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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    Spokane, WA
    Posts
    14

    Default Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Hello,

    I am looking at getting into commercial beekeeping as a secondary source of income. Many long nights of research later and I feel like I have a grasp on the basics of beekeeping and have also found that people's reports on the profitability of beekeeping have been the most unpredictable information. After looking further into the beekeeping business it seems that a properly managed apiary can produce sustainable profits. I see that the most common form of profit loss comes from the loss of colonies, mainly due to weak hives. So my main focus at first will be on building strong hives that can over-winter without any problems, but I will also spend a significant amount of time focusing on other areas as well.

    I have a few questions about commercial beekeeping and what to expect. All the research in the world cannot makeup for hands on experience and I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to hear from some experienced keepers on some obstacles I may encounter and how to overcome them. I will list my goals and the primary questions I have, but any information is greatly appreciated.

    My 5 Year Goal:

    - Secure an investment into the business that will cover all the costs of setting up 100 bee hives

    - At the end of year two have 100 bee hives built, while putting as many to use as possible

    - Take the summers to contract out hives to orchards, while also harvesting the honey and splitting the hives to sell bee packages thereafter

    - Hire someone to help me maintain the beehives while I attend school


    Here are some of the questions I have, but any advice is appreciated:

    What is the most efficient and least costly way to attain bees for a starting beekeeper (Goal is 100 beehives)? I have three beehives right now that I will be able to split next summer, but this puts me short of my goal.

    On average, how many locations are you able to take bee hives to each season for pollination services?

    In a routine check, what is the average amount of time you spend checking one hive?

    What are some methods you've used in strengthening colonies for over-wintering?

    In order to produce the most honey, while also being able to move the beehives to orchards for pollination, what would you recommend as the best hive set up and hive management methods?

    What can I expect the first couple years of keeping bees?

    Any other advice is greatly appreciated


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    Sandpoint, ID, USA
    Posts
    757

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Wow, I will take a stab at this.. I will only answer what I perceive that I feel I can rightly answer, though.

    Firstly, I understand your ambition! When I got the lust for bees, I wanted to see how I could make money from it, too! It is addictive for me, to say the least! But what you initially stated, cannot ring any truer for those of us in the craft of less than I would probably say at least 5 years experience. Some people get a nack for it and do extremely well and are well off enough to make something from it very quickly, and in less than that 5 year timeframe.

    I would say that 5 years into beekeeping, you can definitely have 100 hives or more. This is all contingent upon your comprehension, skillset and management practices. If you have the know how to manage your time and money well and also possible have a very well paying job to get you going you can obtain that goal.

    The idea of paying someone else to maintain your hives while you are in school, IMO, is a stretch. You are more than likely going to face difficulties there as outlining what they need to do vs what you will compensate them. You will more than likely end up being the loser on that end of the deal.

    Getting bees the easiest way is through swarms and cutouts. But realistically, I dunno how frequent that actually occurs in our neck of the woods. While I know its possible for this to occur, there is stiff competition for bees and if you look on CL, its riddled with people offering to pay people for the bees. Therefore, the next practical thing is to buy from people who do not want to keep bees anymore and/or have a surplus, etc. Then it comes down to regular retail sales of nucs/packages and your own splits.

    IMO, an inspection of a hive is unique. Some require more thorough lookovers than others. Its not all cookie cutter stuff. But when you learn to know what to look for, if you can stop yourself from dilly-dallying in a hive and not be so mesmerized by the fascination of bees, an inspection can go quickly.

    Your first year is going to be a steep learning curve if you do not have a mentor. Being that you are in Spokane, you should be registered and have gone through the beekeeping course and possibly in the INWBA.

    Focus on good hive husbandry, understanding the basics and keeping a hive strong. There is ALOT to learn, you are going to need this first year to really prove to yourself if you are really committed to the idea of beekeeping for an income.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    Walker, Alabama, USA
    Posts
    1,424

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    I would also add that you need to talk to people, espy people who are doing what you want to do on the scale you are considering. (Lauri Miller comes to mind.) But mostly it is about getting your hands in the boxes and learning. Books/websites are great BUT this is one endeavor that really takes a hands-on education.

    JMO

    Rusty
    Rusty Hills Farm -- home of AQHA A Rusty Zipper and Rusty's Bees.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    Squaw Valley, CA, USA
    Posts
    857

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    WA Bees: How many hives are you running right now? Do you have the infrastructure to support a 100 hive operation? As for paying someone- I would wait until I was done with school.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2014
    Location
    West Jordan, UT, USA
    Posts
    415

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    You face a steep learning curve on 2 fronts. First is learning to keep bees. It's very simple, yet incredibly complicated. Just when you think you have them figured out, they pull a new trick on you. Second, learning the Bee Business. Ditto, simple yet complicated. Fortunately, you can learn both in manageable bites.

