How to Start A Bee Farm or Beekeeping Business
Due to declining colony numbers, honey bees are big news. More and more people want to help. The result of this media attention is many people want to know more about bee farming. Before you begin your honey bee business, you have some things to consider.
What is a Bee Farming?
What does it mean to have a bee farm? Well, that term is used very broadly. In our minds, we picture large fields with hundreds of honey bee hives. This is true in many cases.
But bee farming does not have to involve thousands of hives. Not every bee farm or beekeeper will actually sell bees. Bee farmers provide a variety of goods and services.
Perhaps you are interested in selling honey, beeswax and other hive products.
Some beekeeping businesses do quite well at selling equipment and other items to other beekeepers.
Or, you may want to provide pollination services for farmers. And yes, some bee farms do grow and sell bees to new beekeepers.
If your bee farm business wants to serve people who buy honey bees, your yearly schedule may be a bit different from a bee farmer only interested in honey production.
You must evaluate your goals and plan with them in mind. If you are prepared for hard work, a bee farm can be a viable business.
It is common to under-estimate the amount of work, capital expense and risks associated with any agricultural business .
Your hives will be filled with worker bees. But you may be working alone. A lot of effort goes into any beekeeping operation upfront.
Financial risks exist for the small scale beekeeper or a commercial beekeeper with thousands of hives. This is true for any endeavor that involves farming.
Is Bee Farming Profitable?
Okay, now you have been bitten by the honey bee bug! You want a few hives and you want to make some money too!
It is possible to have your own bee farm and make a profit? Yes-but it will not happen over night.
How much money you make will depend on how much time and money you are willing to invest and your local economy.
And it may require just a bit of luck as well, managing bees as a business has it’s ups and downs.
A Beekeeping Business is Farming
When you start with bees, you are starting a farm. Your livestock lives in hives not a barn.
When they go out to forage, they are free flying and not contained within fencing.
So you can easily see how it is difficult to keep your bee livestock safe and under control. And like all farming, beekeeping can be risky.
You will be subject to weather extremes and you will have colonies die. And, you will have some colonies that do not produce honey every year.
This could be the result of poor management on your part or other problems that could not be prevented.
Even with the best bee farm management you will have some losses.
Have a Beekeeping Business Plan
Proper planning is vital to success. This includes planning your expenses and work plan for the year and then tracking how things went.
Make note of what works and what does not – it’s okay to make mistakes but try to avoid repeating them over and over. Good Hive records are vital to beekeepers.
If you plan to approach your beekeeping endeavor as a business, you should maintain good records. The best way I have found to do this is with a dedicated expense book.
Expenses (equipment for yourself and the bees) and hopefully income amounts accumulate quickly.
Transactions that you were sure you could remember are forgotten. A good record of approved business expenses is important.
How to Make Bee Farming Profitable
Many people approach keeping bees as a hobby. These backyard beekeepers do sometimes sell a few jars of honey to offset costs.
But if you intend to make a profit, you must consider what you will be selling.
What type of products/services will your bee farm provide? Will you remain a small business long term? Or, do you hope to develop a large business and sell honey bees? Or, will you sell honey? If you hire staff to help, you may do both.
Maximize Farm Profits by Diversifying
Maximize every aspect of beekeeping that you can. This is true whether you have a small bee farm of 4 hives or thousands of hives spread across several bee yards.
Little streams of income will add up over a season. Having different products increases your volume of sales by appealing to a more diverse group of consumers.
Selling Honey from Your Hives
Honey is a popular income producing product for small-scale beekeepers. Almost every beekeeper who considers themselves a business-sells honey.
But making a great honey crop is not something you can depend on every year. It is important to remember the farming aspects of producing honey.
Weather conditions such as : too much rain, too little rain, late frosts or high winds affect the amount of honey that a colony of bees can produce.
When selling honey as a part of your beekeeping business, what you are able to charge will depend somewhat on the average price of honey in your region.
