LOCAL FOLKS: Mulberry couple turn rural life into a buzzing side hustle

Nathan and Rebecca Matlock
Nathan, Rebecca, and Reagan Matlock pose near their beehives located behind their 100 year old home in the Mulberry community. It’s a rural side hustle the couple plan to turn into a college fund for one-year-old Reagan. (A Lynchburg Times Photo)

By TABITHA EVANS MOORE | Editor & Publisher

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and local Rebecca Baxter Matlock pulls into the Lynchburg Post Office to pick up a package. Inside, she signs for the delivery and the postal employee hands her three buzzing boxes filled with 10,000 bees each.

“Another order came in on the same day but they weren’t boxed up correctly and some bees escaped,” Rebecca says. “I think several of the ladies at the post office got stung.”

The properly boxed bees are the latest installment of the Matlock Bee Company — a side hustle of sorts for Rebecca and her husband, Nathan. The couple live off Dry Prong Road in the Mulberry community. She works as an Optical Manager at Tullahoma Vision Associates and he works as a Boiler Byproduct Technician at Jack Daniel’s Distillery. They both attended Moore County High School.

Hobby turned small business

The hobby turned small business started over a year ago when the couple lived off Old Fayetteville Highway near the Moore County, Lincoln County line. A friend of Nathan’s owned a hive, and Nathan thought it would be something fun for the couple to do.

“The first hives were kind of a test run to see if we’d like it,” Nathan says.

They did. So, when they decided to relocate to a house in Mulberry that’s been in Nathan’s family for over 100 years, the Matlocks attempted to move their hives to their new homestead, but the bees disagreed.

“We moved two hives from Old Fayetteville Highway to here but when the spring rolled around, the bees were gone,” Rebecca says. “We came out one morning and lifted the hive cover and they were just gone. I guess they got mad.”

Honey bees can fly up to 15 miles per hour and beat their wings about 200 times per second. There’s no telling where those original bees are today.

Hives need room to grow

The three Matlock hives hover at their back fence row. Behind them sits the 182-acre Matlock family farm. It’s currently being leased to a local farmer. This house once belonged to his great uncle and aunt – Jack and Frances Matlock. The couple were married for 47 years and died just three days apart back in 2022. Nathan says his great, great grandfather built the home and it’s remained in the family ever since.

Nathan says hives need to be placed in the sun far enough away from the house to not be a nuisance but close enough that the couple can keep a close eye on them. They also need room to grow. The honey bee queen is the only reproductive female in each hive but she can lay up to 2,000 honey bee eggs in a single day.

“Our initial 30,000 bees could easily become 60,000 by mid summer. They’ll swarm and multiply and then they’ll make a new queen in the hive. The old queen will end up leaving with about half the bees and the bees that stay behind raise the new queen,” Nathan explains.

The Matlocks say the queen is easy to spot in each hive because she’s larger than the other bees with a long, narrow, pointed abdomen. Worker honey bees and drone honey bees have round abdomens. In addition to her longer abdomen, she has longer legs and shorter wings compared to her body size.

Like most millennials, Nathan and Rebecca say they taught themselves beekeeping by watching YouTube videos. They also keep a couple of books around for reference. The couple both wear beekeeping suits when working with the bees and sometimes use smoke to keep them calm but they both confess working with the bees was a bit nerve wracking at first.

“Nathan’s been stung a couple times when he wasn’t wearing the suit,” Rebecca laughs while giving her husband side eye. “He was being brave.”

“One of those hives was totally mellow,” Nathan says. “I didn’t even need the suit. I could just stick my hand down in the hive and never get stung. The other bees were a lot more aggressive.”

Bees are fairly temperamental and develop a bit of group think once they are in the their respective hives. They enjoy an incredibly complex communication system. They speak to each other through a series of dances and pheromones and can also recognize human faces, which they remember for up to three days.

Rebecca says even the personalities of the three hives they have now are very different. The two outside hives are chill but the middle hive — not so much.

Raising bees and Reagan

The Matlocks hope to have honey ready to sell at the Lynchburg Farmers Market this summer. They also plan to sell on Facebook. Rebecca says she’d like to expand into honey-infused lotions, soaps, and beeswax candles one day. In a move straight out of her mother’s playbook, Rebecca is already working on a pollinator garden filled with zinnias for the summer. Debbie is the former manager at Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant in Lynchburg, where her homegrown zinnias often graced their tables.

Wherever it happens to take them, the Matlocks new small business is definitely a purpose-driven venture. In addition to supporting local honey bee populations, which are responsible for pollinating approximately one-third of area crops – all the proceeds from The Matlock Bee Company will go into a college fund of their one-year old daughter, Reagan.

“We just really like it out here,” says Rebecca. “We thought it would be a great place for Reagan to grow up.”

To learn more about beekeeping, visit the The University of Tennessee’s Beekeeping in Tennessee website or check out the Elk Valley Bee Keepers Association page on Facebook. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We tells the stories of local folks here in Lynchburg as well as those happening across Tennessee and the American South that we believe may be of interest to our readers. Like what we’re doing? You can support us for just $5 per month by following this link.}