Getting Started in Beekeeping Business!
One knowledgeable beekeeper is needed for every 500 to 1,000 colonies.
Without some experience and lots of sage advice, taking care of a commercial
beekeeping operation would be overwhelming. Experienced beekeepers are full of
advice. Their years of experience have shown them what does and doesn't work.
These beekeepers are also your best bet at getting into the business.
With your enthusiasm and his or her expertise and apiary locations, you could
work out a phased retirement plan that eventually leaves you in charge.
When kept in a healthy, stress-free condition, bees will thrive as long as food
and water are available in abundance. But this success can be a problem.
Populous colonies often swarm in the spring. While fascinating to watch, it is
not appreciated by neighbors in whose bushes the swarm settles. Worse, the swarm
sometimes finds an opening and moves into the wall of the neighbor's house.
When Africanized honey bees move into an area, it is extremely difficult for your
neighbors to accept the presence of your bees. Anti-beekeeping ordinances will
become common, as will law suits after stinging incidents.
At the end of the season, after the honey has been removed, the bees exist on
stored honey and pollen until new supplies become available--as long as six
months in cold areas. Beekeepers must be certain that adequate food supplies
are available. Hive components must be weather tight and well protected from
winter winds. In warm climates, bees continue to fly on nice days and deplete
their food reserves quickly. As soon as spring approaches, another year of
monitoring must begin.
Moving a honey crop from hives into containers is a multi-step process.
The bees must be removed from the honey combs by brushing or blowing them off
or chasing them out with bee repellents. The combs are moved to a place where
robbing bees cannot find and empty them. The cappings are removed and the honey
is spun from the combs with a honey extractor. The honey runs out of the
extractor, through sieves, into a settling tank. When the foam has floated to
the top, the honey is poured into jars. Labels are placed on jars just before
the honey is sold.
Land and Buildings
Land--Beekeepers own, rent, or find free locations where their bees can find food
while not being a nuisance to humans or livestock. You must abide by beekeeping
regulations, including restrictions or prohibitions on beekeeping, and colony
registration (by county in California). In some areas, the hives are left
permanently. In other areas, suitable permanent locations do not exist and the
apiaries are relocated six or more times a year.
Buildings--You will need a place for storing and repairing equipment, mixing
bee feed and antibiotic treatments, extracting and handling honey. Some people
use a garage or toolshed, but a larger facility really is required.
Many beekeepers rent buildings. Others build a "honey house." Before building a
facility, visit other beekeepers to note features that make handling of
equipment and honey efficient.
Equipment and Supplies
Vehicles--You'll need vehicles for hauling equipment or bees from one location to
another. Flat bed trucks are used most often, equipped with a bee boom, or
pulling a forklift so hives do not have to be lifted by hand. Some beekeepers
use a station wagon or pickup truck.
Hives--Bee hives are stacks of four-sided, bottomless boxes that hold wooden
frames upon which the bees build their combs. Each hive has a bottom board and
cover. The bees glue the small cracks between the components together with "bee
glue" (propolis). The frames rest on ledges cut into the top of the boxes.
Sheets of embossed beeswax (foundation) are attached in the frames to provide
the bees with the midribs for their new combs. The bees extend the foundation
wax and add more to it and draw comb cells out of each side of the sheet.
The comb cells are used for food storage, clustering, raising baby bees, and
Queen excluders are wire or plastic screens with a mesh size that allows worker
bees to pass through while preventing the passage of the queen (or drones).
Fume boards are similar to covers, with an extra rim that provides a space for
an absorbent pad saturated with liquid bee repellent, the fumes of which drive
bees from the boxes.
Feeders are usually gallon cans with small holes in the cap that fit into a hole
drilled into the hive cover; or a plastic or waxed wooden device that has
similar dimensions to drawn combs and hangs with them and into which syrup is
Entrance reducers are wooden or plastic blocks that partially close hive
entrances to prevent robbing or entrance of mice.
Robbing screens allow continuous ventilation of the hive while prohibiting
entry of robbing bees.
Division or follower boards are frame-shaped dividers used to confine bees to a
specific portion of a hive.
"Nuc" (nucleus) refers to a queen, bees, brood, and food covering two to five
frames, or to a specially designed small hive box holding a three- to five-frame
Bee brush is a long-bristled, soft brush to sweep bees from combs.
Escape board is a divider placed between hive boxes containing gate-like
devices that allow bees to pass only unidirectionally from one box to another.
Veil and hat prevent stings to the face if the smoke fails to calm the bees
while a hive tool is being used to break apart the propolis bonds between the
components in the hive.
Smoker and hive tool are essentials that are used daily.
White coveralls protect clothing and prevent stings.
Elbow-length gloves keep bees away from hands and out of sleeves.
Sources of Bees
Purchase a "package" of bulk bees containing a queen to install in an empty hive.
Purchase functioning colonies, hives and all, from another beekeeper.
Purchase a nuc--a queen, some workers, brood, and food can be purchased on three
to five frames for installation in an empty hive.
Catch a swarm. Police and fire departments and animal control agencies will
appreciate you, but swarms come with problems: 1) they may swarm again, 2) they
may carry diseases or parasites, and 3) they may not be as gentle as breeder
stocks. Stocks can be changed by replacing the old queen with a new one.
Costs to start a beekeeping business are not high. There are quite a few ways to
make money from bees. Most beekeepers rely on honey and beeswax production and
commercial crop pollination.
Honey production depends on the availability of nectar producing plants.
Production is lowest in areas that receive little rain. The color and flavor of
honeys vary with the origin of the nectar. Lighter colored, milder flavored
"table" honeys sell for a few
Investment Needed for 1,000 Colony Operation
1,000 bottom boards @ $8 each $8,000
1,000 covers @ $8 each 8,000
2,000 deep boxes @ $12 each 24,000
20,000 deep frames @ $0.35-0.65 10,000
20,000 deep foundation @ $0.06 1,200
1,000 medium depth boxes @ $8 each 8,000
10,000 medium depth fames @ $0.40 each 4,000
10,000 medium depth foundation @ $0.40 4,000
100,000 frame eyelets @ $2.00 per 1,000 200
2,000 queen excluders (optional) $9.00 each 18,000
6,000 metal rabbets @ $0.08 each 480
50 fume boards @ $9.00 450
1 bee blower (optional) @ $325 each 250
75 gallons paint @ $16-21 per gallon 1,500
1 staple gun and compressor 500
Bees 1,000 packages @ $25.00 25,000
Honey Handling Equipment
Automatic uncapper 1,700-3,000
Frame conveyor 600
Conveyor drip pan 250
Cappings melter 1,000-2,000
Settling tanks (each) 170-250
Spin float (replaces melter) 3,300
Honey sump 325-800
Honey pump 170-190
Flash heater (optional) 1,000
Barrels (each) new: l6; used: 8
Barrel truck 160-250
Hand truck 125-525
Glass jars (if not selling bulk honey) 17,300
Bottling equipment (if not selling bulk honey) 940
Flat bed trucks (each) 16-1800
Bee booms (each) (mounted) 2,500
Forklifts (each) new: 16-18,000; used: 8-10,000
Land @ $3,000/acre 20,000
Rent (house and shop/year) 15,000-17,000
Help, full time, each 20,000
Help, part time, each 1,630
Utilities (year) 2,400
Workman's compensation, health insurance 13,000