The 3 types of Beekeepers

Most people do not realize that there are different types of beekeepers and that within these Types there are hundreds of different beekeeping Styles.

Today we’re going to define the 3 Types of beekeepers. Which one describes you the best?

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native pollinator the bumble bee foraging
One of our Native pollinators that must compete for available forage with the sheer numbers of honey bees. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The 3 Types of Beekeepers

First type

The treatment-free beekeeper

As the title suggests, this type of beekeeper goes completely treatment-free.

There are definitely pros & cons to this style, as there are for each type. Let’s look at some of them now.

Pros:
  1. A lot less interference and in-hive disturbance
  2. Less work for the beekeeper
  3. Less expenses on supplies and personal time it takes to treat
Cons:
  1. In general, less productive beehives
  2. Less honey to harvest
  3. Less success in maintaining a healthy apiary
  4. Can often be a constant uphill battle against pests & disease
  5. Difficult to keep hives alive

When it comes to NOT treating your beehives, there are some ways to help yourself and your bees better depending on which style beehive you choose to manage.

warre beehive
A top bar from my Warre hive. Not yet fully drawn out, this comb is fresh and new. I practice a non-treatment method on my Warre hives. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The treatment-free beekeeper will have greater success if he/she avoids using Langstroth style beehives, especially ones that employ plastic inserts in the frames.

The reason for this is because comb, as the foundation of beehive health, is not cycled out often enough to maintain a healthy, homeostatic environment.

This means that you would do better to choose the Warre or Top Bar style beehives where the comb is constantly being harvested seasonally and yearly.

Before you balk at the idea of making your bees make new comb all the time, think of this: That’s what they do best!

Maintaining colony health is crucial. And the first step to that is allowing them to make new comb as they need to. Pesticides and chemicals build up and are stored in older comb. This builds a foundation for poor health.

If you would like to learn more information about beeswax/comb being the foundation of hive health, then I highly recommend Christy Hemenway’s book, The Thinking Beekeeper. Click below to get your own copy.


Second type

The chemical-free beekeeper who treats

This beekeeper is simply one step away from the former. Aware of the health challenges that modern beekeepers face daily, this beekeeper seeks to help out their bees by using non-harmful interventions.

For example, instead of using chemical mite strips to battle Varroa mites, they would choose something more like Oxalic acid or thermosolar treatments.

dead honey bee queen and three varroa mites
Here are 3 Varroa mites and one dead queen. I don’t remember why she died. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

This beekeeper usually has to do more research to know not only what options there are available but the better alternatives as well. And by better, I mean better for the bees.

Pros:
  1. Bees have a better chance at thriving as a colony
  2. Bees have a stronger ability to forage and make a crop
  3. The beekeeper increases the chances of having a harvestable crop
  4. The beekeeper usually has a much better idea of the condition of their hives at all times
Cons:
  1. Certain treatment tools can get pricey
  2. Certain methods cannot be used while honey is on the hive
  3. Done incorrectly, bees have the potential to be harmed

This type of beekeeping works best with Langstroth and Top Bar styles of beehives.

The reason for this is because both of these styles are designed for hive inspections. The Warre style is virtually not able to be inspected in the traditional sense.

At the moment, I am this type of beekeeper. I began as the third type I’m about to describe below.

But I’m currently working on transitioning my entire operation over to Top Bar hives in order to create healthier environments and less work on my part and thus: Minimal disturbance.


Third type

The Modern commercial beekeeper

This is where I started. Using chemical mite strips, roach bait in beetle traps, feeding high fructose corn syrup to the bees, and yes even sending hives to their death during almond pollination in California.

This type of beekeeper is not out to intentionally harm their bees. They are most likely doing what they were taught by their mentor who did the same thing as they have always done.

commercial apiary
When I was in commercial beekeeping, we had anywhere from 30-50 hives per apiary; way too many for available forage. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Such was the case with my mentor. There’s a saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

But after you DO know then you’re accountable to do something about it in my opinion.

Pros:
  1. Commercial beekeeping gives a lot of experience very quickly
  2. Large honey production & pollination services leads to potential high income
Cons:
  1. Expensive equipment
  2. Constantly rebuilding from colony losses
  3. Costly expenses and a lot of debt
  4. Extremely non-bee friendly way of beekeeping
  5. Constant battle against hive pests & disease
  6. Low quality honey as a by-product, often contains chemicals and pesticides
  7. Operation is generally designed for beekeeper’ convenience and ‘goes against many natural honey bee tendencies’ in order to maintain a profitable business

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I definitely did not cover all the Pros & Cons of each type of beekeeper, but either way you can glean enough information to make your own decision as to what type of beekeeper you want to ‘bee.’

And it’s most likely very clear what I’m biased against. But that’s where I came from so I feel that I have that right.

The big question is this: What Type of beekeeper do you want to bee?

The condition of our honey bees in world, including native pollinators, is only going to change thanks to small local beekeepers who maintain few hives. The benefits far outweigh anything that commercial practices can boast:

  1. Less competition for available local forage
  2. Pests & disease at manageable levels
  3. Higher quality hive products: Honey, beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly
  4. Greater knowledge and care of ecological environments
  5. The encouragement of locally sources products and goods

The list could go on. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

And until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/Type 2 Beekeeper

3 Thoughts

  1. None of your 5 “cons” for treatment-free beekeeping are reality for anyone who engages in it correctly. Number four is certainly a joke since we didn’t “battle’ pests, rather we use them to select tolerant bees. To call vaporizing oxalic acid into a hive “chem-free” is out-loud laughable. This is just an overall misinformative post.

    1. Hey Bruce, thanks for your feedback. An interesting way to start a conversation 😅 When it comes to using oxalic acid, I should have been more specific. My point is that it’s not a harsh chemical. I appreciate you reaching out and commenting, I will try and bee more specific in future posts. 😁

    2. Hey Bruce, I’ve been giving your comment more thought. I feel it important to let you know that this post is designed for beginners, who I don’t recommend starting off treatment-free. They will simply lose their hives and never know why because they lack the experience that you have in being successful with those practices.

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