Meet the Keeper

Top level beekeeping!

My name is Jonathan Adam Hargus and I struggled in beekeeping for many years, feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing. Not only did I not know what to do but I didn’t know how or when to do it. Does that sound like you?

beekeeper in florida apiary
This is one of our FL apiaries.
Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

I spent 15 years apprenticing under a very experienced commercial beekeeper beginning in 2001. I respect this guy very much because he set me up for success by learning from his own failures. Inadvertently, I also learned from his commercial beekeeping practices that beekeeping was hard, like really hard.

We were always using chemicals to try and combat pests and disease. I didn’t grow up hugging trees or anything, though they do give nice hugs, but I discovered that I didn’t like trying to ‘cure’ beehives with toxins!. At the time, that was the only option we knew of…

Sick and Tired of beekeeping

In the last few years of my apprenticeship, my mentor gifted me beehives of my own. They were in a fenced in cow pasture that bordered acres of orange groves.

But it didn’t last long because I didn’t use any treatments at all, much less on time. My beehives didn’t make it. It seemed that no treatments at all was worse than using chemicals.

I continued to work with my mentor but I was growing less and less enthusiastic about the world of beekeeping, their problems, and the hopelessness of treating them with harsh chemicals.

By the end of my 15th year in beekeeping, I was finished. If this was the best I had to look forward to then I didn’t want anything to do with it, so I quit.

A better way

My wife at the time and I went on a hiking trip shortly afterwards. We had been planning a thru-hike along the Appalachian Trail for about 8 months or so. We started the trail in Maine; the most difficult, strenuous, impossible part of the trail.

And we weren’t even in shape for it. I was expecting a trail when in all actuality there was only a ‘path’ of washed out rocks and roots to climb, step, and trip over.

” Needless to say, the first 100 miles of this trail kicked our butts. We were finished and due to injury, our hike was over at mile 112. “

honey in the comb book
In case you’re curious about that little yellow book, you can learn more about it on here. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

So we went home, back to Florida. During my recovery I picked up a thin yellow book from my bookshelf that I had owned for over 10 years but had never actually read.

This book was about making comb honey. Inside, I discovered a whole new system of beehive equipment that I had never used nor seen.

It was equipment that was more bee-friendly than what most Keepers use. It had their health in mind instead of the beekeeper’s convenience.

What if?

As I read, I started getting ideas that began to ferment until they were ripe with hope once again that I could keep bees. I asked myself, What if? What if I could prove that honey bees can be managed in a more natural way? Could this help other beekeepers who are struggling as well?

Is there a way to show how to manage pests and disease without the use of harsh chemicals? I decided that the answer had to be yes and so I did it.

Georgia mountain apiary
My second spring in the Georgia mountains.
Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The key idea that I learned from my mentor is something that I carry with me everyday: whatever you do when it comes to your bees, do it on time and do it consistently.

My mentor, who has gained my respect far beyond what he will ever know. I now stand with him as an equal. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still learn from him.

At the time of this writing, I am going into my 20th year of beekeeping. I now manage beehives in my little mountain valley of the North Central Georgia Mountains; Sourwood honey country.

My beehives are free of harsh chemicals and they thrive. That doesn’t mean that I still don’t have challenges but I have proved to myself that it can be done and I want the same for your beehives!

What I don’t do (anymore)

I actively dislike commercial beekeeping practices. They use chemicals to treat for pests and disease, they use pesticide-laden high fructose corn syrup as a ‘food’ for honey bees, just to name a few.

 Their Unsustainable Practices are one of the TOP reasons for the high mortality rates of honey bees and most people are simply not aware of it.

commercial beekeeper apiary
This apiary belongs to an unnamed commercial beekeeper we know in FL. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Honey bee research is looking for magic cures in all the wrong places, while honey bee forage suffers from land clearing and development. While researchers are trying to cure the symptoms rather than the cause, I call this ‘Barking up the wrong Bee.’

 I get pretty involved with my bees, the issues facing honey bees and their Keepers, and I do this more so than any other beekeeper that I know. I’m always looking for the Sweet Spot in my beekeeping practices.

I look forward to hearing from you and learning what drives your passions.

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great read, Jonathan!

    1. Well thank you very much! I appreciate your appreciation 🙂

  2. Andrew Dewey says:

    I climbed the Hunt Trail on Katahdin a few years back with my son. It kicked my butt. We got down after dark, despite having started early in the day. I was unable to walk for several days (though I did manage to drive home!)

    Thankfully working with bees is not nearly as physically hard.

