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  1. #21
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
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    Sudbury, Ontario
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    151

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

    Without going too deep into this, I've found doubling every year to be easily achieved... and I'm in a colder climate. Plan to start feeding early on, build up big strong hives in 3 deeps that can be split (divided into nuc boxes) leaving the original hive at 1.5 deep (~15 frames + 5 frames of foundation). A few weeks later that original hive will be ready for an excluder and honey super. The other 15 frames are put into nucs... 2-3 frames each plus foundation, introduce a queen cell. Of course this is optimistic assuming you can get that many good frames (a suitable mix of brood and honey/pollen) to make nucs. These nucs will need to be built up for the rest of the season to get through winter.

    The slower alternative is to build up a 3-deep hive, split a single box off, make a good crop off the 2-deep hive, the single box gets a 2nd once it has a laying queen... will be nice and strong by the Fall without too much work. Will be very strong if you have drawn comb.

    The biggest delay in any expansion is the lack of comb. You can have all the queens you want, if there is no space for her to lay your hive is killing time!

    My experience (if my memory is correct)...
    year one - start 2, finish 5
    year two - start 5, finish 8
    year three - start 7, finish 13
    year four - start 12, finish 22 (20 doubles, 2 5+5+5 nucs)
    year five - start 20 (18 2-deep, 2 5+5+5 nucs), ... currently 47? (triples 3, doubles 17, single 4, 5 frame nucs 23)

    I'm going for a lot more nucs this year... with the goal of selling them. First attempts at proper queen rearing this year, not just walk-away splits or purchasing mated queens. Grafts going well so far. Hives are looking fantastic, and I'm hoping the heavy splitting I did last week will knock down the swarms in July.

    I make no claims of being a commercial beekeeper... I'm investing money in a potential business, which is better than buying a case of beer every week. I do all my work with a station wagon (Outback and Focus) and a trailer. I'm definitely breaking even on my endeavours, which is allowing me to purchase more equipment.

  2. #22
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Brasher Falls, NY, USA
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    27,755

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

    Quote Originally Posted by angel View Post
    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.
    You are 42 years old. A little late in life to start into what most Commercial Beekeepers consider Commercial Beekeeping. Not that it can't be done.

    As far as building up your numbers it seems as though you have a plan as good as any. Doing it will prove whether it is practical or doable. But it seems as good as any from what I see.

    Passing things along to kids and grandkids is laudable, but be prepared for disappointment. Your children are likely to have other interests. My children have had very little interest in working bees w/ me. Only one of my Grandfather's children stayed on the farm. Ya never know.

    ps: someone not keeping bees at a level which most commercial beekeepers keep bees, aka their only source of income, is more a source of humor than it is a cause of anger or argument. what's wrong w/ simply saying "I want to run more hives and sell honey." rather than categorizing yourself one way or another? someone who knows how to build and shoot of rockets in their backyard isn't a rocket scientist.
    Mark Berninghausen To combat Ebola, please consider supporting http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org


  3. #23
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Greensboro, North Carolina
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    2,758

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

    Quote Originally Posted by angel View Post
    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!
    That's where I'd be careful. Queen rearing isn't hard. Producing 28 queens in a season isn't hard. Learning how to do it (especially on a schedule), while producing them at just the right time in the season, while still doing a 400% increase, that's going to be a little bit challenging. At least in my opinion.

    Say you come out of winter with all 7 hives, 15 medium frames of brood each by March 15th. Take all 105 frames of brood (which may be pushing it, but lets just say) and divide them into 3 frame nucs, giving you 35 mating nucs. Add your cells to each of these. Your first year, you'll probably get a 50% take, if you're lucky. So you walk away with 18 queens. Still 10 short. So, you let the 18 that made it start to grow. Keep in mind they are now down to probably 1 or 1.5 frames of brood, as it took the queen 3 weeks to mate and fully start to lay. 1.5 medium frames of brood isn't alot, but they could probably expand to 20 medium frames by the end of the flow. Some won't, but some will. So that leaves you at April 15th with 18 hives. Time to start round 2 of queens (only now you don't have a booming starter/finisher to help you, and your 17 or 18 mating nucs that didn't take are getting weak, and may start showing signs of laying workers). Now you are behind the 8 ball, as it won't be until May 15th, at best, that you can get the other 17 nucs up and running. Assuming all 100% make it.

    Plus, that plan assumes that you can get 35 nucs together in addition to the 28 hives.

    Purchasing mated queens will cost you more, but you'll get much better results in the end. Learning queen rearing at your stage is important, as it will pay dividends in years to come. But, it isn't a great plan for growth. You may not care, as the learning may be more important than the growth. But it's a trade off, and something you should keep in mind. Of course, you could do some of each.

    Also, in any given season you can either get (1) more bees, or (2) honey. Usually not both. You may end the season with 28 hives, but you'll have very little honey to go around. Might be fine, but something to keep in mind.

    In the past 10 years, my hive numbers have fluctuated all over the place. I still wouldn't consider my self "commercial", at best "sideliner", although I don't really know if I'd consider myself that, so maybe take this with a grain of salt. But I've taken 2 hives and brought it to 54, watched them shrink down to 15, expanded them back to 35, watched every one of them die, started over and built up to 31, looking to finish in the mid 40's probably this year. I've learned alot in the process. Largest thing I learned: Don't pin your actions on a number. I don't look at 10 hives and say "by the end of next month, I'll make you into 20." I look at each hive and see where they are at. Some will be ready to split in half on month 1. Some will be ready to split into 3 or 4 on month 2. Some may never really expand like you want, forcing you to requeen and try again. You don't know until you get in there.

