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  1. #1
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    Default I would like to be a commercial beek

    Hello everyone!

    So I may come across as an idiot, dreamer, etc, but I want to become a commercial beekeeper.

    Currently, I have three hives, and one is about to split (It has done ridiculously well, at a separate location, we did not know that they were going to plant 100+ acres of sunflowers next to us this year ) I am using 8 frame hives, in cedar boxes. I currently run one deep, and medium supers, with a queen excluder above the first medium. I use propolis traps for personal and familial use, ventilated inner covers upside down on top of that, and ventilated bottom board, that I'll probably slide an IPM insert in during winter. I live in rural (agricultural district, but not much going on in that respect) area of North Carolina, on a 16 acre hobby farm, with a brook running through the middle. I go to meetings once a month, and every field day that I find or hear about, and hope to start attending the next county over's meetings as well, in other words, I don't just sit around reading, I actively pursue knowledge and experience in this hobby. Probably mostly useless information, but that's a bit about me.

    All current questions about my operation aside, I would like to ask some questions about the "next step." Of course I understand I will have to see how the bees overwinter to get a better idea of where I stand, but I hope to make spring splits, as well as buy between 15-30 nucs next year. I was going to buy the hives, but decided to build my own, just waiting on the books to come in the mail for further direction. I have also ordered some to add to my meager 5 book collection, on more specific aspects such as queen production, splits, etc, etc.

    I would like (in theory, aside from the horror stories) to be partly pollinator, but more focus on selling queens and nucs. Looking into other hives around here, I believe I have pretty good stock to choose from, and have the basic concepts down to start "locking down" desirable traits, as I am a biology major, and have had practice in breeding plants (as a hobby), though I understand plant genetics and insect genetics are quite different.

    My first question is, is there a book, or series of books that is aimed more towards specifically becoming a commercial operation? I already have Kim Flotum's full line of books, except his most recent, the "honey connoisseur." Or is this the kind of thing one just learns by volunteering at local apiaries (2 around here I frequent, particularly on field days) and experience?

    Secondly, what kind of time am I looking at to become a serious sideliner, at the least? I would like to get to 100 hives, and start looking into early pollination contracts, and making splits from those to bring back and sell, as well as cover my losses, in theory. I think I am a few years off from making any sort of real profit from almonds, and have heard it is quite difficult to get into citrus contracts, so I am researching other venues.

    Where do I start? I know I start with bees, but what is a reasonable expectation for a 3-5 year goal? My theory is, if I start out, say, 20 additional hives next year, overwintering goes well, and I am able to make splits, that should provide me plenty of hives to start pursuing some sort of pollination contract the following year, if all goes well of course.

    I will ask more specific question as the conversation develops, but mainly, they are probably rather common questions that are going to be answered through reading, reading, reading, and talking to other keepers. Like how do I get enough bees to fill a contract, by overwintering a nuc and putting them into a hive? Are 8 frames acceptable to fill contracts, provided they are healthy? Things like that, as well as the transport from place to place, and how to feed in transit.

    Thank you for reading this far, or for scanning and getting to the bottom at least! I hope to learn from the experienced, and at least get some direction.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Be careful what u wish for.
    Mark Berninghausen "That which works, persists."

  3. #3
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by sqkcrk View Post
    Be careful what u wish for.
    Not sure where to take it from there.....but...thanks?

  4. #4
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    Greene, (Upstate) NY. The Great USA
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    I am also new, and have a great desire to keep many hives....or let's say I did. I have done 10 cut-outs, and have caught a few swarms. Posted ads on craiglist list and got some referrals from a local exterminator. Joined the local club, and was lucky enough to have an older gentleman take me under his wing. A month ago I dreamed of having 50 hives. Last week we did 3 cut-outs, and chased a swarm. I spent last night putting more frames together. Today I realized 1 cut-out was queenless so I merged it with a swarm. Yesterday was my daughters birthday, and I was a little put out that she wanted to go out for dinner as I have several more boxes that need built for splits I did 4 weeks ago. Point is...Right now...with a career and a family, I am chasing my tale! I hope to reach 20 this year, but may draw the line there. My advice would be to work up slow and steady....see what winter and next spring brings, then go from there. AND....Careful what you wish for!

