Ahh...The good old days!
Something I've always wanted to ask the commercial beeks, how did you get started? I've listened to lots of hobby beeks (or whom I assume to be hobby beeks) tell us guys/girls who aspire to go commercial, how most commercial beeks got started, the best way to get started, etc. The most common answer they have given is that you have to have been born into a commercial beekeeping family to be a commercial beekeeper. While I'm sure that is the easiest way to do it, I don't buy it. I have never believe that I can not succeed, and will never believe that I can not succeed. So anyway, I've always wanted to ask these questions:
1. How many hives do you have? I ask this to weed out hobbiest beeks that chime in, no disrespect intended.
2. How many hives did you start out with? And how long ago?
3. What aspect of beekeeping provides the most income, and what aspect provides the most profit?
4. Did you buy your equipment new or used?
5. Where is your operation based?
6. Besides being born into a beekeeping family, in your opinion, what is the fastest and best way to expand into a commercial beek?
7. I sell my honey at farmer's markets, and to other beeks because I can get a higher price. When you are producing 10, 20, 30 thousand or more pounds, who do you sell that to? I assume honey packers such as Sue Bee, but who are major honey packers?
8. If there's anything else you want to add, please do.
an alternative for number
6. marry into a commercial bee keeping family.
I don't really consider myself commercial but I will chime in here just to get the ball rolling.
1. about 150+.
2. 3 packages about 6 years ago.
3. none of the above for either questions (income, profit). maybe next year?
4. yes to both.
5. Brazos County Texas.
6. the quickest way to expand (but perhaps not the best way) is to buy out existing operations (+ locations) that extend season and income generation.
7. like yourself I sell my limited crop at the farmer's market. you have directly suggested the largest stumbling block to expanding (growth) in regards to volume.
8. if 7 is the largest hurdle? it also represents the largest potential.
1. 2650 (at last count 3 weeks ago)
2. My father kept aobut 1000 until I graduated college. I just took piles of old equipment an started splitting.
3. Pollination provides the most income and the most profit. The honey is mostly what the bees do in their spare time.
4. We bought used junk while trying to grow. Since then we've been adding new to try and weed out some of the stuff that is in really bad shape. Our forklifts are all used and we have one new truck but as a general rule we buy those used as well.
5. Our operation seems to be based out of the cab of my truck, Dads truck, the occasional motel room, and an RV once and awhile. The bees spend most of their year in Georgia but we extract and make most of the decisions in Michigan. I live in Georgia and Dad lives in Michigan.
6. I always tell people to just buy a truck load after almonds. Once you have a semi load then you can take them south and double in the first year. Non tangables (pollination and sales) come almost on their own and aren't worth paying for. I get more calls a year for bees than what I can provide. I even get people calling and wanting nucs and packages and we haven't sold them in over 10 years.
7. I just send samples to the major bottlers, Dutch gold, Golden heritage, and Greob farms. I also sell quite a bit to smaller bottlers that buy one or two barrels.
8. Most of what it takes is a "just do it" attitude. Your never going to be rich as a beekeeper. It may be the closest thing to homeless you can get while still working. I've put $1,000 worth of fuel in one truck stop and not been able to afford a hotel room. If you love working with bees stay small. I rarely get to "have fun" with the bees them selves. I love the nomadic lifestyle and adventures that come with it. In one year I've watched the sun set over the rockies, and rise over an orange grove. I've seen the frost steaming off a field while the sun breaks the day over lake Huron. All while at "work".
I had 450+ and it was a break even number in the tx. hill country. Did apple pollination and it was very profitable, but some one forgot to tell the orchard owners about cotten root rot, went from contracts of 425 to 17 in 3yrs. Closed out got real job had heart attack starting my bees up again.
>1. How many hives do you have? I ask this to weed out hobbiest beeks that chime in, no disrespect intended.
700 honey producing hives,
>>2. How many hives did you start out with? And how long ago?
4 hives 10 years ago,
>>3. What aspect of beekeeping provides the most income, and what aspect provides the most profit?
My operations is geared around honey production soely,
>>4. Did you buy your equipment new or used?
Used, until last year I bought a new Cowen 60 framer, Great purchase!
>>5. Where is your operation based?
>>6. Besides being born into a beekeeping family, in your opinion, what is the fastest and best way to expand into a commercial beek?
Invest and re-invest. You will need a side line job to stay alive though,
>>7. I sell my honey at farmer's markets, and to other beeks because I can get a higher price. When you are producing 10, 20, 30 thousand or more pounds, who do you sell that to? I assume honey packers such as Sue Bee, but who are major honey packers?
Sell to who ever gives you the best price, or deal. Also you HAVE to consider reputation when selling your produce. I have heard many of stories of guys loading a semi, being quarter of the production with some guys to entire production with others, to not getting paid. Thats a tough bullet to bite!
>>8. If there's anything else you want to add, please do.
Get expeience, be paitient, do your best, do things your way, put in the extra hours ALWAYS, dont allow the business to control your life but make sure your life is geared around the workings of the business, make sure your wife understands your obligation and perhaps sucker some labour off your family :)
Those are all lessons I learn the hard way, I suppose you will too!
I never had over 450 colonies. The right location makes all the diffrence. My average production was 200# per colony. All bees were within 75 miles of home . Most less than 35 miles. Almond pollination just 70 miles away. 6 million people to sell my crop to in Los Angeles. I had a very high paying job and needed a tax write off. Built up slowly and cut back when the fun ran out. My last year of my full time job, I made 40,000#. Retired at 55 from my full time job to enjoy my bees and am in the process of selling out now at 65. Still selling about 7,000# year out of my house. Location , Location
Not sure I qualify as "commercial" since I do have a full time job (other than bees, although most times it feels like I have 2 full time jobs), but with 600 hives maybe I can add my input?
1. 600 for honey production in ND; send 1 semi load (approx. 500) to CA for almonds.
2. 6 packages in 1992.
3. Depends on the year; this year honey production will provide the most income & profit. Past couple of years has been about 50/50 between honey production and almond pollination (almond pollination proably a little more). Almond pollination is a very nice second income, but also a lot of expenses to go out there, which decreases the profit aspect of it.
4. Some of each. Have bought lots of used boxes and frames, gradually replacing them with new. All extracting equipment was used until bought new Cowen 60 frame in 2006. Used Bobcat (1992) and trailer, bought new 1 ton truck in 2004.
5. Central North Dakota.
6. Work for a commercial oufit first before taking the plunge, to see if it's really for you. Look for deals on used equipment and plan on work, work, and more work initially.
7. I sell some retail out of my house, rest goes to Dutch Gold.
8. Nothing else I guess, except good luck!
Thank everybody for chiming in on this. I currently have almost forty hives, and by next year I plan to have almost 100. Over the next three years I'm hoping to ramp up to more than 400. I guess I need to start ramping up the pollination side of this, so far honey has been my biggest profit, but this year I started doing some pollination and found that for every two hives that I send out for pollination, I can buy new woodenware and set up a new hive. My biggest problem so far has been keeping them alive through the winter.