But don’t give your honey away for dirt cheap prices. You deserve fair market value for your hard work.
Will Your Bee Farm Raise & Sell Bees?
What about selling extra bees ? Many beekeepers produce income from selling bees or beekeeping equipment. This can be a profitable side of beekeeping.
Raising bees with success revolves around temperatures, weather conditions and foraging conditions.
As the bee farmer, you can only control some aspects of bee production.
Many businesses make some big bucks offerring bees for sale in the Spring and selling bee supplies.
However, this requires a larger money investment and has greater risks as well.
Using honey bees for pollination is big business. You may not want to move large trucks of bees across the country. But, even smaller beekeepers can offer pollination service to small farms.
Some beekeepers rent out hives for the season to people who want beehives on their property but are not interested in managing the hives themselves.
Your Bee Farm Can Produce Beeswax
Beeswax is another product you can sell. Beekeepers have beeswax left over from honey harvesting.
This beeswax can be sold raw to other beekeepers and businesses.
In addition to industry uses, you may choose to make your own beeswax candles to sell for a good profit.
With so many uses for beeswax, crafters will pay good money for pure raw beeswax.
Examine your goals before you start a bee farm or any beekeeping industry.
You may decide to specialize on only 1 aspect of beekeeping or perhaps you will diversify and do a little of each.
Honey Bee Business Regulations
Do you need a business license or product liability insurance? Maybe. You may also need to collect and pay sales tax. Again, each state is different.
How will you sell your products? If you have any thoughts of selling honey at events, you will need a pop-up tent. Don’t buy the cheapest one you find.
Read the reviews and choose a sturdy model – the really cheap shade tents are so easy to damage. It’s worth the effort to pay a few dollars more.
When I was attending area festivals, I purchased a metal cash box. I wrote down the amount of cash inside (to make change) and at the end of the day I counted the total.
This helped me keep track of how much I sold. I would then pay the sales tax out of my profits. That was much easier than trying to handle pennies at an event.
Contact your state officials to find out the regulations that apply in your area.
Decisions for all Sizes of Bee Farms
Some states require registration of each bee hive and permits for moving bees across state lines. This is true whether you have 1 hive or thousands.
Check with your state agriculture department before you invest in a beekeeping business.
They can help you understand any requirements related to the selling of honey or bees.
Does your neighborhood allow bee hives? Be sensible. Having 50 hives on a ½ acre lot is not a good idea.
Bees will swarm. Trust me, a few thousand bees hanging in a bush can cause quite a bit of excitement.
Connect with Local Beekeepers
All beekeeping has a local component. Connect with beekeepers in your area to learn important climate information.
They can tell you about local forage plants, bloom time and average yield for a colony.
The bees themselves don’t vary much within a region but local weather conditions have a great effect on honey production. Not every area is good for bees.
Be kind in your business dealings. Some beekeepers will be afraid that you will try to take their customers. Don’t. Do your own thing.
Raising bees is a lot easy when you have friends to share ideas with. Most beekeepers love to help others.
Some will feel threatened or jealous when you have some success. Prepare for it. Not everyone who smiles is your friend.
Managing a Beekeeping Business Has a Learning Curve
The art of beekeeping has changed a lot in the last 30 years. Educate yourself about honey bee management before getting that first hive.
Starting a beehive is a bit different than other activities. Plan to spend a couple of years learning before you seriously try to “be a business”.
How to Start a Beehive
Those most successful in bee farming – start at the beginning. Learn how to start a beehive ( or two). Go slow and grow as you learn.
Education is an important aspect of being a good beekeeper. Take several beekeeping classes, free and paid. You can learn something different from each source.
Search out local beekeeping classes given for free or low cost by beekeeping associations . My online beekeeping courses are great for beginners.
Buy several good beekeeping books or journals –maybe mine too ! . Attend local beekeeper meetings. A big part of becoming a beekeeper is preparation.
Order Bees for Your Business Early
Every type of farm starts small. We all have a beginning. Develop a business plan for your bee farm.
