For many people, beekeeping is nothing more than a fun hobby. If you’re one of them, you might want to think about taking it one step further and turning it into a profitable business. With proper planning and the right amount of preparation, beekeeping can be a sweet venture.
Nonetheless, before you jump in headfirst, there are several things you need to keep in mind if you want your investment to reap some profitable returns both in the short and long term.
What Should I Know About Bees?
First off, if the idea of keeping bees scares the living daylights out of you, there’s no need to worry. Bees are excellent workers with a great work ethic. They have a monopoly on honey production, and that’s not going to change any time in the future. Plus, they’re not likely to unionize.
To start your hives on the right foot, you’ll want to learn everything you can about these fascinating little creatures. Understanding all aspects of bee biology and scientific beekeeping is critical to the success of your investment.
Depending on the size of the honeybee colony you get, it can house anywhere between 40,000 and 50,000 bees. This buzzing community has a queen who lays 1,500+ eggs a day, thousands of drones (these are the male bees who mate with their queen, as well as the queens of other colonies), and diligent worker bees that run the hive.
How to Get Into Beekeeping
Before you begin, you first need to understand how these fascinating creatures make honey. Bees usually rely on two types of food – nectar and pollen. Nectar is the sugary fluid found at the heart of a flower. Pollen refers to the small grains found in the anthers, which are the male parts of flowers.
When a forager bee visits a flower, it sucks on the nectar and stores it in its honey sac before transferring it to the worker’s hive to convert it into honey. It also passes a small portion of it to its stomach to convert into energy for its own needs.
When these bees deliver the nectar to the hive, it is passed mouth-to-mouth from one bee to the next until its moisture content is reduced to about 20 percent. This intricate process is what transforms nectar into honey.
The honey is then stored in cells (honeycombs) and then covered with beeswax in readiness for the arrival of the baby bees. The pollen collected is then mixed with nectar and fed to the larvae.
Forager bees start working when they’re three weeks old and live to be about six or seven weeks. It takes roughly three weeks for 300 bees to produce 450 g of honey.
How to Start Beekeeping – What You Need to Know
With that brief background on bees, the next step involves learning how to get started in beekeeping. Here are a couple of things you need to be aware of.
How to Get Started Beekeeping 101 – Know the Laws
Before you can even think about how to start beekeeping for honey, you need to familiarize yourself with any restrictions your county or municipality may have on beekeeping. Most jurisdictions have regulations on the number of hives you can keep. You might even find ordinances that prohibit beekeeping entirely.
Most states have a rule that requires beekeepers to register their apiary locations with the relevant authorities and pay a small fee. You’ll also want to check with your Homeowners Association (HOA) before you set up your business to make sure you’re not breaking any rules.
Figure Out the Bees’ Flight Path
One of the most important things you need to keep in mind as you learn how to begin beekeeping is the bees’ flight path. They don’t call it a “beeline” for nothing.
As a rule of thumb, bees will always take the shortest path from their hive to the food source and back. This may not only result in them disturbing humans and animals in the process, but they also defecate in flight which may stain cars and everything else on their path.
To avoid this, consider planting tall trees or installing a tall fence to encourage them to gain altitude as quickly as possible to keep you (and them) out of harm’s way.
As you get into beekeeping for beginners, you’ll quickly learn that your hives’ location will influence the honey yield. Ensure you place them in a sheltered area with no potential flooding issues.
You’ll also want to steer clear of hilltops since they tend to get quite windy. Low spots are also a no-go-zone since they tend to hold pockets of cold air for longer durations which isn’t ideal for bees. They also tend to get quite damp.
Bees make honey from nectar in flowers. These are found abundantly in citrus and maple trees, dandelions, asters, white clover, and lots more. As you gain experience, you’ll learn to recognize when the nectar flows are heavy and when they are scarce.
Ensure that your bees have a safe and natural habitat that’s free from pesticides and commercial insecticides. These happen to be a major cause of death in honey bees. Even if they are not killed on-site, they can bring the chemicals back to the hive, killing the queen and other bees.
How to Start Beekeeping for Beginners
Now that you’re aware of the factors you need to keep in mind, you’re now ready to learn how to start a beekeeping business. Here’s a list of the steps you’ll need to take to start.
