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  1. #1
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    Default My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Alright, I'm needing someone to drag me over the coals on this to see if there are any mistakes that I'm making right off in my direction to become a commercial beekeeper.

    Goal: Increase 7 of my hives into 28 by next year with splits and grafting queens.

    Current situation:

    • Kentucky location 3 miles from I-75 (Florida and Maine Transports access when future buildup is enough)
    • 100 acres of rural land in one county and in adjacent county 50 acres for redundancy
    • Currently have 12 hives (2 Italian 10 carniolans): Using double deeps and pure wax on each (Italians were last year 3lb and carnies were this years splits from local supplier. Considering 30% loss or around 7-8 hives to survive this time next year.
    • Currently placing for "free" 2 hives on 2 different local farmers locations for pollination of fruit orchard and farm gardens for resume building
    • Offered State Apiarist "free" assistance at my own expense for extra experience
    • Member of two local beekeeping associations
    • 2nd year "official" beekeeper, although put on first beekeeping suit at age 5
    • Numerous beekeeping classes on queen rearing, splits, grafting as well as in depth study (Doolittle, Pellett, Alley etc).
    • 2015 to take Master Beekeeper from EAS for self-gratification reasons.
    • Work full-time as Network Engineer at local company
    • Have "small scale" extraction/melters/storage tank equipment as well as about 30 shallow supers.
    • Plan to overwinter hives in Kentucky for a few years.
    • This years surplus (if any) is being bottled and donated to local shelters.


    Need to purchase this week at local Dadant to make 28 extra hives:

    • 56 Medium Economy supers (2 mediums x 28 new hives): $467.60
    • 560 Medium Frames (using 10 frames per medium 56 x 10=560). Purchase of 600 medium wooden wedge top bar/grooved bottom bar: = $501.60
    • 560 Medium brood foundation 100% beeswax (using hair pins to hold foundation): Purchase of 600 = $419.20
    • 28 commercial covers (10fr): $309.40
    • 28 standard wooden bottom boards: $373.10
    • Total = $2070.90 plus tax and a few extra expenses.


    Am I missing anything? Would you do something different (plastic, screened, telescoping covers, deeps)? Recommendations on if turning 7 into 28 is too much at one time? Any and all feedback (good or bad) is going to be extremely helpful for me before I start into this.

    Ok, ready for the coals.

  2. #2
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    Apr 2009
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    Issaquah,WA,USA
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    2,425

    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    This is interesting and amusing at the same time. But, at what point are you commercial and why do you want that to be your goal. I would kind of think that you might want to find a spot that works in your life be it 10 or 100. Is your goal to do nothing else then have bee's are you going to pollinate or raise queens or nuc's.? What is the end goal.? You will make way more as a network engineer. Trust me I know.

  3. #3
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    May 2009
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    Cattaraugus,New York, USA
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    I find it interesting that people always use the words commercial and full time interchangeably. If someone with 50 hives claims that they are a commercial beekeeper, the full time guys get offended, yet if he is running them on apples or another pollination contract, or even selling honey, isnt he in commerce? At what point are people "Commercial"? I understand that once a person starts supplimenting their household income with income from bees, then they are technically a "Sideliner", but wouldnt that also put them in the "commercial" status?
    I just had this discussion with the local USDA lady and she said that the USDA uses the fact that if a person keeps bees for profit and has a legitimate bee business then they can help them with CCD and ELAP.
    Allegany Mtn. Bee Farm
    Quality Queens and Honey from Western New York

  4. #4
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    Jul 2013
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Long term goals are to migrate from a network engineer to do beekeeping even if its cuts 1/2 or more of my pay. I want this to be my goal because of self love for the profession, environmental concerns, working along side with my father in the business before he passes away, and day to day interaction with corporate bureaucracy, which I know I'll still have to deal with, but on a lesser scale. I will be doing nucs, queens, pollination, training as well as any surplus sales. End goal is to pass this along to my son, thus grandchildren.

