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  1. #1
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    Default Questions for the commercial beeks

    This is intended for the commercial guys/gals. I seen some of your responses in other threads saying that commercial beeks do things much different than hobbists. Granted, this is a very general question that may be hard to completely answer. But what are some of the the differences in management that immediately come to mind? Besides the fact that you are managing far more hives.

    Here is some more dirrected questions.

    It has been said that it is very difficult to get into commercial beekeeping. What are some of the practices that hobbist should change before going commercial?

    How do you find time to manage 1000's of hives?

    How much does pollination play a part in your business?

    Do you bother overwintering nucs?

    Do you bother to requeen every year? I ask this because I've heard that most commercial operations do requeen every summer with purchased, or raised queencells.

    What about mite treatments? Do you bother to monitor? Or do you just treat every year regardless?

    How often would you say that you visit each hive? And how often do you bother to do a complete inspection?

    Does honey production play a big part in your operation, or is it mostly nucs, pollination, and queens?

    Do you bother with other hive products like propolis, royal jelly, ect?

    If you live in the north, do you bother to raise and sell queens?

    If someone asks you to place hives on their land (like a home apiary) how many hives would you have to place to make it worth the trips?

    Thanks,
    Gary

  2. #2
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    Crystal Falls, Mi.
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    Big Grin

    Lots of question, The beeks might be too busy to answear...... Bless their beeking hearts.........
    T.G.
    When I grow up, I want to be like John K.......

  3. #3
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    >>What are some of the practices that hobbist should change before going commercial?

    YOu got to understand how and why the bees work, then work the hives when they need to be worked. Time management is probably going to be your biggest challenge, especially when talking 1000 hives.

    >>How do you find time to manage 1000's of hives?

    Hire men when needed for honey pull, always have one or two guys full time during the summer months,


    >>How much does pollination play a part in your business?

    I provide that service for free, well, actually I do pay the farmers 50lbs of honey for the use of thier out yards, Some deal eh?

    >>Do you bother overwintering nucs?

    I dont, but I do overwinter singles, made up as increase. Its helps manage your overwintering risk,

    >>Do you bother to requeen every year? I ask this because I've heard that most commercial operations do requeen every summer with purchased, or raised queencells.

    I dont, but you have to understand that I dont migratory beekeep. Some of those guys down south are running their hives year round. Mine take a good long 5-6 month sleep over winter.
    I do however incorterate at least one third new queen into my operation with my splits, which sometimes account for half my producing numbers if I am recovering from a large wintering loss.

    >>What about mite treatments? Do you bother to monitor? Or do you just treat every year regardless?

    Treat what? Yes I monitor, how do you know what to treat for if you dont monitor?
    Dont overlook that step,
    But your going to find that sometimes after you have done all the work monitoring your populations, you will find your treating everything anyway. But then again, you might get away without treatments in some yard and save money and equipment

    >>How often would you say that you visit each hive? And how often do you bother to do a complete inspection?

    It is said you can beekeep a complete northern year in 11 rounds. I manage more rounds than that,
    Complete inspections are usually done in spring during the splitting rounds. Your looking for a quick brood check. You will know if something is wrong by examining a few brood frames. Your looking for AFB primarily, but also brood pattern, densisty, food stores ect.
    Any other brood inspections are done during the honeyflow, and only to the hives that are failing. A failing hive, or a non producing hive is a dead givaway to check the hive for disease. Becasue its either disease or queen problems at that time. If its disease, cull them out, if its queen releated, or swarming, just be paitient.

    >>Does honey production play a big part in your operation, or is it mostly nucs, pollination, and queens?

    Honey, up to 200lbs plus per season.

    >>Do you bother with other hive products like propolis, royal jelly, ect?

    No time, but I hear there are markets for that. Take a close look at time and equipment needed. I dont think it pays after all is considered. Concentrate on what your operation is best at producing and maximize your production.

    >>If you live in the north, do you bother to raise and sell queens?

    Nope, its too short of a season to bother with queens. I contract all that out to someone who has a focus on queen production. You want the best mated and selected queens for your operation,.

    >>If someone asks you to place hives on their land (like a home apiary) how many hives would you have to place to make it worth the trips?

    30-40 hives , pay a 50lbs yard rent
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog
    www.stepplerfarms.com

  4. #4
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    Default

    Ian, thank you for the answers. That will probably help me in what direction to go with my operation. I wish we could get more of you commercial beeks to throw in your opinions, although I do understand why you guys reserve your opinions.

    Unfortunately I don't have any commercial operations that are close enough for me to work for. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to find my way in the dark. I figure that if I make enough mistakes, I learn how and what to do, but the more answers I can get, the more mistakes I can avoid.

    I completely agree with the time management statement. With just thirty some hives, and a full time job, I'm having to learn that. One of my biggest opsticles is getting the family to take a part in this, the wife seems to do well with working the businesss, and her day job.

    I have one more question that I forgot to ask. Do you bother selling nucs in early spring?

    Thanks,
    Gary

  5. #5
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    >>One of my biggest opsticles is getting the family to take a part in this, the wife seems to do well with working the businesss,

    One of the biggest factors that got my operations off the ground, but you must have a long term plan in place which will allow your cheap family labour to be replaced with regular paid employees. Cant avoid it,
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog
    www.stepplerfarms.com

  6. #6
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    Jan 2005
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    Clear Lake, WI / Sebring, FL
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    Default

    Everyone runs there commercial operation different. Some people focus on pollination some on honey, others on nucs and queens. There is no one way . It cost alot to start up a operation and there is a steep learning curve unless you can work with a large operator for a few years.

  7. #7
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    Jul 2004
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    Seattle, Washington State
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    Indian:

    I agree. I wish more would chime in. I should just PM some of them with the questions you have. Works best. Some of them you will get great answers to your questions (thank you Sheri, Ian, and Michael Palmer, just ot name a few) and some people wont respond back to you.
    Chef Isaac..Culinary Arts and Honey are a sweet mix! http://www.sweetascanbeehoneyfarm.com & http://www.adoptahive.info

  8. #8
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    Dec 2006
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    Amador County, Calif
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    Big Grin

    Quote Originally Posted by Chef Isaac View Post
    Indian: (thank you Sheri, Ian, and Michael Palmer, just ot name a few) .

  9. #9
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    Indian: You have some good questions!
    Last edited by Chef Isaac; 07-01-2008 at 08:00 PM.
    Chef Isaac..Culinary Arts and Honey are a sweet mix! http://www.sweetascanbeehoneyfarm.com & http://www.adoptahive.info

  10. #10
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    Dec 2006
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    St. Albans, Vermont
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    Default

    >>What are some of the practices that hobbist should change before going commercial?<<
    >>How do you find time to manage 1000's of hives?<<
    >>How often would you say that you visit each hive? And how often do you bother to do a complete inspection?<<

    I guess all these go together. Part time beekeepers seem to want to check, and re-check, and again and again...You need to get your spring work done, with a good queen in each hive, and a little swarm control, and proper supering...and let them go. It's like good wood on bad. Do you spend all your time on your weak colonies, when it's the strong ones that make the crop?

    >>How much does pollination play a part in your business?<<

    I pollinated apples for 20 years. The way I figure it, I lost money. They paid $30. I lost a super of honey, and a split on lots of hives. They never wintered as well as the non-pollinators. I was glad to be done with it. But...if I was in California anyway, and had good bees to rent, that big price looks pretty good.

    >>Does honey production play a big part in your operation,<<

    Of course. It's my main source of income. I usually make 40 tons or so, and have a good market. Now, with the price up...oh yeah. We still have to make the crop first. Lots of empty supers out there. Go figure.

    >>Do you bother overwintering nucs?<<
    >>If you live in the north, do you bother to raise and sell queens?<<

    Yes to both. Raising my own queens from my best stock, and wintering that stock as nucs, has absolutely changed my beekeeping for the better. Hey, I was able to give up pollination. And Oh My the queens...big fatties with gorgious hairy legs. :-)

    >>Do you bother to requeen every year?<<

    No! I raise my own queens. How am I going to judge their performance if I kill therm every year. And, how will I find those queens tha perform well over a number of years, and supercede successfully with another good queen? I only requeen when a colony needs to be requeened.

    >>What about mite treatments? Do you bother to monitor?<<

    I monitor, I treat.

    >>Do you bother with other hive products like propolis, royal jelly, ect?<<

    I trap pollen for use in my cell builders, and suck down a bit of royal jelly from time to time, for that youthful glow don't ya know. :-)

    >>If someone asks you to place hives on their land (like a home apiary) how many hives would you have to place to make it worth the trips?<<

    I like 25, and pay a case of quarts to most. One farmer and his brother "don't want no honey" so they each get a 30 pack of Genney. Ugh.

  11. #11

    Default

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Well I am not full time yet but I will tell you how I do things. I am running 400 + hives, working full time, and spending time with my wife and kids. Dylan is 18 months, Isabell is 6months.

    I don't think that getting into commercial beekeeping would be hard if you are willing to work alot. I don't think you need to change your practices just learn how to do everything faster and right the first time.

    Good help for managing large numbers is nice but 1,000 hives could be handled by 1 person if you are a worker.

    Pollination is playing a little bit in the operation this year, about a fourth. Hoping to send the bees to california this year but will wait and see.

    I don't overwinter nucs. They are usually combined with weaker hives in the fall.

    I am make splits with boughten queens in the early spring. Then use cells through summer. A new queen will outperfom an older queen. I requeen everything unless they are potential breeders.

    I monitor for mites when I can, I don't do a sticky board. I do like looking in drone brood. I treat everything unless there are qualities that I like in one hive and it is a possible breeder.

    I visit each hive roughly every 3 weeks depending on weather and such. I do work in the rain when I have too. I do complete inspections twice a year. Once in the spring and once in the fall before the queen shuts down. What I mean buy complete is looking at one our two frames and checking for pattern, disease etc etc.. Generally if you have had bees for awhile you can usually tell how the bees our when you open the lid. They way they sound, move and things look can tell you if you need to look further.

    Honey is the main part of my operation, I also do pollination, sell queens and cells and nucs.

    Other hive products I don't mess with altough will start collecting pollen and proplis soon.

    Yes I raise and sell queens.

    When we place hives on others land we place 16 -24. I prefer 24 but this year I do have some with 16. 4 hives to the pallet. I am mostly palletized.

    You are within 100 miles of 3 commercial beekeepers. Get ahold of them and take the time to check out there operations. Better yet work with them for a day or two. They would be more than willing for free labor.
    Last edited by greenbeekeeping; 07-01-2008 at 08:30 PM. Reason: adding
    Columbia City, Indiana

  12. #12
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    Thank you for the answers guys. I'm glad to have commercial guys that are willing to answer questions.

    As for working with a commercial beek, I'll check into that. I know of two commercial guys in Indiana.

  13. #13
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    Nov 2007
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    Kerikeri, New Zealand
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    We run a few thousand hives (nonpalletized) and ~400 mating nucs. The main focus of what we do is kiwifruit pollination, with both gold and green flowerings most hives do 2 pollinations in the spring (all <30km from our base), a few hundred go to avocados. Some hives do no pollination and just produce honey. Nucs are split into a 3 week rotation, yielding ~100 queens a week. In our spring, queens are used for patching, splitting to recover winter losses, and requeening swarmed hives and the rest are sold locally. In the Autumn we use a few queens to patch, but most go to the N Hem spring. The only hive product we collect is propolis ($8-10/hive per year) - it adds up over 1000s of hives and takes very little time to collect. I would break down revenue roughly as: 45% pollination, 35% honey, 10% queens, 10%misc (propolis, hives, hiveware). Honey is the most variable over the years so it's nice to have the pollination contracts as guaranteed income or stability.

    As far as hive mgt. goes, each hive gets atleast 2 full inspections per season, one in the spring once buildup is underway, and again in the late summer early autumn prior to removing honey to avoid spreading disease in the extraction room. Hives get a 3rd inspection if they are split. An inspection consists of 3-4 brood frame check for AFB-- every frame checked in sites with previous AFB incidence. We are fortunate in NZ to be relatively "clean" in beek terms-- AFB is the primary concern, and any infected hives are destroyed within 24 hrs (illegal to attempt treatment here). Varroa is the other major thing we deal with. We treat all hives twice a year (early spring- presupering, and autumn-postharvest). Varroa monitoring is usually qualitative-- we occasionaly use sticky boards for govt. req'd monitoring.

    It becomes pretty easy to tell something isnt right when you open a colony, and further investigation is done as needed, but most robust colonies only get a cursory look aside from the formal brood inspections. In the spring it can be worthwhile taking the time to rebuild a weak colony into something that will produce for the season, in the autumn we generally foldup weaker hives rather than spending too much time repairing. It's much easier to split them back down in the spring when bees, brood, queens, pollen, nectar, are all in abundance rather than try to nurse weak colonies through the winter.

    All hives get requeened in the autumn using cells, which are produced for minimal cost and yield 90+ % take rate-- failures are patched with mated queens. In this way every colony gets requeened annually with less labor than searching/pinching/requeening.

    We don't pay for any siting-- we just keep landowners supplied with honey. Generally honey sites are run at 16-20 and sites for pollination hives ~30.

    I came to the business once it was established, so I don't have much to offer on startup advice, but what I have learned during our periods of rapid growth is that the bees are the cheap part-- the hiveware is where the biggest costs come. Bees can be used to produce more bees without too much trouble, but hiveware is not self replicating. If you can set yourself up to produce some queens/ cells to meet your needs it will facilitate you increasing colony #s quickly and allow you to keep quality queens in all your hives to keep production high. I've only played with bees for $, although most days I would do it for free, but I think an important distinction between hobby/commercial is working hives out of necessity (to meet deadlines--pollination dates, prevent swarms, extraction schedules . . .) rather than curiosity, so sometimes you'll be working long hours in marginal conditions. Having to do something can take the enjoyment out of it, but I think if you enjoy working with bees enough to consider getting in deeper you're probably the type to make it work.

    Best,
    dw

  14. #14
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    Randolph County, Indiana
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    Thank you Dan, Yes I do love working with them. I find that most days I just don't have enough to do, I always want to be doing something with them, but I just don't have enough hives to do that.

    As for raising my own queens. Last year I failed miserably. This year I finally figured it out. So far I've gotten about a 50% acceptance rate on my grafted cells. I know thats kind of low, but I'm learning and getting better each time. The hardest part is learning to make a hive with enough nurse bees, learning how packed the hive has to be. I made a nuc for queen rearing because I just don't need many queens this year. This year I focused more on learning how to raise queens and maximizing honey production than increasing my numbers. Last year I learned that it does me no good to have lots of hives if I don't know how to get the maximum production from them. And I learned that the key to maximum production is maximum bees.

    What I learned this year is to have a young queen, lots of space, maybe stimulate with a little syrup in the early spring if I have the time, leave the hives that have unmated queens alone, how to raise queens, etc. If all goes well this winter, I should have more than 80 hives by the end of next year, more if honey production is good enough to afford more equipment.

    I'm hoping to have 400 hives within the next two years, using nuc sales to pay for equipment. One of my opsticles is learning how to market things like nucs and hopefully queens in the future.

    I have another question for you guys. Each of you have mentioned swarm prevention. I have been trying Walt Wright's nectar management for swarm provention. Do you have an opinion on that? What methods have worked best for you?

  15. #15
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    Dec 2007
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    Union missouri
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    Two inspections a year, maybee this is where all our swarms are coming from.

    I don't know how you can work so many hives, where to start and stop.

  16. #16
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    Dec 2005
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    Brasher Falls, NY, USA
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    [QUOTE=IndianaHoney;331684]
    "It has been said that it is very difficult to get into commercial beekeeping. What are some of the practices that hobbist should change before going commercial?"

    I don't know why you say this. All you have to do is buy more bees and equipment and spend alot of time working them.

    One of the hard things is knowing what the right thing to do is and when to do it. Some times I wonder if I'm doing what I should. Like right now I should be doing something else bee related. I did deliver honey this morning after I delivered 10 colonies to a vegetable grower for pollination service. I guess I'm mutitasking right now because i am warming up a tank of honey to strain and then bottle.

    "How do you find time to manage 1000's of hives?"

    I don't. Between 400 and 600 colonies is enough for one person to handle 90% by ones self.

    "How much does pollination play a part in your business?"

    Pollination has been about 15 or 20% of my annual income. I expect this to grow. Mike Palmers opinion of pollination makes sense, but if the money is good the cash flow comes in handy.

    "Do you bother overwintering nucs?"

    No, I migrate. Well my bees do anyway. I may take some 2 story nucs south this year. Chuck Kutik had really good results from overwintering ten 2 story nucs on a pallet, wrapped in a plastic covered insulation blanket. We made lots of those into four or five 5 frame nucs in April in SC.

    "Do you bother to requeen every year? I ask this because I've heard that most commercial operations do requeen every summer with purchased, or raised queencells."

    I don't requeen. I make splits in the spring from my strong colonies using cells and bought queens. I don't know anyone who requeens their whole operation, though I'm sure someone does.

    "What about mite treatments? Do you bother to monitor? Or do you just treat every year regardless?"

    I don't treat much and any monitoring is done by uncapping drone brood or the results of the State Apiary Inspector. Does 8 mites per sample seem high right now?

    "How often would you say that you visit each hive? And how often do you bother to do a complete inspection?"

    I go through all of my hives, while in SC, a couple of times in the spring while making increase. Once they are in their summer yards they probably get looked at every 3 or 4 weeks. Some times this is just peaking under the lid to see if they need another super. If something doesn't look right they get a more indepth inspection.

    "Does honey production play a big part in your operation, or is it mostly nucs, pollination, and queens?"

    Honey production, packaging and sales is the major part of the income. W/ pollination next and then nuc sales. One of the guys that I inherited some of my pollination from sold nucs for many years after he gave up pollinating and made just as much, w/ less work. Less traveling and hive handling anyway.

    "Do you bother with other hive products like propolis, royal jelly, ect?"

    No.

    "If you live in the north, do you bother to raise and sell queens?"

    I live in the North, but my bees winter in the South. I don't raise and sell queens.

    "If someone asks you to place hives on their land (like a home apiary) how many hives would you have to place to make it worth the trips?"

    24 to 36 colonies. I lift my colonies w/ a Bobcat skidsteer loader, not my back, if i can help it. So I need an apiary that I can drive into and out of w/out getting stuck during half of the year. W/ 6 hives one some pallets and 4 hives on the others 24 to 36 or even 40 is about right.

    Yard rent varies. Usually 3 or 4 half gallon jugs and some comb honey. Bottled honey if they ask for it. Those locations that are serviced by the bees don't get any honey, such as a small orchard and an Amish vegetable grower.
    Mark Berninghausen #youmatter

  17. #17
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    Oct 2006
    Location
    Appleton, NY
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    yes
    8 mites now seems like too many

  18. #18
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    >>I have been trying Walt Wright's nectar management for swarm provention. Do you have an opinion on that? What methods have worked best for you?


    You have to find some method that you can accomplish your task in one, mabey two vuisits. And each vuisit cant be longer than 10 min/hive. This is where you have to mold your work to make every min. count. Time is money in this business. Also you have to make your work to allow a hired less experienced man to help releive your work load. YOU have to do the actual hive manipulation that comes with all the many judgement calls that have to be made, the rest of the work should be passed on to your workers. Keep them busy, and dont overwork yourself.

    I make two trips to split, I use the excluder split method. Earlier on in spring I have prepped the hives for these rounds, and my work goes rather quickly. I will spend as many rounds as needed to manage my made up splits, but I always have believed, the less you work split hives the better and quicker they recover from your work.
    A few weeks after the split, I might pull some brood as I start to super to help releive swarming pressures, and use that strenght to boost my splits.
    Works rather well, and keep myself and two guys hopping right through the spring work!

    Busy is good in this business,
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog
    www.stepplerfarms.com

  19. #19
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    Jul 2007
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    Geneva,Florida, Seminole USA
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    Ask that question again this winter

  20. #20
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    Jan 2001
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    I'll go one further than Ian.

    He espoused the "less is more" approach, and I am absolutely
    Zen in my approach to staff training and working hives.

    The trick is to look at a yard and only open the hives that
    look "different". There is a book called "At The Hive Entrance"
    that is a good example of the thinking that goes through the
    mind of a beekeeper as he looks at hives before choosing which
    hives he will open.

    Splits and such are time-consuming, but one cannot afford packages
    at the prices that are charged these days. Often, queen cells are
    purchased rather than mated queens to further reduce the cost of
    splits. Splits and feeding are the keys to staying ahead of the
    deadout monster that has stalked us all since the mid-1980s.

    There are as many approaches as there are beekeepers, but there
    are common themes. One way to learn would be to attend some
    of the conferences, like EAS (August), the ABF, and the AHPA
    (both in Jan). You won't see the serious operators at any other
    meetings except these and random state meetings.

    It is not an easy way to make a buck. One has to love it, love the
    sleep deprivation, love the physical labor, and love bees. One thing
    I'll say is that I've had "desk jobs" and I've kept bees, and no one
    has ever gone to their grave wishing that they had spent more time
    in the office!

    A bad day of beekeeping is several orders of magnitude better than
    even the best day of being a paycheck junkie. We buy our freedom
    with beestings, and thus the pain is not even worth mentioning.

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