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Mississippi-owned honey biz creating quite the buzz

By LISA MONTI

Joshua Reeves started on the path to beekeeping about 10 years ago in Ohio, where he and his wife bought a two-acre “hobby farm.” That’s a farm with chickens and such, “but not enough to make a living off of,” Reeves said.

The Lucedale native, who has a business management degree, was making an actual living as a production supervisor after serving in the Air Force and trying nursing school. Reeves, his wife Ginny and their children Amy and Austin settled into their farm home built in 1834 that came with the second oldest barn in the county. “We had all kinds of animals,” he said, “pigs, goats, ducks, cows.” The couple wanted the farm to supplement the nutritious food they bought in the store. 

Reeves had no farming experience so he sought out local mentors for help to get him started and one introduced him to beekeeping. The science side of raising bees especially interested Reeves and aligned with his goal of healthy eating. Honey was the perfect choice to replace processed sugar in the family’s diet. 

In his research, Reeves learned at A.I. Root, a pioneering beekeeping company, under Kim Flottum, a leading authority on bees and beekeeping. When the family moved back to the Mississippi Coast a couple of years ago, Reeves thought about opening an aquaponics farm in the Carriere community of Pearl River County but his father steered him toward beekeeping, given Reeves strong interest.

“We created a little business for fun called J&J Bees and Trees,” Reeves said. The citrus trees they planted soon died but the bees thrived. “I knew bees,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about trees.”

The venture grew over time with the addition of hives. “We changed the name to Gold Tap and turned it into a real business,” he said. Producing high-quality honey was the goal.

“When I grew food on the farm for the family, it was about health and nutrition. I decided to do the same for the bee business. It’s not mass production, it’s small batch, artisan high-quality honey.”

Reeves tends to the business on nights and weekends, working around his job as a NASA resource manager on an engine test stand at Stennis Space Center. He also relies on friend John Baum who works with the family business.

Gold Tap’s 30 hives are managed using strict techniques that Reeves said “set me apart from most.” The bees aren’t fed sugar water or manufactured pollen to speed up production, like mass producers use. No harsh medicine is used to keep pests away from the hives, and the honey is never pasteurized. Reeves uses genetics to create more hives. “It’s incredibly simple. We don’t do a lot of hives and we make sure we can manage them,” he said.

Reeves said he can’t guarantee that everything his bees come into contact with within a two-mile radius of their secluded hives is pesticide-free so he doesn’t call his honey organic, but his practices are similar.

For all the seriousness Reeves puts into producing Gold Tap honey, there is a fun, edgy side to the small business. The slick marketing features Betty, a cartoon Queen Bee mascot drawn in the pinup tradition in a tip of the hat to his Air Force service.

In addition to the standard pure honey, Gold Tap sells cold infused honey in vanilla and chipotle flavors aimed at home mixologists and foodies who want a new experience and ingredient to try. White Pillars, a fine dining restaurant in Biloxi, uses Gold Tap to infuse the butter it serves. “This isn’t your grandpa’s honey. There’s more to do with it than put it on a biscuit,” he said.

It takes Reeves about a year to develop new flavors to meet his standards. “We’re constantly looking at new recipes for infusing,” he said. “I’m working on new recipes that are going to come out sometime this summer.”

The standard honey sells for $16 per 12-ounce jar. The infused honey, sold in small glass tubes, costs $8 for 1.5 ounces. The products sell out regularly, he said.

Gold Tap Honey is sold mostly online to customers “from one coast to the other,” Reeves said. There are a few local outlets on the Coast now, with more to be added.

As the honey business continues to grow, Reeves said he’s looking at other related ventures to develop, including a graphic novel for kids and maybe a beer. 

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About Lisa Monti