a career out of his interest in the ways that humans and insects interact.
Like many longtime residents of this part of Warren County, Alston grows fruit trees and grapevines on his property. Inspired by a neighbor, a longtime beekeeper, Alston acquired two hives to aid in the pollination of his trees and vines. He received some training from the neighbor and also researched apiculture methods and the resources available to modern-day beekeepers. Alston himself has become a community resource for beekeepers, helping establish hives around Warren County, offering tips to new beekeepers, and collecting and domesticating––rather than exterminating––many of the swarms of nuisance bees about which his company receives calls.
Unlike the ants, termites, wasps, and other pest insects that Alston sees every day in his work, bees “provide a food source,” he says, and “are very helpful as far as the farmers are concerned. They help pollinate the crops. So we really need them. They are a beneficial insect. Even though they might be a pest sometimes, they’re really beneficial.”
By his second year of beekeeping, Alston’s hives were producing honey. He says that, locally, late April is when the honey really begins to flow, coinciding with the peak blooming season of the tulip poplars. He now bottles honey under the Y’Mijer Honey label, named for his grandson.
Y’Mijer Honey is available from A & S Pest Control on Route 1 South in Norlina, and also at the annual Ridgeway Cantaloupe Festival.