How to Start a Bee Farm
The idea of starting a beekeeping business or bee farm is intriguing to many people. Due to recent media attention on honey bees, having your own hives has become a hot topic. Like any business, there is a difference between doing something for a hobby versus running it like a true business. Before you delve into the business world of beekeeping, you have some things to consider.
Start Your Own Bee Business
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.
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But, bee farming (apiculture) does not have to involve thousands of hives. Some small scale beekeepers have 50 or less beehives. Your apiary can be any size.
No matter how many hives you keep – you still need to learn the basics of managing your colonies. Learning how to use your bee smoker, keep your hives healthy and productive and recognize problems – this all takes time.
A good place to state is finding a local beekeeping association. This gives new beekeepers a realistic idea of the current state of beekeeping in your area and a jump start through the early learning curve.
What is a Bee Farming?
Bee farmers provide a variety of goods and services. It is not only about honey and not every bee farmer will actually sell bees.
Though selling honey, beeswax and other hive products is a great way to have a beekeeping business on a smaller scale.
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 honey bee farm and make a profit? Yes – but it will not happen over night.
Many people are interested in knowing how to start beekeeping with the dreams of making big money. Few actually get that far though many come to love the hobby and stay active for years.
How much money you make in a beekeeping business depends on a lot of factors. Some of them may be out of your direct control.
The amount of time and money you are willing to invest is a big part. Your local economy also plays a role. And, success may require just a bit of luck as well. Managing beehives for profit has it’s ups and downs.
Goals and Risks
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 that are all helping the colony grow. However, you may be working alone – how many hives can you manage on your own.
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. Can you afford the loss if things go badly?
Your bees may die because of a mistake you make in hive management or in spite of the best care – they are livestock. Will you have enough money put aside to buy more bees?
Can You Have a Bee Farm in a City?
It is possible to have a small apiary or bee farm in the city. If 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. In most cases apiaries involved in urban beekeeping consist of only a few hives.
Honey Bees are Livestock
When you start with bees, you now have livestock. 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. Exposure to pesticides and insecticides during mosquito spraying is a risk. 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 management you will have some losses.
Develop 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- whether you have 1 hive or 100.
Your Beekeeping Journal – A Guide For Beekeepers: Because Beekeeping Is A Journey
If you plan to approach your beekeeping endeavor as a business, you should maintain good records – especially expenses. It’s easy to remember money coming in.
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. Check with a tax professional to learn what is allowed as a deduction.
How to Make Bee Farming Profitable
Many people approach backyard beekeeping as a hobby. Though they 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. Also, you will need a plan to market your products – most buyers will not seek you out.
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 Beekeeping 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.
- sell equipment to others
- sell bees
- offer pollination services
- sell pollen
- sell honey to individuals or wholesale
Run a Bee Supply
Some beekeeping businesses do quite well at selling equipment and supplies to other beekeepers. This can be profitable but it requires space, inventory and an upfront expense to buy what you need.
Suppliers are very busy early in the year – while honey producers work hardest during the harvest. The honey harvest takes place during Summer in most locations – it is rewarding but hot work.
Selling Bees to Other Beekeepers
What about selling extra bees? Many beekeepers produce income from selling bees. 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.
If you want to serve people who buy honey bees, your yearly schedule may be a bit different from a bee farmer only interested in honey production or pollination.
Offer Pollination Services
Using honey bees for pollination is big business too in some areas. Migratory beekeepers travel all across the country with their hives to help farmers. However, you may not want to move large trucks of bees across the country.
If that is a bit much for you to consider, maybe the strawberry farmer a few counties over needs a few hives for pollination.
Even smaller beekeeping businesses can offer pollination service to small farms. Ask around at local roadside farm stands and the farmer’s market and you may find some opportunities.
Some beekeepers with a few extra hives rent them out for the season. This is for people who want beehives on their property but are not interested in managing the hives themselves.
Sell Pollen from the Hives
It is possible to collect pollen from your bees and sell it to local health food stores or individuals. The colonies do a great job of collecting more pollen than the hive needs when conditions are good.
Using various types of pollen traps, a beekeeper can harvest some of the pollen pellets from returning foragers. However, care must be taken to ensure that not too much protein is removed. The bees need it to rear brood.
Honey is a popular income producing product for small-scale beekeepers. Almost every beekeeper who considers themselves a business-sells honey.
But, making a large honey crop is not something you can depend on every year. 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, what you are able to charge will depend somewhat on the average price of honey in your region.
But don’t give your raw honey away for dirt cheap prices. You deserve fair market value for your hard work. There are costs involved in keeping bees – even if only a few hives.
Setting Up a Honey Business
It may take a couple of years before you have much honey for sale. After you learn the basics of managing bees, they will hopefully be productive. Harvest time arrives – 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 and come in many sizes, styles and prices. When it is time to upgrade, you can sell the smaller one.
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. The cost of glass jars has risen in recent years.
Selling Honey Legally
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 using the proper honey labeling requirements or buy labels ready to use.
Selling Excess Raw Beeswax
Beeswax is another product beekeepers can sell. Beeswax is left over from honey harvesting. This beeswax can be sold raw to other beekeepers and businesses. Sometimes, it is melted using a solar beeswax melter (or similar) to get it into block form.
In addition to industry uses, you may choose to make your own beeswax candles to sell for a good profit. Candles can be sold to local businesses or in your online store.
You do not have to create your own crafts. With so many ways to use beeswax, crafters will pay good money for pure raw beeswax.
You may decide to specialize on only 1 aspect of beekeeping products 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.
State Beekeeping Regulations
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. 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.
Good hive management and swarm prevention techniques are vital if you live in a populous area. Minimize problems by finding the best location for your beehives.
Promoting Your 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?
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.
Some will feel threatened or jealous when you have some success. Prepare for it. Not everyone who smiles is your friend.
Keeping Bees as a Business Takes Time
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”.
Search out local beekeeping classes given for free or low cost by beekeeping associations. Don’t think that 1 class will teach you everything you need to know. It won’t.
Beekeeping takes time and patience. After years of teaching local beekeepers I developed my online beekeeping class it does a great job of helping beginners.
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.
Beginner beekeeping tips and advice from experienced beekeepers always have something good to offer.
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 bee farmer 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.
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. Keeping even a few hives is a great way to be more self-sufficient. Learn how to be a good beekeeper first. Then, you are ready to be a good beekeeping business owner.