    1. Oh wow!! Yes, I’ll take the hardest bee work over Katahdin any day 😂

  3. Grace says:

    I found your site from Facebook beekeeping forums, and have learned much from your posts as a new beekeeper. You mentioned that you believe bee research is “barking up the wrong bee.” I’m a student currently pursuing insect research, particularly focusing on how habitat loss affects the Hymenoptera order, and will likely finish my studies with a long-term western honey bee research project. I’m curious, where do you think bee research is going wrong? As an experienced beekeeper, what would you identify as the causes that are leading to the symptoms fascinating so many researchers?

    1. Hey I’m so glad you brought this up. Your research sounds really awesome! I hope you have interesting results to share afterwards, something that will help. But yes, I would love to share what I mean about research looking in the wrong areas for the answers to our bee problems. It’s very similar to the modern pharmaceuticals; treating symptoms rather than the root cause. Research seems to be looking to find a more resistant bee that an withstand the Varroa mite. That’s like trying to find the equivalent of humans who are tick resistant. It simply doesn’t happen. Ticks and mites crawl and get on the bodies of their hosts. There’s definitely a problem with our bees when it comes to disease and pests but they’re not the primary issue. Commercial beekeeping practices are the real culprit in my opinion. I used to be a commercial beekeeper which is how I know. It’s their practices of migration and large-scale monocrop pollination services that is the problem. I have written another post on how honey bees have become the new monocrop. The bees are dying because of these practices of treating the honey bee as a commodity, loading them on shipping trucks by the hundreds, shipping them for 3-5 days across the country to a different season/temperature. Unloading them on a single source for pollen, limiting their protein diet, then they become sprayed with something that doesn’t kill but it does render the queen infertile. Then the bees are loaded back up and shipped again to pollinate another crop hundreds of miles away. It’s like a bordello of brood. I believe it is disgusting. This world needs less commercial beekeepers and more local small-scale beekeepers providing local pollination while maintaining sustainable practices. Anyways, this would be really easy for me to go on but I do hope that I have communicated the gist of how I feel. I hope this helps answer your question in some way and I appreciate you asking. Good luck with you research, always a help!

      1. Grace says:

        Much of the research I come across is, as you said, about the new bee that is supposedly mite resistant or genetic modifications that could supposedly make bees more resistant to disease. I know researchers trying to breed all types of bees from all over the world to create a ‘superbee.’ Maybe it is time that beekeepers learned how to keep the type of bee that naturally thrives in their area rather than creating a bee that will cater to commercial industries. It makes sense that bees would thrive in the habitats they have evolved for and adapted to over time, with a variety of plants and not moving all over as another product. I do think that beekeeping seems intimidating and expensive to many that would keep local, small-scale operations with better resources – that’s where beekeeping mentors come in, I suppose! Thank you for sharing.

      2. Wow! You said that very well. Thank you for your insight on this. One of my main goals is to maintain locally adapted stock. So far, I have very hood success as long as I stay on top of mites.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Jonathan – I read your article about SMB and how to use DE to control them. I’ve had a big problem for years and would like to give your method a try. I’ve searched online but it seems the only DE I can find is the food grade. Can you tell me where you buy yous and what brand you recommend?

    Greatly appreciated …

    1. Hey! So food grade will work fine. I just mention non food grade in case there’s additional cost.

  5. Sulaiman rasheedah titilope says:

    You are really doing greatly amazing,I wish you could be my mentor🤗

    1. Wow, thank you for that compliment!

  6. Sulaiman rasheedah titilope says:

    I really do have interest in keeping bees right from time though,let me just say I have passion for it.

  7. Diane says:

    I planted a garden of flowers and registered it with three different places… National Wildlife Federation, Monarch By way, and Wild Ones also working with other pollinator web sites too! I am not a beekeeper …I am working with a garden so that beekeepers in my area will have areas for thier bees to get honey! I say it is good for both enthusiast!
    I put up my no trespassing and registered garden information signs to let the people know what I am doing! I keep a record of all that I buy and plant and monitor bees and pollinators that come into the garden!
    I would like to see new U.S.A. laws and hire fines protecting beekeepers’ property and all garden owner’s gardens safe from intrusions and interference, threats from unauthorized people that could cause harm, damage to the owner and especially for the any garden no matter what size or where it is planted and protect from damage to property meant for conservation or productivity with bees and pollinator gardening activities!
    Something like what the hunters have with thier new protection law!
    I hope everyone else will say yes to this idea as it is very important work with both activities even at the non-federal or non-state protection law level!
    This will in turn help where laws do not protect wildlife and will help where animals are protected and help protect futures for all even hunting as without pollinators there wouldn’t be no food and we all need that to do everything else!

    1. Wow Diane! I absolutely love this idea and admire your dedication to such an important key to environmental improvement. Do you have a website or anything?

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