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  1. #1
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    Jan 2013
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    Randolph, NC, USA
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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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    Dec 2005
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Be careful what u wish for.
    Mark Berninghausen
    The answers are the end. The questions are the journey. Journey on.



  3. #3
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    Jan 2013
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    Randolph, NC, USA
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    92

    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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    Garland, Bladen County, NC, USA
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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

  5. #5
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    Nov 2012
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    Kingston, Tennessee, USA
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    283

    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.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
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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!

  7. #7
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    Brasher Falls, NY, USA
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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
    The answers are the end. The questions are the journey. Journey on.



  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    Walker, Alabama, USA
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    947

    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)

  9. #9
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    Dec 2005
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    Brasher Falls, NY, USA
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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.
    Like I said.

    If it's too hot, get outa the bee yard.

    Figures don't lie, but ,,,

    How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they have seen Parie?

    Everything is sustainable as long as one is willing and able to change as is needed.

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    Carlos Danger!!
    Mark Berninghausen
    The answers are the end. The questions are the journey. Journey on.



  10. #10
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    Feb 2013
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    Greene, (Upstate) NY. The Great USA
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    111

    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!

  11. #11
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    Plymouth County, MA, USA
    Posts
    123

    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    Well, I wouldn't call this a conversation about professional beekeepers - the reasons having been delineated earlier in the thread. I also think you misunderstand me. The man lives on a small farm. My point was that if he's going to have an apiary there, he'd be adding easy revenue to have a high profit, low maintenance crop which received some benefit from the extra pollination he's providing with it. The principle is really the same as any agricultural pollination.

    If I can make 20 grand with my apiary, or 20 grand with my apiary and also have a booming u pick blueberry field, or better yet - something easily harvestable which has a high retail price (Chinese chestnuts come to mind, idk) that brings in an extra 5 grand a year, it seems like a no brainer.

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

    Quote Originally Posted by hedges View Post
    If I can make 20 grand with my apiary, or 20 grand with my apiary and also have a booming u pick blueberry field, or better yet - something easily harvestable which has a high retail price (Chinese chestnuts come to mind, idk) that brings in an extra 5 grand a year, it seems like a no brainer.
    To make $20,000 from 200 hives is doing extremely well - particularly without pollination contracts. What kind of acreage are you planting to feed your bees?
    “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

    $20,000 from 200 hives and he does not have to move them. I want that gig.

    We get so side tracked so easily.

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

    Quote Originally Posted by hedges View Post
    Well, I wouldn't call this a conversation about professional beekeepers - the reasons having been delineated earlier in the thread. I also think you misunderstand me. The man lives on a small farm. My point was that if he's going to have an apiary there, he'd be adding easy revenue to have a high profit, low maintenance crop which received some benefit from the extra pollination he's providing with it. The principle is really the same as any agricultural pollination.

    If I can make 20 grand with my apiary, or 20 grand with my apiary and also have a booming u pick blueberry field, or better yet - something easily harvestable which has a high retail price (Chinese chestnuts come to mind, idk) that brings in an extra 5 grand a year, it seems like a no brainer.
    You wouldn't? It's right there in the Thread title. And this is the Commercial Beekeeping Forum. I guess I missed the part where he mentioned living on a small farm. More money to be made on the hay than the nectar or pollen from it.

    Have you CLEARED 20 grand your apiary? Have you grown a blueberry crop? The guy whose blueberrys I pollinate could probably teach us all a thing or two. He grows blueberrys and I manage beehives. He does what he knows how to do and I do what I know how to do.
    Mark Berninghausen
    The answers are the end. The questions are the journey. Journey on.



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

    Quote Originally Posted by sqkcrk View Post
    Have you grown a blueberry crop? The guy whose blueberrys I pollinate could probably teach us all a thing or two. He grows blueberrys and I manage beehives. He does what he knows how to do and I do what I know how to do.
    Did you get a big honey crop off those Blueberrys? Seems like I remember feeding them a little syrup

    I've never seen blueberries produce a honey crop to speak of. Guess they do get some pollen.
    “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

    No I didn't. But I heard I was getting some Jelly off of them. lol
    Mark Berninghausen
    The answers are the end. The questions are the journey. Journey on.



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

    Quote Originally Posted by sqkcrk View Post
    No I didn't. But I heard I was getting some Jelly off of them. lol
    Soon, very soon.

    Maybe that's how Hedges made the $20,000.... selling blueberry jam..... A lot more jam than honey.
    “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” - The Quran

  18. #18
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    Strafford, NH, USA
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    Default Re: I would like to be a commercial beek

    I have a yard surrounded by managed HB blue berries, rarely have I seen the bees working the flowers. On the other hand the low bush blue berry mountains up the road a stretch seem to provide enough extra to put some weight on the hives.

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

    Quote Originally Posted by hpm08161947 View Post
    Did you get a big honey crop off those Blueberrys? Seems like I remember feeding them a little syrup

    I've never seen blueberries produce a honey crop to speak of. Guess they do get some pollen.
    In blueberries you feed that is why you charge more. You get pollen but, BB is not great for bee's real hard on them. IMHO

    Yes totes are the white boxes http://www.gottagosurplus.com/Pallet...ers_photo1.jpg

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

    Its kind of hard to make generalizations about expenses with such a wide range of differing operations in different parts of the country. Also, economies of scale can substantially reduce per hive overhead costs. I would think, though, that most commercials should be able to stay in the $100 dollar per hive range. For us the major expenses are labor, freight, feed and woodenware/foundation replacement, pretty much in that order. Major capital expenditures are trucks, forklifts, extracting equipment, and facility upgrades. On the other hand spending more may well net you a far greater return....no better example than a well run pollen sub program or a migratory relocation.
    "People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe."- Andy Rooney

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