Put yourself in the shoes of a commercial beekeeper

Commercial beekeeping is not sustainable

Imagine that you are a commercial beekeeper. The rule of thumb is that you need 500 or more hives to justify keeping bees as a full time job. That is a lot of money tied up in equipment.
You have a bank note that you pay on annually for said equipment with proceeds from the honey crop. Uh oh. You see mites. You follow the advice of the experts that monitor the bee problems. They recommend you take action with some chemical or other intervention. Whew! You make your order and while you are waiting for it to arrive…
…You go to your monthly local bee club meeting. And the new guy is talking about natural beekeeping. He has found that you can stop placing chemicals and high fructose corn syrup in your hives.
“Geez”, you say, “but the HFCS is so much cheaper than honey. How can I compete with the commercially produced and imported honey that is sold at the local grocery store? You want me to let my bees eat honey all winter? How will I make my payments to the bank? You say I need to stop medicating? What if I lose all my bees? I have my whole life tied up in this operation. I can’t take that risk. If the government will compensate me for my losses, why should I take that risk?”
You have to admit that is a tough spot to be in. I can see them lying awake at night wondering what to do. You also might wonder if the government would really give beekeepers relief payments. Well they did this year.
Is the beekeeping industry too big to fail?
The “industry” yes. Nature, never.
In nature, nothing is too big to fail. If an organism weakens it is consumed by another one that is stronger. Natural selection takes over. The weak animals succumb to the predators, and the strong animals reproduce and the whole of nature is balanced and benefited in the process. But when the government manipulates the free markets by giving our hard earned money to the honey producers, it prevents the hard cold reality from taking place– if something isn’t working we must stop doing it. If commercial beekeeping is not sustainable, we must not prop it up.

There’s clean honey, then there’s commercial honey

If the corn producers were not being subsidized by our hard earned money, then HGCS would likely never have replaced sugar in the first place. Do you see how this system has gone so far off that it is almost entirely based and propped up by the government subsidies? So much so that honey isn’t really natural anymore. It isn’t made entirely from nectar, it’s made up of industrially created chemicals.
Commercial beekeeping is failing, and the only beekeepers that will thrive in the future are the ones who learn to respect the bee’s needs, and help create a market of clean honey that will sell for a much higher price. Because if there is enough demand for clean honey, the market will be willing to pay what a beekeeper needs to makes end meet.
We cannot keep trying to compete with the cheap import honey. We need to expose the fact that much of that cheap honey is actually HFCS. Whatever you feed your bees, it ends up in the honey comb. Whatever you spray on your crops, it ends up in the honey comb. Whatever you place in your hive, it ends up on your bees and goes straight into the honey comb So when you extract the honey you are eating whatever the bees have eaten, and whatever they carried in and placed in the cells.
The future of beekeeping belongs to the small producer who can spread the word that their honey is not the same thing that you buy in the grocery store. And with your help, the informed public will gladly pay the real market price for the real honey.
So you ask, “how can I help?”
1. Stop spraying your lawns and gardens. You are what your food eats.
2. Plant the plants that beneficial insects, like bees, need.
3. Get to know your local producers of honey. At your local farmers market, start chatting with the beekeepers there. Ask them how they keep bees. Do they feed HFCS? Do they place chemicals in the hive? Do they heat the honey which can kill the helpful enzymes? Or are they simply a retailer of honey and don’t know where it comes from?
4. Nurture your own bees.

A frame of natural comb from a top bar hive

  • kenny61

    Nice article James..i too keep bees in TBH's…ive built hundreds of them…check them out at http://kenny61.wordpress.com

  • Jim

    I have never read such a misrepresentation of “commercial” beekeeping. I've been one for several decades, and this person clearly has never even met an actual commercial beekeeper. A 500-hive operation would be a part-time job, and would certainly not be enough to support even an unmarried person, let alone one with dependents. Typical commercial operations range from 5,000 to 10,000 hives.

    Commercial beekeepers produce the honey that you can buy in the store that is certified as USDA Organic.
    If treatments are required to control mites, there are a number of them that are non-pesticide, and suitable even for Biodyanmic Demeter certification, so the author of the post makes serious and basic errors in his demonizing of a group about which he knows nothing.

    To make matters worse, this person is a peddler of “Kenyan Top-Bar Hives”, a hive design so bad, that it has helped to keep the poorest people poor for decades. Kenyans are replacing these hives with modern Langstroth equipment, as explained by Honey Care Africa, a Co-Op in Kenya: http://web.archive.org/web/20080622145234/http://www.honeycareafrica.com/files/faqs.php

    Note that the Co-Op in Kenya is financing the purchase of modern beekeeping equipment simply because they find that top-bar hives result in unsatisfactory crops for their owners, and they want each member to produce more honey.

    So, take care when people with something to sell make statements about what is “natural”, as bees somehow survived for millions of years without any of the products they want you to buy.