    I understand there is a number tied to being "commercial", but this is my short term to get to whatever numbers is finally evolving as being commercial. Trust me, I'm not here to offend commercial folks, which is the reason I'm posting in commercial and not simply another portion of this forum which could yield a different answer for small scale equipment and methods. Simply asking if this is a good route to go in terms of types of equipment as well as the ramping that I'm doing or "what would you do differently" mentoring someone wanting to go this route.

    I find it amusing as well when someone that wants to get into networking asks what books they need to study in order to "get to my level" in engineering. Although, I'm quickly taken back to the day that I was asking the same question when I first started. Everyone has to get there someway.

    NY Blues, I agree with you on what point does one technically become commercial, if you sell 1000lb of honey for 1 cent, technically your in the commerce business, but in terms of "commercial beekeeper", it appears to me the number keeps changing as the profession gets more attention in my opinion.

  5. #5
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    Nov 2012
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    Springfield, Ohio, USA
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    459

    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    It sounds to me as though you are taking great care to afford yourself the possibility of a smooth transition. While I cannot comment from a position of experience on whether you are doing things the right way, it does sound as though you are wondering if you have left out any of the 'essential ingredients' that will be needed once you do make the full transition. Some of these will be determined by your goals. So, what is it that you imagine doing once you have arrived at that point sometime in the future?

    In my work world the planning process starts with a vision, and then a strategic plan to make that reality is developed. Then, the work begins. It sounds like you have a strategic plan and have undertaken the work needed to make your vision a reality. But, for others to help you to identify if you are on track toward attaining your vision, they'll need to know what that vision is.

    Pete
    Pete. New 2013, 7 hives, zone 6a
    To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.

  6. #6
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    Feb 2006
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    Herrick, SD USA
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    4,622

    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Angel: You are certainly not offending me. I admire everything you are doing and wish you well, obviously beekeeping is a release and a labor of love for you. My advice is to keep on keepin on and to operate as a sideliner though you may well find there will be a shortage of hours in the day at some point. I wouldn't be too concerned about titles. In my mind if your goal is a fair return on investment for the hours and money you have invested then you are operating your bees with the mindset of a commercial beekeeper. The exact number of hives is irrelevant. Many that post on here are commercial sideliners, in that they are also involved in other commercial endeavors, such as farming. Yet they run their bees as a profit making enterprise and file (or plan to file) a schedule F.
    "People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe."- Andy Rooney

  7. #7
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    Sep 2011
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    Reno, NV
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    3,178

    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    How do your actual numbers support this Plan? You are talking about a 400% increase in one year. Have you ever actually made a 400% increase? What did it take what where the costs and how did you do it? I will say I have and I do not consider it all that difficult, but it is expensive. I will also add that it makes the increase in management skills difficult to keep up with.

    I am attempting a 900% increase this year. so far I have nearly tripled the size of my apiary and have not even started the increase attempt yet.

    Finally I will say have your plan well engrained in your head. focus on it often. the actual day to day management of the apiary has a tremendous ability to wipe your plan right out of your head. Do not make last minute changes. they also cause you to loose a high degree of control.

    Last year my main problem was lack of equipment. this year I have plenty of equipment and cannot get queens mated. Be ready to trouble shoot anything and everything. have alternative plans for everything. Make a budget and stick to it. Money from any income should be pre allocated and much care needs to be made to get those dollars where they are needed. I know for me my management on the fly is not nearly as good as that management where I was able to take my time and think things through. Realize when you need to just close everything up and set on it for a day or two.

    Finally nothing goes as planned so don't be to fond of your first one.
    Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.

  8. #8
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    Jul 2013
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    London, Kentucky
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Chemguy, yes you are exactly right, that's what I'm wondering "if I have left out some essential steps/ingredients that are a show stopper or entry level mistake". I do have a business plan that is constantly changing and being updated with different turns as I go.

    Jim, thank you for your nice comments. As far as the title, I think its more of a way to "force me" in a way to learn some of the stuff that I don't care too much about (ex: enzyme content in pollen) or will never use on a day to day basis but could be of use someday. Great advice on the mindset scenario, that will keep my sanity over the years. I'm the type that its never good enough or I'm never happy enough with what I do.

