Honey bees: the new monocrop

What if I told you that the issue of disappearing honey bees is not the problem? And then I followed with this: the problem is that we have too many beehives. Modern agricultural methods and commercial beekeeping practices have created a new monocrop: honey bees.

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top bar hive
This single Top Bar Hive sits all by itself, rather than in an apiary of many other beehives. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

As a result, disease and pests of the hive run rampant and are spreading constantly. Today I’m going to show you not only that we have too many honey bees but how having fewer beehives is the answer to the problem.

Commercializing honey bees has created two huge problems in our ecological environment.

The 2 Huge problems of Commercial Beekeeping practices

1st Huge problem- Honey bees have become the new monocrop

According to Encyclopedia Britannica the definition of a monocrop is “the practice of growing the same crop each year on a given acreage,” that is, the same land is planted year after year.

The devastating results of monoculture or monocropping are three-fold:

1) Depletion of soil nutrients

2) Monocrops create smorgasborgs for disease and pests, which result in…

3) Pesticide, herbicide, fungicide and probably other-cide sprays

These characteristics of monocropping are identical of what has happened to the honey bee.

1) Depletion of nutrient-rich foods, resulting in compromised gut health

2) The sheer number of beehives maintained in a single area has created smorgasborgs for honey bee pests and the spread of disease which result in…

3) The perceived need to ‘treat’ beehives with chemical mite strips, chemical beetle bait, genetic-based vaccines and more.

commercial beekeeper's apiary
This is one apiary that belongs to a commercial beekeeping family that we know. This particular family keeps 3000+ beehives in few locations. I got this shot while driving by one afternoon. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

2nd Huge problem- Adulterated products of the hive

1) Grocery store honey is NOT honey; it is a byproduct of a monocrop pollination operation

2) The majority of beeswax products contain years of pesticide and chemical buildup. This includes 100% beeswax candles, wax foundation for beekeepers, salves, lip balms, etc.

The problem with commercial beekeeping practices is that they are Anthropocentric rather than Apicentric. Don’t worry, I’m going to define these fancy words for you:

Anthropocentric– man-centered beekeeping; beekeeping methods and practices that consider the convenience of the beekeeper first and very little about the bee herself.

Apicentric– bee-centered beekeeping; beekeeping methods and practices that consider the well-being of the honey bee first, and the convenience of the beekeeper second.

We have all heard in the news about the decline of the honey bee and that she’s in danger or even threatened.

She is indeed threatened. But she is not in decline. As a species established as a non-native, the honey bee creates fierce competition for our native bees and similar foragers.

“Here is why I believe that the media is lamenting the decline of the honey bee: The only people that need honey bees are those in modern agriculture. Modern agriculture means monocropping. “

Honey bees happen to be the best at what they do; pollinating unlike anything else we’ve ever seen.

“It’s not about the bee it’s about the money.”

Quoteth me.

Think about it, the lament for the honey bee has created an economic boost. Here are just some of the businesses that exist because of the large number of honey bee hives in operation:

-Beekeeping supply manufacturers and distrubutors and their thousands of products for the hive.

-Large agricultural farms that require pollination.

-Shipping companies that transport bee hives en masse across state lines.

-People who invent chemical warfare for coming up with ways to fight honey bee disease and & pest control.

-Honey bottlers, who mix, blend, and heat the honey until there’s nothing natural about it.

-Scientists, who are paid to come up with the ‘miracle cure’ and solve all our honey bee problems.

small apiary with fewer beehives
Apiaries with fewer beehives will result in the following benefits: fewer pests and disease, less competition for local forage, less robbing, more honey stores for winter, and better time-management for the beekeeper. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

And what would happen if we kept less honey bee hives? How many of these people would not have money flowing their way? Of course the world is going to keep the honey bee in its current state of battle because it’s making them money.

That’s why it’s up to you and it’s up to me. It’s time for something different. It’s time for the next generation of beekeepers to step up. Keep reading to discover the benefits of keeping LESS honey bee hives.

The Top 3 Benefits of why beekeepers should keep fewer hives

1) Pure, raw, local honey

-Real honey comes from well-cared for beehives. When honey is purchased from a local beekeeper, it cuts the middleman out, i.e. the honey bottler. The result is a uniquely flavored, pure honey unlike anything that comes from grocery store shelves.

-As a local beekeeper, I produce and distribute one of the highest quality products in my local area. Not only that, but I am proud to do so.

local beekeeper's honey booth
I have a honey booth from where I sell my own locally produced, raw honey on the weekends. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

2) Fewer diseases, fewer pests

-Without commercial beekeepers moving honey bee hives across state lines, disease and pests will be much more manageable at the hobby level.