Step 1: Reach Out to Your Local Beekeeping Association
The success of your beekeeping venture will rely, in large part, on how plugged-in you are to your local resources. You never know when you might need someone with experience to check on your queen and how well your hive is functioning.
Connecting with your local beekeeping organization not only provides the support you need as you kick off your new venture but also grants you access to a pool of mentors who will prove invaluable during your first season.
Step 2: Set Up Your Beehive
Next, you’ll need a beehive. Bees in the wild usually build their hives in a sheltered place or a hollow tree trunk. Since you plan to keep bees in your backyard, you’ll need to get a man-made hive for them. Below are the four most popular types to choose from.
- Ten-frame Langstroth hives – These are the common, stacked, square boxes that come to mind when you think of beekeeping; their interior has ten frames that hold the honey
- Eight-frame Langstroth hives – These are slightly smaller than their ten-frame counterparts and hold eight frames in their interior
- Top-bar hives – These consist of trough-shaped containers with horizontal bars set across their interior; bees build their honeycombs downward from these bars
- Warré hives – These are essentially top-bar hives set up vertically; bees build their combs from the top of the bar down into the box
The top choices for most backyard beekeepers are the Langstroth hives. If, on the other hand, you’re thinking of indoor beekeeping, installing an observation hive would be your best bet. That way, you can watch your bees as they go about their day-to-day activities without disrupting them in the process.
Step 3: Divide Your Beekeeping Tasks
Much like gardening, you need to learn about what’s involved in caring for your bees. The best thing would be to divide the tasks by season. You don’t want to check on them too often as this might disrupt their daily, hive-building activities, and as a result, impair their honey production.
Spring is often the best time to start your hive to give your colony time to grow, lay brood, and store honey before the winter sets in.
Step 4: Gather Your Supplies
When it comes to beginner beekeeping, start small as you learn the ropes. It gives you a chance to make the required adjustments if you change your mind later down the road.
Nonetheless, there are essential supplies that you have to have even for the most basic beekeeping activities. Here’s a checklist of what you’ll need when beginning beekeeping.
- Beehive – Langstroth hives are the most popular option for most backyard beekeepers
- Honey bees – It’s always a good idea to order them from your local supplier so that you get bees that are accustomed to your specific microclimate
- Protective gear – While you can expect to get stung from time to time, with the right gear, like a veil, gloves, and a bee suit, this will happen less frequently and less severely
- Bee tools – These include a hive tool for breaking apart the hive boxes, a scraper to remove wax buildup, and an uncapping scratcher to uncap the honeycomb to harvest the sweet honey underneath
- Smoker – This calms the bees before you harvest the honey
- Honey extractor – This extracts the honey from the frames
How Hard Is Beekeeping?
Before you can even think about how to make money beekeeping, you need to be aware of the work that goes into it. Being responsible for an entire colony of buzzing bees is hard work.
There will be heavy lifting involved and physically taxing tasks, especially when it’s time to harvest. There’s also the fact that these little insects are also susceptible to pests and predators you need to keep an eye out for.
How Profitable Is Beekeeping?
This is arguably one of the most frequently asked questions by people who want to get into the business. The amount of money you make ultimately depends on how many hives you have, the season of the year, and the nectar flow. You’ll also need to think about the startup costs involved in setting up your beekeeping business from scratch.
A beehive kit that consists of two to three boxes, frames and their foundation will set you back anywhere between $150 and $200. A package of bees costs around $100 to $150 whereas a single queen bee costs about $25. If you plan to have a lot of hives, you’ll also need to invest in a honey extractor. This will run you $30 or more depending on its size.
While startup costs may vary, you can expect to spend around $500 on your first hive inclusive of the supplies, and $200 for every hive you set up after that. A thriving colony can produce up to 100 pounds of honey in a season. Realistically, if you get 60 to 70 pounds per hive and charge roughly $10 per pound, you can expect to make $600-$700 for each hive every year.
If you’re wondering how to make beekeeping profitable, the secret lies in investing in high-quality supplies that will last you several years to come. Consider monetizing the other by-products of beekeeping like beeswax, a common ingredient in cosmetics, health products, furniture polish, and more.
Beekeeping can be a profitable venture. You only need to learn everything you can about bees and scale your business as you gain more experience.