    Daniel, I have never made a 400% increase. I'll know my increase skills when I start doing this venture. I do know its expensive, but at this point money is no issue with what I'm enjoying doing. For the management skills, I have a business plan laid out with "what if" scenarios and plan "b"s if something goes wrong. Great advice on the apiary taking over vision and no last minute changes (I can see all this happening).

    This year I about ran out of equipment, which was a panic mode and scrambling to gather vendors to get things shipped out in time. This is why I'm planning on next year increases here in June as well as having the equipment ready beforehand. My budget is right on track since I've started and I'm so far in a straight line with my business plan. (so far).

    Thanks for everyone's replies. Very helpful and encouraging!

  9. #9
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    Jun 2009
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    Montgomery County, NY
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Gee moving from computers to commercial level beekeeping is quite an undertaking. It certainly can be done and maybe quicker than you think. One huge advantage you have right now is you can take 100% of the money you earn in your endeavor and invest it back into your business. Whether it's boxes, bees, trucks, extracting equipment or anything else you don't need that money to live comfortably as you already make that money in your computer geek job.

    Sounds like you are on the right steps. Do yourself a favor and make sure you can keep bees thru to the winter successfully before getting too many and lose too many. Other than that geek away during the day and keep bees in the evenings and weekends till as Jim pointed out you start to run out of time.

  10. #10
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    Jun 2013
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Can't comment on your bee business plan (not qualified as I am a bee-beginner).

    But one thing really stood out for me: you mentioned your long term goal is to have a business to pass down to your son. How old is he? If he's still a child I strongly recommend tossing that romantic dream straight into the trash can, at least for now.

    Your son may, or more likely, may not have any interest in being a beekeeper. Why saddle him with the heavy burden of your expectations for his life choices? Build your business to financial stability for its own sake, not as a family business. As he matures, if he's interested in it, involve him in a low key way. You may think that the long hours, hard work, and unending financial uncertainty that go along with ALL forms of agriculture are balanced by the undoubted rewards of that life style but he may have a completely different viewpoint, having been raised in it and watching you manage your bee business. For him, corporate cubicle culture may seem like Nirvana.

    I write this because I am a farmer (vegetables). It's my chosen way to make a living. My husband, on the other hand, grew up on a farm and wanted nothing to do with it as a life's work. Luckily for him his parents always encouraged him to follow his own interests. And for him, going to work every day in the corporate world is what makes him happy.

    Since the bee business isn't a primarily land-based form of agriculture (meaning you don't need to own the land) you can build your business and meet your own need to work in it, and still have a valuable, inheritable asset which could be sold to if your son's career interests are different from yours. Meanwhile don't constrain his exploration of where his own talents and vocation take him.

    Enj.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    HI Angel
    I'm surprised you have had so many replies so quickly. The debate on what is "commercial" and what is "not commercial" I won't get into. I will accept that you being 'commercial" is that you want to make some money out of your bees. Fair enough.

    Being "commercial" is a combination of production and marketing. That can be a "chicken or egg" situation. Without production you have nothing to market. Without marketing you won't sell your production.Which comes first. A good question.


    You can establish a market by buying in honey then up production to meet that demand. If you don't have a viable marketing plan you may be stuck with your production which does involve costs.

    When I did my first extraction after 47 years I got 70 kg of honey. As some-one that does not eat honey I thought what on earth am I going to do with that. Well, I spilt about 25 kg so that go rid of some. Gave some away to family and friends. That go rid of more. For the first year I wondered what I could do with my production. Fairly desperate to sell my honey. My marketing improved so I now sell about 200 kg of honey a week. I can't produce enough to satisfy demand.



    So what should come first, I'm welcome to suggestions

    My advice, I'm not sure what to say.

    Do your best and enjoy yourself.

    Geoff

  12. #12
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    May 2014
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    Castle Rock, Colorado, USA
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    269

    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    'Much good advice, and nice to see. Keep organized records of the time you spend, and how much is spent on the various tasks. 'Same with your successes and failures. Time will be your biggest asset and/or your greatest enemy. Review records regularly, and adjust accordingly. Avoid getting bogged down in non-productive endeavors; stay focused on the productive ones.