-Many of the challenges faced by new hobby beekeepers today is that they can’t keep a beehive alive long enough to properly learn what it means to keep bees.

And keeping bees should NOT mean maintaining mite counts, treating for AFB, trapping small hive beetles or battling wax moth.

All of these things are a greater problem because of the migration of commercial beekeepers’ beehives across state lines throughout the year. Commercial beekeepers’ struggles are of their own doing by their own commercial design by keeping thousands and thousands of beehives.

I have no problem with commercial beekeepers, just their practices. They need to make a living too but I don’t think they should be making it at the expense of the honey bee and at the expense of the public’s health.

I know because I used to be a commercial beekeeper and was in the industry for 15 years and hated it but I didn’t know what else to do. I felt like there was a better way but didn’t know where to start. Well I do now, and I’m changing my operation gradually even as we speak. Or as I speak and you read.

small hive beete larvae
With care, proper management and experience, the beekeeper will hopefully never see this! Small hive beetle larvae taking over the world! Photo by Jonathan Hargus

3) Sustainable ecosystem balance

-I no longer believe that beekeeping is something to try and make a living by.

Monocropping is NOT maintaining a proper balance of the ecosystem; it’s taxing it to the extreme.

In order to properly be beekeepers, we must not only be stewards of our precious little bees but our ecology as well. The first step is to stop cutting down bee forage whether it is a wildflower or a tree.

Once we stop clearing land and destroying things we will then be able to start conserving them and improving them. If we do not strive for and maintain ecological diversity, we all die.

I know what you are probably thinking after reading these crazy ideas. You’re either thinking:

-If we don’t have honey bees then we don’t have pollination!

But guess what? I can live without almonds. I cannot live without honey bees. And enough local honey bees in my local area can pollinate local foods. If I want almonds, I’ll plant almond trees.

Or maybe you’re thinking:

-Okay, but if we eliminate commercial beekeeping then there won’t be as much honey in the world.

Oh really? You call that stuff honey? How about this: without grocery store honey, we would all be consuming less pesticide-laden high fructose corn syrup, and chemical residue from in-hive treatments for disease.

local honey raw
This is honey; raw and real. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

I Encourage you Today

Your challenge today is to learn more about the forage available in your area. Learn what blooms and when it blooms and for how long.

Next, get some beehives. I do not recommend trying to make a living as a beekeeper. No no. But for the sake of production, ecosystem balance and personal adventure, try to keep no more than 8-12 hives in each apiary. And keep your apiaries at least 3 miles apart from one another.

This helps to spread out the wealth withoug creating too much competition. And you know what, 12 hives could very well be too many depending on what’s available for forage where you live.

So when you are deciding how many beehives to keep in one apiary, think about this sound bit of wisdom I learned from my beekeeping friend and colleage Jennifer Moore: How are you going to feed them?

She wasn’t referring to corn syrup or even sugar syrup. She means look around you and observe. We think about what we feed our dogs, cats and even horses and other livestock. We also need to consider how we will feed our bees sustainably.

Jennifer maintains few beehives compared to me. Coming from a commercial beekeeping operation, it is in my ‘nature’ to keep lots of bees.

But thanks to her influence through her brilliant blog, the Wayward Bee, I have found many new insights into the world of beekeeping and keeping fewer hives in one apiary is one of them. Check out her blog at Wayward-Bee.com

Thank you Jennifer!

Observation is one of the highest quality ways to learn anything.

So get to it and if you have any questions…ask away!

Until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Minimalist

Have you seen my new children’s book? It fosters and encourages respect and wonder for forage available for our pollinators. Get your copy today from Amazon at the link below, and thank you for supporting something with hope!

6 Comments Add yours

  1. jen3972 says:

    Excellent post! (I realise I’m a little biased 😉 but hey…)
    No – seriously, what you say is so true, and if more people kept fewer beehives, the honey would be better, the bees would be better, and so would the environment. Inspiring stuff!

    1. Thanks Jennifer 😊 I have greatly appreciated your influence and insight. I’m anxious to see where our beekeeping and educating efforts take us all😁

      1. jen3972 says:

        Me too! 🙂

  2. reidcardwell says:

    Interesting to consider that part of the problem is too many bees. I wouldn’t have thought of that. I want to have a beehive eventually on my own property, so I’m looking forward to reading more of the information you have on your site.

    1. Thank you😊 It’s awesome you want bees of your own too. My blog is here for you😁 Let me know when you get your 🐝. Feel free to join my Facebook group, Beekeeping Mentor Group.

    2. I hit send too soon. Anyways, the Facebook group is designed to help mentor beginners with common beekeeping issues 😁

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