  5. #5
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by GuyDurden View Post
    Not sure where to take it from there.....but...thanks?
    Go get a job with Timmy Holt - up in Siloam, NC. After a year working for him you will be much further ahead than trying to split hives..... plus you will know the truth.
    “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” - The Quran

  6. #6
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    Kingston, Tennessee, USA
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    I started out this year with 2 hives and now up to 16, so by next spring I'll have around 20 hives. All this expansion is the easy part!!! I've been a beekeeper for 30 years off and on so I kind of know what I'm doing.
    But next season I'll going to have to expand my super supply to over 100 mediums, that's 4-5 supers per hive, 1000 new frames, plus foundation wax or plastic coated. That's a lot of work, so the easy part is getting your hive numbers up.
    It's the year two which is the hard part. Keeping them from swarming with no drawn out supers. Putting the boxes together and moving all that stuff to the right yards. Fun stuff but a lot of work.

  7. #7
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    Randolph, NC, USA
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by Huntingstoneboy View Post
    I am also new, and have a great desire to keep many hives....or let's say I did. I have done 10 cut-outs, and have caught a few swarms. Posted ads on craiglist list and got some referrals from a local exterminator. Joined the local club, and was lucky enough to have an older gentleman take me under his wing. A month ago I dreamed of having 50 hives. Last week we did 3 cut-outs, and chased a swarm. I spent last night putting more frames together. Today I realized 1 cut-out was queenless so I merged it with a swarm. Yesterday was my daughters birthday, and I was a little put out that she wanted to go out for dinner as I have several more boxes that need built for splits I did 4 weeks ago. Point is...Right now...with a career and a family, I am chasing my tale! I hope to reach 20 this year, but may draw the line there. My advice would be to work up slow and steady....see what winter and next spring brings, then go from there. AND....Careful what you wish for!
    I will heed your advice. I understand I would need to work a bit slowly as to not over exert myself. Right now, school is winding down, I have my son Thursday-Mondays, and no real career I wouldn't mind leaving. I want to get to the point that I can at least feed and cloth my son and I. I have no bills, the time in the Navy set me up for that, and I need to take myself in a direction. I screen print t-shirts, and have found much support printing shirts that are bee related to sell to people in the market, as well as local apiaries. I plan on making this the more, er....reliable source of income, and to help fund expanding the apiary. Seems like you have been doing alot of work! I plan on getting more into swarms and such next year, this was a busy summer for me, setting up the basic apiary, clearing out some space (trees) for them, and starting a t-shirt company. Thanks!

    Quote Originally Posted by hpm08161947 View Post
    Go get a job with Timmy Holt - up in Siloam, NC. After a year working for him you will be much further ahead than trying to split hives..... plus you will know the truth.
    Is that a serious bit of advice, as in, do you think he will actually hire me? (and would it make financial sense to drive the distance?) I'll be ahead in terms of what? As in I'll likely fail trying to build an apiary by splitting or what?

    I apologize, I'm just not understanding the tone here...

    What is this truth everyone is speaking of?

    Quote Originally Posted by UTvolshype View Post
    I started out this year with 2 hives and now up to 16, so by next spring I'll have around 20 hives. All this expansion is the easy part!!! I've been a beekeeper for 30 years off and on so I kind of know what I'm doing.
    But next season I'll going to have to expand my super supply to over 100 mediums, that's 4-5 supers per hive, 1000 new frames, plus foundation wax or plastic coated. That's a lot of work, so the easy part is getting your hive numbers up.
    It's the year two which is the hard part. Keeping them from swarming with no drawn out supers. Putting the boxes together and moving all that stuff to the right yards. Fun stuff but a lot of work.
    Holy moly, that sounds intense! I guess the easy part is indeed building hive numbers, its all the other work that eats you up.

