CARTHAGE — In 2017, Tanner Andrus and his family started Golden Meadow Honey Farms near Carthage as a hobby with his family.

It’s now grown to 19 hives.

“The first year we didn’t take any honey,” Andrus said. “... with the younger colonies, we just left everything they made on the hive. That way they have enough to kind of be self-sufficient.

Last year, I think, was our first year to harvest and sell honey. This will be our second year.”

Andrus first became interested in local honey when he and his family were living in Dallas.

“I had really bad allergies,” he said. “Someone said eat local honey and it’ll make your allergies get better. So I tried it, and actually it worked, so I thought if I ever have a chance to have bees of my own I’m gonna get some.

“And when we moved back here, there was an article in the Longview paper about a new beekeepers course that the Longview Extension Office was putting on.”

The course, which Andrus and his wife, Amanda, took in early 2017, taught them all about the different kinds of bees and beehives, bee boxes, all the equipment needed and about how to be a beekeeper.

It was a great introduction, Andrus said, which was good because he “didn’t have a clue what anything was” when he started the course.

“So we took that course, and ... there’s a guy out of Atlanta, Texas that runs North 40 Bee Farms,” Andrus said. “I bought ... two hives ... from him, and then we’ve just kind of grown into this, but it’s just a hobby. It’s just something that we’re doing for fun.

“It’s pretty time consuming, but the honey is pretty awesome. I think it tastes great.”

Andrus says they went into last winter with seven or eight different colonies but then lost all but three because the plants weren’t producing pollen and nectar.

“There’s just so many things now that kill bees as far as pesticides, and there’s a mite that’s kind of a new pest ... it’s basically like a tick that just latches onto bees,” he said. “It’s a little bitty bug, and that’ll kill them pretty quickly.

“Back in the spring time this year, we started really trying to get our colonies back up and build back up our numbers,” he said.

Extraction from honey bee hives usually takes place twice a year for each hive, Andrus said.

“The main honey flow or nectar flow time’s in the spring,” he said. “That’s when all the flowers come into bloom, so June is really when we do our first extraction.

“So we’ll have one in June, and if there is a honey flow or a nectar flow in the fall, then you can do another extraction in like probably September to October,” he continued. “We have not done that before, just because the bees need something to feed on during the winter months.”

Each hive can produce about 50 pounds of honey per year, but right now they’re only extracting from the four oldest colonies as the other hives are too young.

As the bee numbers in individual hives grow, Andrus splits the hives into more hives, either keeping them at the farm or selling them. The farm has already produced more this year than last year.

Andrus said there’s been a learning curve regarding the bees and their importance to the entire environment.

“I really didn’t even know about (it) until I started to learn about beekeeping,” he said. “But there’s so many crazy stats about how much of our food is pollinated from bees and how rapidly the bee populations are falling, just from commercial farming and pesticides and things like the mites.

“It’s not my focal point; I don’t do it just to rise bee numbers, but that is a nice thing to know.”

The farm sold their honey direct the first year. Andrus has teamed up with Sunflower Mercantile this year, selling his honey at the downtown Carthage store.

“This year right after we got our first honey harvest, there were just tons of people wanting to buy honey from us, and it was a little overwhelming kind of at the beginning,” Andrus said. “The first thing I thought of was Sunflower (Mercantile) and Scott and Kelly, so I called Scott and asked if he was interested in selling honey.

“I know that they had kind of thought about doing that before, so it was kind of the perfect time for us to partner with them and have them kind of be the local Panola County source for it.”

Sunflower Mercantile, 107 W. Panola St., began selling the honey on July 8, and have three sizes available — half pound, one pound and five pound bottles.