My name is Jonathan Adam Hargus and I struggled in beekeeping for almost 15 years before I found the success that we Keepers strive for every season, in every beehive.
Those 15 years were spent apprenticing under another, very experienced commercial beekeeper. I respect this guy very much because he set me up for success. 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.
In the last few years of my apprenticeship, my mentor gifted me beehives of my own. I even had my own apiary for them. 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 then chemical ones.
So I continued to work with my mentor but I was growing less and less enthusiastic about the world of bees, their problems, and the hopelessness of treating them with harsh chemicals. By the end of my 15th year in beekeping, I was finished. If this was the best I had to look forward to as a beekeeper in today’s modern world then I didn’t want anything to do with it, so I quit.
My wife 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.
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.
As I read, I started getting ideas. My ideas 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? Is there a way to manage pests and disease without the use of harsh chemicals? Can honey bees still thrive in our world of chaos today? I decided that the answer had to be yes and so I did it.
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, is now my father-in-law. 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 17th 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 loss or rain that ruins the honey flow but I proved to myself that it could be done. And so my story continues every day.
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.
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