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Sunrise to Sundown, Beekeeper and Forester Never Stops

In September Willie Earl Paramore will turn 90, but he isn’t letting any grass grow under his feet. He doesn’t stop moving, learning or doing. He manages a forest, hiking and four-wheeling though 540 acres, where he sets the prescribed burns himself. He also keeps bees, building his own bee boxes and moving them around to get the best nectar. And he is still on-call for the Paramore Drug Store that now belongs to his son. Willie Earl is frequently the featured speaker on bees and trees at the town civic group meetings and Rotary Club. “I retired 21 years ago and have been playing ever since,” he said. Everyone in town knows him and they will tell you, right away, that no one in town can keep up with Willie Earl, no matter what age.

A third generation farmer, Willie Earl became interested in forestry when he planted two acres of longleaf pine trees for his Future Farmers of America project in 1942. But then he was drafted. When he returned from the army he married his high school sweetheart, Corrie, settling in the small rural town of Marianna, Fla., nicknamed “The City of Southern Charm.” They raised a family and he was the town pharmacist, but it wasn’t long before Willie Earl started acquiring land.

He started out buying 17 acres in the 50s, and by the early 70s had purchased the rest a dozen miles north of Marianna. With help from his family, Willie Earl planted 228 acres in loblolly with some in slash pine. He attended Florida Forest Service classes and became certified to do prescribed burns. “I love to burn. It improves the forest and gets rid of the competition,” he said.

Willie Earl has converted 40 acres of old logging ramps into food plots for wildlife.  “I see turkey all the time, quail, song birds and a bountiful supply of deer,” he said. “When I burn in the winter it opens the pine cones, attracting flocks of birds, hundreds of doves.” And last year he planted seven rows of pollinator habitat in between food plots. The 58 plants, four of each species, and fruit trees create year-round foraging for native pollinators such as native bees, beetles, butterflies, and for his own honey bees.

Morning starts at 8:30 a.m. with the Mark-Out Club, where he has been a member since he retired. The club’s namesake refers to a number-elimination game played at each meeting to determine who buys everyone’s coffee. “If you don’t embarrass your colleagues, they kick you out,” said Willie Earl. The club was once described in the Tallahassee Democrat as a daily roundtable of politicians and scalawags alike. At any given time, about 14 members belong to the club. Nowadays, they include a former legislator, doctor, pollster, several farmers and businessmen. Willie Earl is next up for president, having been a member the longest.

After coffee Willie Earl is off and out. Twenty more acres need to be burned on his land, and about that many more on an 80-acre forest Willie Earl manages for his nephew. He will drive his cherry red 1972 Massy Ferguson tractor to disc and plant some new food plots on his land.

Bee hives need to be moved to a Tupelo tree stand and others onto bee tables Willie Earl put in the middle of his pollinator plants. He bottles enough honey to sell at the Paramore drugstore, Marianna’s farmers market and the town’s holiday festival. Not happy about losing 12 colonies to bee collapse last year, leaving him with only 18 hives, he has worked hard to expand to 30 hives this year. They produced 200 more pounds of honey than last year. What is next? Willie Earl would like to take a class in gardening for bee and butterfly pollinator plants. “I want to get those pollinator plants full force,” he said.

Willie Earl has worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) since 2008. The agency has provided financial and technical assistance to help him treat invasive species and plant food plots, longleaf pine and pollinator habitat. “It has been great working with them. They coincide with my goals to increase wildlife on my property,” he said.

For information on conservation planning and possible cost share assistance, visit your local NRCS field office.  Learn more at Getting Started with NRCS.