    I planned on just buying frames until I got better at making them or quicker at putting them together, maybe this winter I'll buy a few to put together and see how that comes up, but for the price, I don't think my skills or speed could justify making my own, and I'll just have to eat that cost for a year or two while I spend my free time becoming a carpenter

    I figured a winter or two spent intensively focusing on particular skill sets, and managing my time appropriately can help me prepare for the following year, instead of trying to play catch up. Thank you for your input!

  8. #8
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    Plymouth County, MA, USA
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    I also have aspirations of becoming a more serious side-liner next year. I only have 2 hives right now, but I love it, have a lot of enthusiasm, live in a relatively rural place, and have the youth to be willing to gamble my time.

    My goal for next year is to build up to about 50 hives, mostly for honey production. I have a reasonably large number of organic farms nearby and a csa in every surrounding town, none of which have bees currently. In addition, I live in a place where people grow apples, cranberries and blueberries. My current plan is to go with 2 deep/2-3 medium setups, with excluders, wood frames, plastic foundation and packages. I might try to introduce a VSH queen I have access to into one of my hives, with the intentions of replacing the bulk of my new hives next year with a round or two of home-reared queens. Luckily, my bee club has a nice queen rearing initiative, and so while I only have modest exposure to the process right now, hopefully by the middle of next summer when I might have enough excess nurse bees to consider the endeavor, I'll hopefully be on slightly firmer ground.

    Right now I'm just saving money for the supplies to create my own hives. I read a post a couple weeks ago extolling the virtues of plastic foundation - that while bees generally don't like it quite as much, most bee keepers will replace foundation every 3 years, so being able to just clean it off and reinsert saves large amounts of money in the long run. I have a very cheap supplier of kiln-dried white pine locally, and I can get boards and even smaller pieces (2-3 foot pieces work for my 10 frame boxes - 2 footers for the long side, 3 footers for 2 short sides). I have a table saw, skill saw, and drill press. I figure as this process gets along further, I'll buy an air-stapler and nailgun for ease of construction (the nailgun is perhaps unnecessary, but the stapler - I saw a video of a guy with a 32 frame jig mass gluing and stapling frames together and it's a thing of beauty).

    My idea for next year is to establish hive sites at 5-6 locations, with 8-10 hives per location. At the end of next summer I'm going to start a more serious job, but I figure if I can have the things built and setup, in following years I can do most of the inspection work on weekends, allowing me to keep my 50+ hives going, and sell splits as necessary to keep my sideline in sideline territory.

    After that, if I feel that I'm losing an opportunity by not pollinating, I'll start doing that. But the problem with pollinating here is that most production sites are cranberries, and with the pesticides and weak forage, those are pretty hard on bees. So, with my lack of experience and a new operation, I'm much more concerned with building up a strong and resilient stock in the next couple years before further complicating it all with the logistics and potential pitfalls of loaning out my bees.

    I say good luck. If it's interesting to you, and you think it might work, TRY IT! But always be aware that you can fail, and don't overextend yourself. I think starting small isn't a bad idea, but more important is knowing how much is too much to bite off. And that, no one can tell you.

  9. #9
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    Issaquah,WA,USA
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by hedges View Post
    I say good luck. If it's interesting to you, and you think it might work, TRY IT! But always be aware that you can fail, and don't overextend yourself. I think starting small isn't a bad idea, but more important is knowing how much is too much to bite off. And that, no one can tell you.
    So true. 300 is a full time job and with a full time job one gets in the way quite allot. There are many days I am at work knowing that I have to do something since the weather is nice but, cant because of a meeting. Several swarms probably happened because I had to work to pay the bills. Spending every weekend and most evenings drives my wife nuts. This is a true test of our marriage. I might be sleeping with the girls some day and it will be my fault. At least the dog house would be more cozy.

    So I went from 2-11-60-150-300 year by year. I figure 20-30k a year is a typical expense growth rate that you will need to take from your day job.

    I can say add no more then 50 your second year and see how it is and then you can double each year after.

