Start a Bee Farm

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If the idea of starting a beekeeping business or bee farm is intriguing to you – you are not alone. In fact, that was why I first became interested in beekeeping. But, before you delve into the business world of beekeeping, you have some things to consider. There are risks involved and there is a difference between doing something for a hobby versus running it like a true business. In this guide, I will share with you some of the joy and trials of bee farming.

Bee farmer setting up a new beekeeping business hive.

In the beginning, I envisioned a bee farm as large fields with hundreds of honey bee hives. This is true in many cases. But, bee farming (apiculture) does not have to involve thousands of hives. Often, small scale beekeepers have 50 hives or much fewer. Your apiary can be any size.

What is a Bee Farming?

Bee farming covers a wide variety of goods and services – including selling honey. However, honey production is only one aspect of the business of beekeeping.

And yes, you can be considered a bee farmer without actually selling live bees- most of us do not. Instead, we keep busy selling honey, beeswax and other beehive products. This is a great way to have a beekeeping business on a smaller scale.

Is Bee Farming Profitable?

It is possible to make a profit with a honey bee farm. But, it will not happen over night. Beekeeping is a good way to lose a lot of money fast – also true of any farming adventure.

Many people become beginner beekeepers 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 beekeepers make depends on many factors. The amount of time and money you are willing to invest is a big part.

Your local economy also plays a role. Do you want to sell products locally? If so, is there a market for what you want to offer?

Honestly, success may require just a bit of luck as well. Managing beehives as a business has it’s ups and downs.

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 in beekeeping, but try to avoid repeating them over and over.

If you plan to approach your beekeeping endeavor as a business, you should maintain good beekeeping records – (hive management) but income and expenses – especially expenses. It’s easy to remember money coming in but you have to track it all.

No matter how many hives you keep – you still need to learn the basics of managing your colonies. 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.

Grow Your Business Slowly

Plan to spend a couple of years learning before you seriously try to “be a business“. 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.

Goals and Risks

If you are prepared for hard work, a bee farm can be a viable business. But, you must evaluate your goals and plan with them in mind.

  • work load
  • financial risks
  • bees as livestock

It is common to under-estimate the amount of work, capital expense and risks associated with any agricultural business. 

Consider the Work Load

Your hives will be filled with worker bees that are all helping the colony grow. However, you may be working alone. This is why it may be best to start with a few beehives as a beginner. Grow your apiary as you learn.

Financial Considerations

Financial risks exist for the small scale beekeeper, as well as, a commercial beekeeper with thousands of hives. 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 if bad times happen?

Back when I had been beekeeping for just a couple of years, I had a winter where 9 out of 10 of my hives died. I had to have the money to buy bee packages to fill those hives up come Spring. You have to have some money set aside.

Honey Bees are Livestock

Your new bees are considered livestock. Your livestock lives in hives not a barn. When they go out to forage, they are free flying and not contained within fencing. Honey bees travel for miles searching for resources.

So you can easily see how it is difficult to keep your livestock safe and under control. Pest, predators and exposure to pesticides and insecticides during mosquito spraying – put bees at risk.

And, even with healthy colonies, you will never have 100% top production. The amount of honey produced by a beehive in a year varies greatly. 

Beekeeping Business Profits: Diversify

If you plan to have a true for profit bee business, maximize every aspect of beekeeping that you can. Little streams of income will add up.

Having different products increases your volume of sales by appealing to a more diverse group of consumers. You may only do one or two of these – that’s okay. But do them well.

  • sell beekeeping equipment
  • sell honey bees or local queens
  • 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 – but you need to make money all year long.

Selling Bees

Many beekeepers produce income from selling to people who want to buy honey bees. This can be a profitable side of beekeeping. But, raising bees revolves around temperatures, weather conditions and foraging conditions.

For the smaller-scale producer, queen rearing can be an option. Beekeepers love to find local queens for sale.

Offer Pollination Services

Using honey bees for pollination is big business too. Migratory beekeepers travel all across the country with their hives to help farmers.

If the idea of moving large trucks of bees across the country is a bit much, maybe the strawberry farmer a few counties over needs a few hives for good crop yield. 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.

Consider creating some type of contract if you do this as part of your bee farm. Clearly state who is responsible for what and all the details involved.

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Sell Bee Pollen

Under good conditions, honey bees do a great job of gathering more pollen than they need. You may want to collect pollen from the beehives and sell it to local health food stores or individuals.

There are several types of pollen traps, that can be used. When done responsibly, no harm is done to the colony.

Sell Honey

Honey is the most popular income producing product for small-scale beekeepers. Almost every beekeeper who considers themselves a business-sells 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. And, you will need the necessary equipment to harvest the honey crop and prepare it for sale.

Beekeeper Charlotte selling honey at a local event image.

Legal Requirements for Honey

When selling honey, we are providing food for human consumption. Some states have cottage laws that exempt beekeepers from many restrictions – but not all do.

Most states have specific requirements for honey jar labels. Check with your state agricultural department to ensure that you are following the law.

Raw beeswax block and candles for sale from bee farm.

Selling Beeswax

Raw beeswax is another product beekeepers can sell. Cappings wax left over from honey extraction can to sold to other beekeepers and businesses.

The small producer can make a solar beeswax melter (or similar) to get it into block form. This makes it easy to store and transport.

In addition to industry uses, you may choose to make your own beeswax candles to sell for a good profit. With so many ways to use beeswax, crafters will pay good money for pure raw beeswax.

Honey Bee Business Regulations 

When you start a bee farm of any type – you need to know the law. 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. Some states require registration of each bee hive and permits for moving bees across state lines.

Does your neighborhood or town 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.

Promoting Your Bee Farm

How will you sell your bee farm products? Talk up what you are doing. Tell friends, neighbors, co-workers and others about your products. Bottle your honey in different jar types and sizes to appeal to a wide variety of customers.

One popular strategy for small beekeepers is promoting your bee farm at local events. My Dad and I did this for years – and it is some of the sweetest memories I have with him.

Product stand of beekeeper Charlotte and her Dad promoting the farm.

As 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 bee farm business?

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.

FAQs

What is a bee farmer?

A bee farmer is someone involved in beekeeping as a business. The terms beekeeper, apiarist or honey farmer also apply.

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. Check local regulations to see what is allowed when considering urban beekeeping.

How do bee farmers make money?

Beekeepers make money by selling honey bees, beekeeping equipment, honey, pollen or providing beehives for pollination.

What bees do bee farmers use?

The most popular honey bees for business are European honey bees (Apis mellifera). There are several different races but Italians are known for good honey production.

How do bee farmers keep from getting stung?

Beekeepers do get stung but using protective wear and proper use of a bee smoker makes the job easier.

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. Taking honey from beehives is not bad when done carefully with proper concern for the continued well-being of the hive.

Final Thoughts

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 – you need to know what you are doing. Learn how to be a good beekeeper first. Then, you are ready to be a good beekeeping business owner.