    Good luck!
    After 35 years, I've come to realize that the bees can fix most of my mistakes.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Hi Angel,

    I too am not commercial, but I consider myself a serious sideliner. I've been keeping bees for 14 years and would love to do it full-time, but I have a great day job that I simply couldn't replace with beekeeping while keeping other things in my life in balance (11 year old son, etc). Reading the response from enjambres really resonates with me. I feel as though you're placing too much emphasis on emotions with your father and sons, etc. I understand that this is not a purely economic decision for you, but there needs to be balance between emotions and economics. As pointed out by BMAC, perhaps you need to gain more experience before jumping into this endeavor. I suggest that you continue to build your skills as a sideliner for a few years. You've got some good ideas and seem to be very passionate about your plan - just go slow would be my guidance. What would prevent you and your father from working this as a sideline business for a few years?
    Horseshoe Point Honey -- http://localvahoney.com/

  14. #14
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    London, Kentucky
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Very good advice from all. I agree with enjambres about tossing that dream down the drain, but need to clarify a little better that when I mean pass down, I mean passing down any inheritance of the business and/or assets. If he wishes to sell or pursue the business is up to him, but at least I can leave him with something that I cherished. Thanks for everyone's responses.

  15. #15
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    Dec 2012
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Because beekeeping is location specific I would say to model from the successful
    beekeepers in your local area. Any beekeeping group you can join will give you a better
    understanding of them. Whatever you do, set up a business plan for it. Buy a few hives to
    see if your area can support raising honey bees. The reality is the entire hive will die overwinter
    so be ready to accept that as it will hinder your progress. How to keep them alive until the Spring
    time is the key to your expansion.
    What you can dream you can achieve!
    I luv bee source!

  16. #16
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Quote Originally Posted by angel View Post

    Ok, ready for the coals.
    alright Angel, sounds like you got the equipment , the drive and such. You specify being commercial. My first point of advice would be take your targets off the word commercial. Just, keep bees, and make money off them!! As your operations grows and develops, so will the need to adjust your hive management to better manage your time. In my eye that basically is what commercial beekeeping is. Doing more with less time.
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog
    www.stepplerfarms.com

  17. #17
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    moravia,ny
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    from my 50 plus yrs of commercial beekeeping I dare say 30% plus of commercial guys will soon be retiring. look for someone sucessful and work for them for 2-5 yrs. maybe you could work a deal with them or by then you will have made many contacts. Its pretty hard to start out in todays conditions. by using someones experence you will save thousands. good luck

  18. #18
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    Sep 2005
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    Greensboro, North Carolina
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Your "plan", as posted on here, simply involves buying equipment. I know you've got a bigger, and more encompassing business plan. But I guess all we can comment on is your state of mind and the equipment you are trying to buy. Looks like most commented on the state of mind part. I'll give you a stab at equipment.

    1. I'd go with deeps, not mediums. If you want to get into nuc production, it's a lot easier to sell a 5 frame deep nuc than it is to sell a 5 frame medium nuc (at least in my experience). If you want to get into pollination, the standard expectation is in numbers of deep frames of brood. Not mediums. Save yourself the headache and go with deeps.

    2. You don't have any honey supers on that list. Might want to rethink that. 30 shallow supers won't take you very far if you have 28 hives. Just saying.

    3. If you are going to go with mediums, you already have shallow supers. In my experience, having shallows and mediums in the same operation is bad news. The shallows end up in medium boxes (and then you get burr comb), and the mediums end up in shallow boxes (**** . . . where's an empty medium box?).

    4. How do you plan on getting the queens for a 400% expansion? Purchase? Where's that expense? Rear yourself? Buying any queen rearing equipment?

    5. What about medications?

    6. Do you have proper vehicle equipment lined up? A truck? How about a trailer (I've found this as a key piece of equipment starting out)?

    7. What about paint?

    8. What about purchasing bottling equipment? Specifically bottles and labels.

    9. If you go with Deeps, I'd plan on having 2 deeps for each hive you want to end with. If mediums, I'd plan on 3 mediums per hive you want to end with. You'll likely have extras, but if you are planning on growing anyway it isn't a problem, just use it next year. But if you come up short, well that's no fun.