Have an understanding of exactly what a beehive is – it is much more than just a wooden box.
When starting, order your bees and equipment early. You will want to have your beehive in place several weeks before bees arrive.
If you are getting started with bees, how many hives do you need? I suggest new beekeepers begin with 2 hives – 4 is okay if you have a lot of free time.
Please don’t start a beekeeping business with 20 hives your first year. You need time to learn, make mistakes and get a feel for the bees.
When you get to the point of being an actual honey bee farm or business, you may still need to order a few packages of bees each Spring.
This is to replenish hives that are lost over the Winter. Not all bee colonies make it to Spring and those empty boxes will need filled.
Buying Honey Bees for Your Beekeeping Business
You have decided to start with just a few hives? Great. Now, you need bees to go in them.
Buying bees is easy to do if you plan ahead. Most bee suppliers begin taking orders in November or January for Spring delivery.
If you want Spring bees, order them during Winter. There are several ways to buy honey bees, check out my linked post.
Processing Honey for Sale
It make take a couple of years before you have much honey for sale. But a big part of developing a beekeeping business, or any other business, is planning ahead.
When you start a beekeeping business for honey sales, there will come a time for harvest. How will you harvest your honey?
If you plan to sell honey, you will want to use an extractor. An economical extractor can be purchased for the beekeeper with less than 10 hives. As your business grows, so will your needs.
Honey Extractors hold their value well. When it is time to upgrade, you can sell the smaller one. Honey extractors come in many sizes styles and prices.
A local supplier for jars and lids is needed. Canning jars are okay but labels look better on a jar with no raised lettering.
You can order jars online or obtain them from local glass companies but they may require you to buy a large amount.
Selling Food Products
Most states have specific requirements for honey jar labels. Regulations pertaining the the exact information that must be included on the label. Some states even regulate the size of the lettering.
We must remember that when selling honey, we are selling food for human consumption.
This is the reason for regulation from state officials. Some states will have cottage laws that exempt beekeepers from many restrictions.
Check with your state agricultural department to ensure that you are following the law. Print your own honey labels or buy labels ready to use.
Always include your name and phone number so your customers can reach you easily. You want them to buy more honey, right?
I used to keep a small journal with the names of my honey customers and their mailing address or email.
Then when a new crop of fresh honey was harvested, I could let them know!
Promote Bee Farm Products
Talk up what you are doing. Tell friends, neighbors, co-workers and others about your products.
Check out the local price for honey. Bottle your honey in different jar types and sizes.
Don’t under price your premium honey. You and your bees worked hard. Your goal to start a beekeeping business will fail if you don’t make a profit.
Honey production varies from year to year. Adjust your jar size and cost to reflect local demand. Either sell your honey for a fair profitable price or give it away.
Be aware that friends and family will ask for discounts. Be careful going down that road.
Once you give it away or sell it really cheap, others want the same deal. Is this a hobby or a business?
Believe it or not, not everyone likes honey. Providing other products brings in another stream of income.
Is Bee Farming Bad?
A bee farm is like any other kind of business. Some do it with care and respect for their livestock and others do it just for profit.
A responsible beekeeper tries to work with the natural tendencies of the honey bee. And, has great concern for their health and well-being.
Is bee farming ethical? That is a matter of opinion but I say yes – if the beekeeper is ethical.
Can You Have a Bee Farm in a City?
Absolutely, as long as you have enough space for your hives. And enough forage in your area for the bees to be healthy. Some cities have rooftop beehive gardens.
Of course, you would need to check local regulations and have a primary interest in public safety. A bee farm in a city would usually consist of a small number of hives.
Take it easy-Don’t Try to Do Everything the First Couple of Years
The best advice on how to start your own bee farm is go slow. Don’t grow your hive numbers too fast. Honey bee colonies can fail quickly without proper management.
Have fun. Learn how to be a good beekeeper first. Then, you are ready to be a good beekeeping business owner.