How to Start A Beekeeping Business-Using Common Sense
Due to declining colony numbers, honey bees are big news. Even non-beekeepers are aware of the plight of the honey bee. And, people want to help. The result of this media attention is many people wanting to start a beekeeping business.
If you are prepared for hard work, beekeeping can be a viable business. Of course, there are risks associated with beekeeping for business purposes. This is true for the small scale beekeeper or a commercial beekeeper with thousands of hives.
Okay, now you have been bitten by the beekeeping bug! You want a few hives and you want to make some money too! It is possible to have your own beekeeping business and make a profit-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, beekeeping as a business has it’s ups and downs.
Starting A Beekeeping Business is Farming
When you start a beekeeping business, 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.
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.
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 a Beekeeping Business Profitable
Many people approach beekeeping as a hobby and maybe they will 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 you sell/provide? Will you just sell honey? That’s fine but maybe you can diversify.
Maximize every aspect of beekeeping that you can. 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.
Honey is a popular income producing product for small-scale beekeepers. Almost every beekeeper who considers themselves a business sell 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.
What about selling extra bees ? Many beekeepers produce income from selling bees, beekeeping equipment or offering pollination services. Some even rent out hives for the season to people who want beehives on their property but are not interested in managing the hives themselves.
Beeswax is another product you can sell. Beekeepers will have wax left over from honey harvesting. The wax can be sold raw or excess beeswax can be made into beeswax candles to sell.
Examine your goals before you start a beekeeping business for yourself. You made decide to specialize on only 1 aspect of beekeeping or perhaps who 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.
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.
Some states require registration of each bee hive and permits for moving bees across state lines. Check with your state agriculture department before you start 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.
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. Plan to spend a couple of years learning before you seriously try to “be a business”.
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 -maybe mine too ! . Attend local beekeeper meetings. A big part of becoming a beekeeper is preparation.
Plan to Order Bees for Your Business Early
Order your 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 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. Extractors for your beekeeping business 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.
If I wanted to start a beekeeping business anew, I would purchase an extractor like this one. The cost is not too bad. It has good reviews for the price point and holds several frames at a time.
If you have more than 4 hives, I would go for a power model. However, this is a good starter level extractor and you can sell it for a fair price when you are ready to upgrade.
Honey Beekeeping Businesses 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 Your Hive 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 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?
Expand Your Beekeeping Business Slowly
Honey producers sell other hive products as a part of their business. Your beeswax cappings can be turned in lovely, beeswax candles. This value added product provides additional income. Lip balms are another popular product.
I make both beeswax candles and lip balm from my extra beeswax. Believe it or not, not everyone likes honey. Providing other products brings in another stream of income.
Fortunately, beeswax has so many uses that it is easy to make additional products to sell from wax. Some customers will want to buy raw beeswax for their own projects.
Take it easy-Don’t Try to Do Everything the First Couple of Years
The best advice on how to start a beekeeping business is go slow. Don’t grow your hive numbers too fast. Honey bee colonies can fail quickly without proper management.
Learn how to be a good beekeeper first. Then you are ready to be a good beekeeping business owner.
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