    Other than that, it looks about right to me. I'd stick with solid bottom and migratory tops. I'd look at building the bottoms and tops if you can. You can build them for $3 each. Saving $8 per top/bottom may not sound like a big deal, but if you plan on increasing to 100 hives, that's $1,600 in savings. I'd say the same thing for boxes, but tops/bottoms are a good way to learn. Once you feel good about those, maybe consider building boxes.

  19. #19
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    Sep 2013
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    Iona, Idaho, USA
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Quote Originally Posted by enjambres View Post
    I strongly recommend tossing that romantic dream straight into the trash can, at least for now.

    Your son may, or more likely, may not have any interest in being a beekeeper.
    I grew up on the family farm in Idaho. My grandfather homesteaded it.

    My father worked long hard hours and never could seem to get ahead. My brothers and I all worked long hard hours. Not long after High School, my father asked if I would like to join him on the farm and become a partner. I didn't even think it over. I said no. Dad sold the farm not long after. It was actually the best thing for him financially as well.

    I didn't want that hard life, but there are still times that I regret walking away. The path I took wasn't exactly easy either. I couldn't really leave the whole life, I have always had a little land. Right now it is 2 acres. Got rid of my last horse last year. I have to mow my (bee) pasture now.

    Your son may not (probably will not) grow up to be a beekeeper. But you will have that time to share in the apiary, like I had on the farm with my father. You will teach him how to work which will be the most valuable lesson.

    While I did not grow up to be a farmer like my dad, I am still a farmer at heart. I did grow up to be a software developer. I don't regret that move, but I really don't want my kids to follow in my foot steps as far as a career. I want them to make their own path and be the best they can be at what ever they choose.
    Clay
    BlakelysBees.com

  20. #20
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    Default Re: My Steps to become a Commercial Beekeeper - Needing Critique

    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post

    1. I'd go with deeps, not mediums. If you want to get into nuc production, it's a lot easier to sell a 5 frame deep nuc than it is to sell a 5 frame medium nuc (at least in my experience). If you want to get into pollination, the standard expectation is in numbers of deep frames of brood. Not mediums.

    2. You don't have any honey supers on that list. Might want to rethink that. 30 shallow supers won't take you very far if you have 28 hives. Just saying.

    3. If you are going to go with mediums, you already have shallow supers. In my experience, having shallows and mediums in the same operation is bad news. The shallows end up in medium boxes (and then you get burr comb), and the mediums end up in shallow boxes (**** . . . where's an empty medium box?).

    4. How do you plan on getting the queens for a 400% expansion? Purchase? Where's that expense? Rear yourself? Buying any queen rearing equipment?

    5. What about medications?

    6. Do you have proper vehicle equipment lined up? A truck? How about a trailer (I've found this as a key piece of equipment starting out)?

    7. What about paint?

    8. What about purchasing bottling equipment? Specifically bottles and labels.

    9. If you go with Deeps, I'd plan on having 2 deeps for each hive you want to end with. If mediums, I'd plan on 3 mediums per hive you want to end with. You'll likely have extras, but if you are planning on growing anyway it isn't a problem, just use it next year. But if you come up short, well that's no fun.
    1. This put things into a new perspective in regards to nuc production for beekeepers in my area that run mainly deeps. Also didn't know the standard expectations on the numbers of frames/brood for pollination contracts.

    2. Supers are being expensed at the beginning of next year (2015) in January with build out for that month. Good catch.

    3. Yes, I can see myself putting shallows into mediums. Good point.

    4. Learning rearing this year in preparation for next. Purchasing queen rearing equipment this week, but didn't include that since I would consider the other equipment (hives) "standard" over long term and wanted input on exactly what you are pointing out. Thank you!

    5. Medications is allotted for aside of the standard equipment.

    6. Right now I have 3 4x4 trucks with tow packages, and 3 utility trailers for small scale. I have tons of storage space as well.

    7. Paint is already purchased that will cover all the hives mentioned to buy.

    8. I have about 1000 "bear" bottles right now ready to go, I'm sure I'll need more and will note this. Going to consider larger containers for the donation to shelters.

    9. Very good point on the 3 mediums. I knew this and thank you for the extra eye catch!

    Thank you again!

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