Much has been written and even more has been said about beekeeping and beekeeping techniques. It would be a futile attempt to try to cover all of the beekeeping philosophies out there. Here we will cover some differences between commercial beekeepers and hobbyist beekeepers.
In the beekeeping world, there are 2 major distinct groups of beekeepers: Hobbyists and Commercial. Hobbyists far outnumber the Commercial beekeepers; however, the commercial beekeepers usually have more hives than hobbyists by an order of magnitude of one thousand. Due to this fact, the techniques employed by the commercial beekeepers are not necessarily applicable to the hobbyist beekeeper and vice versa; Just like the husbandry techniques of a person who raises 5 chickens in their back yard would differ from a chicken farmer with ten thousand chickens in a thirty acre parcel.
Most hobbyist beekeepers (myself included), started beekeeping because they enjoy honey. But not any old honey will do, it has to be 100% natural and “organic” (organic is a bit of a misnomer and we’ll cover that on a future article). Think of it this way: if we only kept bees because we liked honey, then it would be easier to go down to the local grocery store and buy a jar of honey. However, in the information age that we live in, just about anybody knows that commercially produced honey can be (probably is) “tainted” with pesticides, fungicides, miticides, and whatever else the source hive was treated with. Not to mention that off the shelf honey may or may not even be 100% honey despite the “Pure honey” claims on the label. Also, much of it is pasteurized and stripped of much of the properties that make honey so beneficial to us. Here is where the hobbyists’ entrepreneurial spirit kicks in and we take matters into our own hands. Why buy honey when you can produce it yourself? So you buy a few hives (bees are so interesting that it’s hard to stop at one hive) and once you master the beekeeping “basics”, you can produce enough honey for yourself, your friends, and family.
Commercial beekeepers usually have thousands of hives and are usually migratory. This means that they make most of their money pollinating crops and they move their hives from crop to crop. Their main concern is to have plenty of bees (for effective pollination) and so most of them treat their hives with certain chemicals in order to control pests and disease. It has been proven many times that these chemicals end up in the beeswax and in the honey. To some commercial beekeepers, honey is just a byproduct of pollination and honey quality is of secondary concern. I recall watching a video of a package bee producer who kept referring to honey as yellow “junk”. In other words, he wanted his bees to produce more bees (to sell as packages) and not produce honey. Perhaps, this particular beekeeper didn’t advertise his honey for sale, nor do I think that anyone would buy it after watching that video.
As always when discussing this topic, I like to make it clear that this isn’t a competition between commercial and hobbyist beekeepers to determine who is better. It needs to be understood that we have 2 different roles. The big commercial operations have a crucial role in our society by providing us with crop pollination. They quite literally put food on the table. In order to put fruits and vegetables on your table, they need to be effective pollinators. They cannot effectively pollinate our crops if they don’t keep their bees alive; and keeping their bees alive requires effective pest management techniques. I also know that there are many good and responsible commercial beekeepers that are constantly trying to innovate and come up with methods to reduce their treatments and improve honey bee genetics. So I thank them (and appreciate them) for their services, but I’ll pass on their honey. After all, once honey has been processed, pasteurized, and quite literally “sterilized” so that only sugar and chemical traces remain, then I may as well put high fructose corn syrup on my pancakes.
Luckily for the people who cannot keep their own bees, there are “mid-size” beekeepers, such as ourselves, that keep enough hives to have plenty of honey to share with others, but can keep the “natural” beekeeping approach. We can provide you with natural local honey, pollen, and yes, even your own beehive should you decide to start beekeeping yourself!