    It is allot of work and allot of cash to build out. Every hive is 200 bucks when you count the bee's and all the support structure per hive, supers etc.. When you get to 60 you can use a boom on a used truck 10k. When you get to 150 you are going to need a forklift 40k. Now you have all the honey to deal with and that will be another 50k for the extraction equipment. Then you need to find a place to sell all that honey.

    Remember to do it slowly and pause each year and figure out if you want to go to the next step. At 300 I think you will start to think about adding help.

    This is a hell of allot of work. I would say 5+ hours every day, all year plus your day job that needs to pay for it all. Make a mistake, take a 50% loss and it could bankrupt you. Go slow and grow slow. I just got done building 3500 frames 350 boxes and that was just to super everyone with one deep.

    You need 2 deep brood boxes and 2-3 deep supers and 2-3 western supers per hive. So you can rotate them out of one honey crop into another one and extract in a timely fashion. That is a lot of work to build and paint etc. No way to do more them 100 hives extra each year unless you have a crew to help in the off season to build. Forget vacations.

    Working for that guy is a great idea. I have a commercial mentor that helps me and his guys extract all my honey for me because I don't have a honey house yet. That is another 50k plus the building so that is a couple years off. I would go slow things can cost quickly when you get into the high numbers. I cant believe how many "X" and 3 zero's I have to write all the time.

    Good luck and keep your day job until you grow large enough. You will need the cash. Also if I had it to do over I would do 8 frame deeps.

    Quote Originally Posted by UTvolshype View Post
    It's the year two which is the hard part. Keeping them from swarming with no drawn out supers. Putting the boxes together and moving all that stuff to the right yards. Fun stuff but a lot of work.
    Exactly. That is every year you double. You use last years supers as your brood boxes and then they all have to build out comb. Learning how to manage multiple yards is also the tricky part. Taking the trailer of supers with you because you don't know what you need is the fun part.
    Last edited by EastSideBuzz; 07-09-2013 at 02:33 AM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by sqkcrk View Post
    Be careful what u wish for.
    I wasn't ready to reply w/ a detailed explanation at the time. I imagine that you have heard the saying "Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.", haven't you?

    If you are going to be successful at making beekeeping you occupation you will need a lot of time, money, and hard work. Putting in the hours will take you from your son when you might rather be w/ him. I don't know how old he is, but there are only some times when it will be practical for him to be w/ you when u are working your bees.

    Herb's advice to get a job working for someone who is a commercial beekeeper is sound advice. Doing so you will get insight and education on what it takes to run enough hives to support the needs and wants of a person and his family.

    There are plenty of other commercial beekeepers on beesource who can answer your questions perhaps better than I. Hopefully they will chime in.

    Find out, by doing, what it really takes. Find a commercial beekeeper who will employ you or even just go out w/ them for a week. Establish a knowledge of Accounting/Bookeeping. Small Business courses. Access your talents and abilities. Determine how strong your desire is. Will anything stand in your way?

    You can ask all sorts of questions here and you will get all sorts of answers both positive (we need more beekeepers) and negative (r u sure you are up to the work and sacrifice?). Support for the idea and discouragement from doing so because you may not know that which you wish for.

    Best wishes. Doing what you bring up here can be quite fulfilling and at times quite discouraging. It's farming unlike any other farming most people think of when they think of farming.
    Mark Berninghausen "That which works, persists."

  11. #11
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by GuyDurden View Post
    I apologize, I'm just not understanding the tone here...
    Don't try to understand the tone here. We are just trying to be honest and forthright w/ our advice and outlook.
    Mark Berninghausen "That which works, persists."

  12. #12
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by GuyDurden View Post
    Is that a serious bit of advice, as in, do you think he will actually hire me? (and would it make financial sense to drive the distance?) I'll be ahead in terms of what? As in I'll likely fail trying to build an apiary by splitting or what?

    I apologize, I'm just not understanding the tone here...

    What is this truth everyone is speaking of?
    The tone is serious. If you know enough to consider being a commercial beekeeper, then he will hire you.

    There will be no commute. You will be in CA,. FLA, NC, NJ, and ME and perhaps some other states I can't think of. You will learn to drive a rig, balance a load, position a spreader, strap it, net it,load 3 pallets of double deeps at a time - things you will never learn building your own frames out back. Too many other things to mention here.

