Wouldn’t it be sweet if the phrase, ‘Save the Bees,’ soon changed to ‘Saved the Bees?’ Imagine if every town, village, and city had enough beekeepers who were keeping beehives using natural practices. What would that look like? For starters, I can picture more trees, bushes, flowers, and herb gardens specifically planted to support honey bees and all pollinators.
Picture this: having so many locally-based beehives that commercial beekeeping was a thing of the past, along with the disease it spreads from state to state. I know that sounds a bit harsh but it is quite accurate. In this imaginary world of mine I can see honey bees and their Keepers thriving and people everywhere saying, ‘We saved the bees!’ A world like that would be something to be proud of and definitely worth working for.
Today, we’re going on a trip. A trip to see the inside story of the local beekeeper. And by the end of this story, my hope is to have painted a beautiful picture and show the incredible potential of supporting local beekeepers.
What is a ‘Local’ Beekeeper? Isn’t every beekeeper local? Well I’m going with NO. To me, a local beekeeper is someone who maintains locally-based beehives. This means that the beehives never cross over state lines like they do in most commercial beekeeping operations. Generally speaking, local beekeepers run fewer beehives than the commercial beekeepers do, though this is not a set rule of course.
Another unique characteristic of local beekeepers is that they try to market and sell their honey all on their own, without dealing with the middle man, the honey bottling company. Commercial beekeepers usually harvest hundreds of drums of honey. Their primary way to sell that honey is to honey bottlers who then pasteurize it. To learn more about the difference between high quality, raw honey and pasteurized honey, read my post, ‘Honey vs. ‘honey.’ Can you tell the Difference?‘ But just so we’re clear- I am saying that higher quality honey is going to come from locally-based beekeepers most of the time.
Local beekeepers also try their best to maintain beehives that are naturally treated, avoiding harsh chemical treatments and supplemental feed such as pesticide-laden high fructose corn syrup; yet another commercial beekeeping practice that harms honey bees. Local beekeepers are going to have healthier honey bees and healthier products for you.
Challenges that Local Beekeepers Deal With I would say that the biggest challenge that local beekeepers, especially ones with fewer beehives, is inexperience. Having only a few beehives makes for a tough time when you’re trying to learn how to prevent or combat disease like American Foulbrood or pests like Small Hive Beetle. By the time a small beekeeper has finally learned what works, half or more of his/her beehives are dead and gone and they virtually have to start all over and beekeeping is not a cheap endeavor.
Competition When I mention competition as being a challenge for local beekeepers, I’m not talking about competition with one another. Competition for local beekeepers is the store-bought honey. Let’s face it, the majority of people are not aware of the health benefits of raw honey, or they do not care. As a result, grocery store honey is more popular and ironically is the honey that comes from bottling companies who are supplied by the commercial beekeepers.
Commercial Beekeeping Practices That’s right. One of the biggest challenges for local beekeepers is commercial beekeeping practices. Big beekeepers like this travel across state lines multiple times throughout the year. They usually do this for pollination purposes but also for wintering their beehives in a warmer climates like Florida or Texas. Learn more about the Unsustainable Practices of Commercial Beekeeping here. When a commercial beekeeper moves into the neighborhood of a local beekeeper, they bring disease with them. Disease that affects the colonies of Mr. Local. Not cool.
I know I’m painting an ugly picture here. I know that my attitude towards commercial beekeeping practices is coming out in my writing. I have done commercial beekeeping and I know that it is NOT the solution to saving the bees. But I also know that NO ONE realizes that these practices are one of the Top Reasons why honey bee mortality is so high in America.
Now let’s paint a prettier picture. There are a few ways that you can help to support a local beekeeper. But first I want to tell you the great thing about supporting local beekeepers. And if you’re already a beekeeper then reading this will help you help your supporters. As a result of local beekeepers and local supporters joining forces, all of us benefit in a bee-friendly environment.
Support #1 Beekeepers and supporters alike can both plant honey plants. Honey bees need nectar and they need a diversity of pollen. Read my post on honey bee gut health and how important pollen is. There are tons of honey bee foraging plants you could cultivate. This could be a vegetable garden, an herb garden, fruits, cover crops, bushes, shrubs, or vines. Plant enough diversity that there is always something blooming throughout the year during the growing season. The idea is a permacultural paradise. Learn more about cover crops for bees from Garden Kellogg Products.
The great part is that while you’re helping the bees you’re also helping yourself. Ever since I put beehives on my Georgia mountain property, the wild Hazelnuts and Persimmons have been larger and more numerous. Hazelnuts provide pollen for honey bees very early in the spring while Persimmons yield a surprising amount of nectar in the early summer. They both taste delicious too! I have so many mature Persimmon trees that my wife and I can sit outside while they’re in bloom and listen, it sounds like the air is humming all day for about 2-4 weeks. It’s really awesome. One Green World is my top pick when it comes to buying plants for my property. Here’s more about their Hazelnuts and Persimmons.
Support #2 The most obvious way to support your local honey bees and their Keeper is to STOP buying store-bought honey and START buying from the locals. There are lots of benefits to this kind of support. The flavor of raw, local honey is unlike anything else. Most people that taste-test my Blackberry Honey say that they can actually taste blackberries and it amazes them. A lot of sweat, labor, and love goes into managing healthy beehives. By supporting your local beekeeper, you’re also supporting his/her family, his/her dream, and his/her honey bees. But most of all, by supporting your local beekeepers you are directly affecting the area that you live in and thereby supporting yourself.
Support #3 Here’s the exciting yet potentially scary way of supporting local honey bees and their beekeepers. Wait for it, wait for it. Okay, you could get your own beehives and bee a beekeeper! Learn from an experienced beekeeper. Become an apprentice to a mentor. As the number of hobby beekeepers increase, and as we learn better ways from one another, we enjoy the end result of a thriving ecosystem and healthier lifestyles.
Another awesome benefit of having more local beekeepers taking over the world, we will no longer have commercial beekeepers crossing state lines and spreading disease because we’ll already have the beehives where we need them for pollination.
As a local beekeeper in the North Central Georgia Mountains, I must say to all of those who support me and my bees, thank you so much. Whether you were lured in to my market table by the sight of jars of honey or the chance at a free taste-test, or if you bought it from my Roadside Honey Stand, you made my day. Because of you I can live my dream of being a beekeeper. I can buy the supplies that I need to build beekeeping equipment. Because of you, my honey bees thrive in our community. This is how every beekeeper feels when you take the time to get to know them and come back whenever your honey jar gets too empty.
It’s an interesting thought that buying local honey could actually cut down on the spread of honey bee disease. Just like when people decide to use bamboo toothbrushes to cut down on plastic waste, it’s pretty much the same thing. Pretty much. It’s the small things that lead to big results.
So what are you going to do? Do you want to plant some bee-friendly plants? Perhaps you want to try your hand at getting a little sticky if you know what I mean? The best way to start is to find your local beekeeper. Call several of them, try their honey, then tell your friends and keep coming back for more. Here is a good source to help you find local beekeepers. Here is an excellent source to learn how to propagate wildflowers in your own yard.
Let me know in the comments below what appeals to you the most. I really look forward to hearing from you. Until next time remember,
~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee.~
Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire