"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?"
"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 "To float, upheld, as salt water would hold you, once you dared." Denise Levertov, poet