    Never forget... a commercial beekeeper is not a big hobbiest.
    “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” - The Quran

  13. #13
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by hpm08161947 View Post
    Never forget... a commercial beekeeper is not a big hobbiest.
    Wow Herb, I like that. That's gotta be your new tag line.
    Mark Berninghausen "That which works, persists."

  14. #14
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    I am not a commercial beek, but have been at this since the 90s, so I've learned a few things. Since nobody seems to have mentioned it, I will: Namely, the bees do not always cooperate with our plans for them. If you want to be commercial, you NEED to be able to recognize what you are looking at in a hive and already know what to do for it. Bad choices cost you time, money, and bees. That's where working for someone else comes in. They already know these things and can teach you what you need to learn. Any accountant can crunch numbers, but it takes a beekeeper--and a dang good one at that--to manage 50-100-500 colonies without losing half your operation to normal beekeeping catastrophes. Knowing what to do and when to do it is job one.

    Consider this: just this week there have been 3-4 posts from hobbyists about their harvests of 10 lbs per hive. Now look at the posts from the commercial guys about what a banner year they are having and how a few are expecting harvests of 200 lbs from a bunch of their hives. Just HOW do they do that--that's what you need to learn if you expect to feed your family from your hives. They already know how to cover their yearly losses. They already know how to build their numbers. They already know WHERE to place their hives so they won't lose half their bees each year to chemicals. And they know how to extract the resulting crop and sell it for the best prices. Selling 20-40-60 THOUSAND lbs of honey profitably takes a whole different set of skills from selling at the local farmer's market.

    All of these things are VERY learnable. The trick is to learn them from OTHER PEOPLE'S MISTAKES and not your own.

    Good luck with this. If I were just starting out, I'd be thinking the same as you and looking hard at the beekeeper's life, too. Have fun with your journey!

    JMO


    Rusty
    Rusty Hills Farm -- home of AQHA A Rusty Zipper & Rusty's Bees ( LC and T)

  15. #15
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by sqkcrk View Post
    Wow Herb, I like that. That's gotta be your new tag line.
    Yea... I like it. Pretty sure that a Commercial Beekeeper and a hobbiest are two different critters. Perhaps that explains the tension that exists between the two groups?
    “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” - The Quran

  16. #16
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    You mentioned being in the Navy. (Thanks for your service.) So you know hwo to take orders, I assume, and have lived under someone else telling you what to do and when to do it. You may have also learned to do things when you can and not when you want to. Are you selfmotivated? Are you your best employee or do you work better and harder for someone else?

    If the weather isn't ideal, maybe raining even, will you be out in the bees putting on supers or getting soaking wet moving bees to another location?

    Are you a workaholic? It wouldn't hurt.
    Mark Berninghausen "That which works, persists."

  17. #17
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by hpm08161947 View Post
    Yea... I like it. Pretty sure that a Commercial Beekeeper and a hobbiest are two different critters. Perhaps that explains the tension that exists between the two groups?
    Probably a lot like when a contractor sells a house to someone who has watched a lot of Bob Villa.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    First you need to be: trucker, mechanic, plumber, electrician, carpenter, machine operator, and most of all, crazy!!

  19. #19
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by MNbees View Post
    First you need to be: trucker, mechanic, plumber, electrician, carpenter, machine operator, and most of all, crazy!!
    Well said MNB.

    Also money management is highly important also.
    NUTRA-BEE feed supplements

  20. #20
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Quote Originally Posted by GuyDurden View Post
    Is that a serious bit of advice, as in, do you think he will actually hire me? !
    This reminded me of a rather large commercial beekeeper (3500 hives) - who when queried about why he would not hive a guy with 20 years of experience.... replied "It would take me 20 years to unteach him what he already thinks he knows!" "Blank Slates" can be very trainable. Besides the only real requirement seems to be a strong back and a strong work ethic - a CDL would not hurt...
    “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” - The Quran

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