    A friend of mine decided to do almost exactly what you plan to do, 3 years ago. He insisted starting out big. He started with 100 nucs. He has the land, the countryside, the bloom varieties and reasonable weather, and a friend who is a professional bee expert in California almond business and a business plan.
    Half of his colonies were dead before winter and all but 12 of his colonies were dead by spring.

    The next year, he bought a few dozen more colonies. All but 2 of those died by this spring. This year he has learned the error of his ways and is focusing on learning to help the bees survive winter and to increase his hive count by using his own resources, rather than buying replacements for his deadouts. He is going back to basics and focusing on the well-being of the bees over profit. I expect a much better financial year for him this year.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Location
    Southeast Texas
    Posts
    1,505

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Stop going to school and get a really good job to support your beekeeping habit - you will need it. 2nd is boxes of comb - watch what you buy as it may be someone else's culls. This is one of the biggest holdups of new beekeepers.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    Spokane, WA
    Posts
    14

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Thanks for all the advice so far, I appreciate hearing from people with experience. I have three hives this year, which will be good practice and will also attend some classes throughout the year to prepare for next summer. I have an 80 acre plot of land in rural WA where the bees are going to go. The business side of the apiary won't be a problem as I have extensive experience creating and managing businesses on my own, creating businesses that have had around $100,000 in total sales, while only starting with $500 or $600. The beekeeping portion will be the most difficult to learn.


    What are the honey yields like for beekeepers who contract their beehives out to multiple honey-rich crops every season? My goal is to create a network of a couple different orchards where I will contract my beehives out to every season, harvest the honey after, and then split the bees into Nucs in order to sell the next season (or possibly that same season, do people buy bees that late in the game?)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    Spokane, Washington, USA
    Posts
    1,029

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    What orchards produce honey while pollinated? I'm a commercial beekeeper in your area. I have many orchards covered out there. We make honey in the sticks where nothing agricultural is around except alfalfa, which doesn't need bees unless for seed. I recommend working for a commercial beekeeper. No I am not hiring anyone atm. Beekeeping is very competitive in E WA.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    Spokane, WA
    Posts
    14

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Yes I am wondering which ones are the best for producing honey in the Pacific Northwest and WA (Ex. Clover fields, Aster).

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    Spokane, Washington, USA
    Posts
    1,029

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Sounds like you dont know much about the area. Snowberry and alfalfa are what make honey. No such thing as wild clover fields in EWA.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    Spokane, Washington, USA
    Posts
    1,029

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    No one will pay you to put bees out. You will need to pay them for rent...

  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    Spokane, WA
    Posts
    14

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by RAK View Post
    Sounds like you dont know much about the area. Snowberry and alfalfa are what make honey. No such thing as wild clover fields in EWA.
    In general Clover Fields and Aster are some of the best honey crops in North America.

    Quote Originally Posted by RAK View Post
    No one will pay you to put bees out. You will need to pay them for rent...
    I'm sorry but that is extremely misleading, you need to check up on your facts before you start giving out advice. I don't think you know what competitive is! Unless you've been in a market where 200+ people are advertising the same services in the same area as you are and are waiting by to steal your customers when they inquire about an order. Having to be available 24/7 the moment new customers place an order or else they will go to someone else. I've been in very competitive markets and built online and physical businesses all my life, if a market wasn't competitive then that would be to easy


    I've called and talked to some commercial beekeepers and they have given me good advice on honey production and varroa mites. I appreciate hearing from experienced beekeepers so any other advice is warmly welcomed.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    Squaw Valley, CA, USA
    Posts
    857

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    WA Bees: You have a lot to learn- as I mentioned to you in a private message- your starting down a rough road. You may have started all kinds of businesses. But if you can't keep bees alive and don't know the basic nectar sources in your area, there is a problem. Clover and Aster may be great nectar sources, but they don't do you much good if they are not in your area. Good advice and practical application are two very different animals in beekeeping. My advice- expand slowly and find a good mentor. Thick skin goes a long ways in beekeeping. RAK was giving you good advice from a Commercial Beekeeper in your area. I personally don't know anyone that will pay you to place hives on there property, so you can collect honey. There are pollination contracts which are different then what you are talking about.
    Last edited by MTN-Bees; 05-21-2016 at 02:28 PM.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Davis,South Dakota,USA
    Posts
    554

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    You asked.sounds like Rak was just giving you advise.don't ask if you don't want.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    Suffolk, NY, USA
    Posts
    2,183

