Supporting Native Pollinators: using Sustainable beekeeping methods

I had a rude awakening after reading a blog post written by another beekeeper. She had attended a conservationist meeting and discovered that their attitudes towards beekeepers are, shall we say…less than ideal.

I had always figured that honey bees are pollinators and that pollinators are good, right? When I learned the conservationist reasoning, it completely changed my view of beekeeping forever.

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blackberry blossoms
These local, wild blackberry brambles provide lots of nectar for Native bees as well as honey bees. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The Two Worlds at odds

World of honey bees

My background is steeped in the world of honey bees. More specifically, I apprenticed for 15 years in the commercial beekeeping industry and am now going into my 18th year.

We maintained several hundred beehives spread out over 3-4 counties in South-Central Florida.

Occasionally we packed our hives on a semi truck and sent them out to California for almond pollination, fulfilling part of our ‘pollinator duties.’

commercial beekeeping apiary
This is just one apiary belonging to a commercial beekeeper that tries to maintain 3000+ hives each year. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Maintaining 30+ beehives per apiary was the norm, as was supplementing their feed using high fructose corn syrup.

And to battle the pests & disease that bees and beekeepers alike deal with, we used chemicals that would hopefully kill the pests rather than our bees.

It didn’t always go according to plan.

World of Native pollinators

Apparently, honey bees are not native to this continent. So theoretically, until the European settlement, there were no honey bees as we know them.

There were however, Native bees. Much fewer in number today than they once were, they compete with the available forage against the incredibly high numbers of managed honey bee hives.

Once I became aware of this, it made complete sense why current conservationists view beekeeping as a scourge in the land.

This is not because of ALL beekeepers. Hobby beekeepers struggle year to year with the few hives they have in their backyard.

bumblebee foraging
One of the most recognized native pollinators, the Bumblebee! Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

No, the problem and the challenge that Native bees face today are the sheer numbers of bees maintained by commercial beekeepers. Commercial beekeepers in North America manage anywhere between 300-70,000 beehives.

The Solution: Why Bee Native exists

Commercial beekeeping: The Bad Wolf

Remember, I came from a beekeeping background of sticking as many beehives in one location as possible.

I gave no mind to the ecological balance involved. I now see the harmful role that commercial beekeeping practices are playing in our environment, communities, economy and in the health of our families.

That’s why I don’t do it anymore.

“Local Beekeepers needed!”

We need more local beekeepers managing a few hives well. This is part of the answer to increasing available forage for our Native Pollinators.

Having fewer hives not only lowers competition among pollinators, but it also encourages biological diversity; a staple in the survival of all things.

beekeeper's apiary
As you can tell, there are about 20 hives in my apiary pictured here. Based on the available forage in my area, I’m reducing all my apiaries down to a maximum of 12 hives. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Imagine a higher quality jar of honey in every home: Chemical free, pesticide free, made in small batches, absent of high fructose corn syrup, harvested with sustainable methods and with all the health benefits still intact.

You can start by planting pollinator-friendly vegetable gardens and wildflowers. Stop cutting down the existing wildflowers and let them Bee!

Get back in touch with natural products and demand higher quality for you and your family. Support one another in all endeavors.

And until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/Keeper of fewer bees


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ron Miksha says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I also once kept bees commercially in south-central Florida. And Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. As long as industrial agriculture produces food in monoculture environments, honey bees will be transported for pollination and placed in large apiaries. Unfortunately, it seems to be the only realistic way we can feed 7 billion people at this moment.

    I am currently working at the University of Calgary, researching the effects of high concentrations of honey bees on native bees in a large city. Honey bees are not native to North America. They have recently become a popular hobby in many cities, including Calgary – in the past ten years, colony numbers rose from 120 to 1300 managed hives in the city. That’s right, a ten-fold increase in ten years.

    The high numbers of honey bees can have a negative impact on native pollinators in several ways. Deformed wing virus has jumped from honey bees to bumble bees. Direct resource competition is common, limiting food resources for many pollinators. Honey bees preferentially pollinate clovers, canola, alfalfa, and dandelions – all of those flowers are non-native plants that often replace native plants, which are better adapted to native bees.
    We don’t yet know the recommended limiting number of honey bees, a concentration which will vary from place to place. But we would like hobby beekeepers to know that their hobby is not environmentally smart. If they want to help the environment, they should plant native flowers, leave some undisturbed areas for ground-nesting bees, eliminate herbicides and insecticides, and encourage their community to set aside semi-natural greenspaces.

    Ron Miksha

    1. Hey Ron, thanks so much for your feedback! Your experience is astounding. I had not realized that native bees were now suffering from deformed wing virus as well. And I completely agree that community members everywhere would contribute greatly to the environment simply by planting wild native flowers. I appreciate your incredible insights 😁

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