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    There are plenty of threads here on BeeSource that address the very same questions you've asked and many were started by folks with a similar 'dream'.
    Spend some time during those long nights of research using the search feature here.
    FWIW, master the bees first, and that won't be easy. Until then, forget about everything else.
    RAK does what you are dreaming of, give him the respect his experience deserves.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Sacramento, CA, USA
    Posts
    4,700

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by WA Bees View Post
    What are the honey yields like for beekeepers who contract their beehives out to multiple honey-rich crops every season? My goal is to create a network of a couple different orchards where I will contract my beehives out to every season, harvest the honey after, and then split the bees into Nucs in order to sell the next season (or possibly that same season, do people buy bees that late in the game?)
    What "orchards" are you talking about. Or do you mean fields as well? If you think it's easy as just moving some bees around collecting a ton of honey and splitting them when all is said and done, you're quite delusional. Perhaps WA is different than down here, but I'm feeding already, and most 'orchards' don't produce much honey except citrus comes to mind. The only 'honey' producing crops down here in general are sunflowers but you have to chase the bloom if you want to see any surplus or you're better off leaving it on the hives for late summer and fall dearth around here.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    New Albany, Ohio, USA
    Posts
    816

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Don't be too hard on him/her... Ambition is a good thing, but it can be difficult to know what you don't know, especially in a new area.

    WA Bees, you have received some sound advice here, and perhaps the best advice is to get experience from those who are doing what you are doing. Be receptive as there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Once you have a good understanding, then you will be able to make adjustments/improvements to suit your needs.

    Best of luck to you!
    Breeder Queens & Honey Bee Nutritional Supplements
    www.latshawapiaries.com

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    Suffolk, NY, USA
    Posts
    2,183

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by WA Bees View Post
    I don't .......................
    Oh boy.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Brasher Falls, NY, USA
    Posts
    33,633

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by WA Bees View Post
    I've been in very competitive markets and built online and physical businesses all my life, if a market wasn't competitive then that would be to easy


    I've called and talked to some commercial beekeepers and they have given me good advice on honey production and varroa mites. I appreciate hearing from experienced beekeepers so any other advice is warmly welcomed.
    All your life? You're 21 years old for God's sake. Check RAK's Profile. I think you need to back off some and take what is being given you as sage advice.
    "Beekeeping. It's a journey, not a destination." Mark Berninghausen

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Location
    Fertile, MN
    Posts
    63

    Default Re: Have a Few Questions About Commercial Beekeeping

    What is the most efficient and least costly way to attain bees for a starting beekeeper (Goal is 100 beehives)? I have three beehives right now that I will be able to split next summer, but this puts me short of my goal.

    Id say buying brood frames mid march (california) and using a queen cell, while offering your help to another beek so you can hitch a ride down there.

    On average, how many locations are you able to take bee hives to each season for pollination services?

    Really this depends... almonds feb 1st, apples around april 1st, cranberries/blueberries june/july? However Bees need to be checked on and fed heavily to promote growth. When they are out in the apples and cranberries they do no gain weight and often lose it.

    In a routine check, what is the average amount of time you spend checking one hive?

    1 min? I usually make sure queen is good in may, once more in june. This requires pulling out middle frame and checking for brood. Sometimes if brood is spotty and the hive seems to have adequate feed/pollen then the queen will be found and destroyed which requires more time.

    What are some methods you've used in strengthening colonies for over-wintering?

    I think some beeks would not be willing to share their secrets... but the main thing is to keep mites down all year. Your bees will die during winter if your have 5% or greater mites..

    In order to produce the most honey, while also being able to move the beehives to orchards for pollination, what would you recommend as the best hive set up and hive management methods?

    I am not sure when the honey season for WA is.. but it is very possible that pollinating will overlap. I would rather get 1 or 2 pollinations and a honey crop over three pollinations and starved bees. I would recommend double deeps. This is a wide used standard and double require less attention. I would also think that in-hive feeders would be good. Spring splits are bread and butter.. you should do what you like to do.

    What can I expect the first couple years of keeping bees?

    negative to little profit and dead bees.

    Any other advice is greatly appreciated

    Main job of beekeeping is to turn sugar supplement into bees. Equipment wise all you need is a small tank and feeder. If you plan on doing almond pollination all on your own you will need at least a pickup, good back, and trailer.
    I used to operate 700 hives with just a half ton and a 20' flatbed ball hitch trailer... rented a forklift
    also.. it is not practical to hire anyone at all for any length of time vs 100 hives. This will require one day/week. If you are away, and you have a retired guy that lives close to feed your bees when they need it that would work.
    Tanner Christianson - Woodside Honey LLC

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