    If I had to rethink the two reasons why I've lost bees in the past, I'd put it down to: (1) underestimating varroa, and (2) robbing. I've expanded heavily in the past, and at times thought a "break in the brood cycle" was sufficient to keep control of varroa. I was wrong. I was also dumb enough to think treatment free would work for me. I was wrong. I also split so hard that I ended up with weak colonies (tried making a bunch of nucs, feeding through our dearth in the hopes of overwintering the nucs next year). The weak colonies got robbed out and died. Once the robbing frenzy started, it was almost impossible to stop. Once I was able to stop it, I had colonies with no stores in July/August. If I didn't feed, they would abscond. If I did feed, it usually started more robbing issues. So, don't make weak colonies after June 15th (preferably not at all).

    For me, I try to finish the year with singles, then have enough equipment to turn each single into a double and have 4 medium supers each. That way I can plan on splitting the double in half, and having 2 medium supers per single. Most years that plans out. Some don't make it at all, some don't grow to the full double, some grow to a triple. Some only need 1 medium, others need 5. But in the end that seems about right for me, and I usually have a few boxes left over, ready to be used next year.

    Hope that helps.
    Last edited by Specialkayme; 06-05-2014 at 08:12 AM.

  4. #24
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
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    Suffolk, VA
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    2,670

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

    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post
    Hope that helps.
    Nuggets of gold!!
    Horseshoe Point Honey -- http://localvahoney.com/

  5. #25
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Morgan ,Kentucky, USA
    Posts
    171

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

    Sounds exactly what I would have written. I always love it when someone asks how many hives I have. I have some in every stage, I just say around thirty.

    I have found that around 40 is all I can handle. With 40 I can replace winter dead outs, have enough honey to pay for what I'm out and keep everyone satisfied. I can also generate enough bees to play around with different aspects and try them out to satisfy some unknown need of mine to mess things up Hoping to be a sideliner when I retire in a few years, forty hives and fifty momma cows and 125 students is all I can find time for with a family life.

    I have learned quite a few things that work for me in my area, and several things that don't. Takes some time to learn this stuff on your own. I would hate to jump in and try to make a living doing this without learning what works and what doesn't. One thing about it though, you will learn a lot from a bunch of hives than from just a few. The cost of tuition is more though.

  6. #26
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Location
    London, Kentucky
    Posts
    161

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

    Quote Originally Posted by AstroBee View Post
    Nuggets of gold!!
    Ditto, Specialkayme post gave me goosebumps.

  7. #27
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Location
    Paris Tx
    Posts
    3

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

    The bee associations consider 300 hives commercial

  8. #28
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    Reno, NV
    Posts
    3,083

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

    Quote Originally Posted by Specialkayme View Post

    1. Take all 105 frames of brood (which may be pushing it, but lets just say) and divide them into 3 frame nucs, giving you 35 mating nucs.

    2. Your first year, you'll probably get a 50% take, if you're lucky. So you walk away with 18 queens. Still 10 short. So, you let the 18 that made it start to grow.

    3. Keep in mind they are now down to probably 1 or 1.5 frames of brood, as it took the queen 3 weeks to mate and fully start to lay. 1.5 medium frames of brood isn't alot, but they could probably expand to 20 medium frames by the end of the flow. Some won't, but some will. So that leaves you at April 15th with 18 hives. Time to start round 2 of queens (only now you don't have a booming starter/finisher to help you, and your 17 or 18 mating nucs that didn't take are getting weak, and may start showing signs of laying workers). Now you are behind the 8 ball, as it won't be until May 15th, at best, that you can get the other 17 nucs up and running. Assuming all 100% make it.

    4. Plus, that plan assumes that you can get 35 nucs together in addition to the 28 hives.

    5. Also, in any given season you can either get (1) more bees, or (2) honey. Usually not both. You may end the season with 28 hives, but you'll have very little honey to go around. Might be fine, but something to keep in mind.

    6. In the past 10 years, my hive numbers have fluctuated all over the place.

    I started this spring with 12 production colonies and 10 nucs.

    1. I would not put all frames of brood in a mating nuc. I would spread 105 frame of brood out among 105 2 frame compartments. This is pretty close to exactly what I did this past April and May. nearly 300 cells. nearly 40 virgins sold of the remainder that emerged around 96 virgins queens went into mating compartments.

    2. Last year my first attempt at queen rearing got exactly 50% mated queens. this spring it was far worse. 100% losses for the first two weeks. so far no one has come up with a definitive answer as to why that happened. we then increased to near 50% but never got quite that good. In all we had around 40 mated queens from it all. Since then we have sold 12 of those along with 5 nucs. and still have 18 nucs in the works. In the past few days we have set up quite a few queenless nucs and given them brood. the result has been the production of an additional 52 queen cells. Most of the original production colonies have been moved to an outyard and are reaching honey production strength.

    3. Out of brood as the mated queen begins to lay is pretty much what I want. the bees have emerged giving the compartment the population needed to tend to the new queens brood. empty comb gives her room to lay. To me it is not just about making a box full of bees. but developing a strong queen. Ample room to develop as a layer is something I want to see.

    4. Not sure I get your point here. Btu if you intended to make 35 nucs it seems to me you would be prepared with the equipment to do so. I also tend to be running into this myself though. My intent is to end the year with 207 colonies. Doing so requires selling the first of the year nucs. I am also capable of gettign creative on how to come up with the nucs. so far I could manage to make up about 100 of the necessary 150 or so. In short I can make as many as 200 2 frame mating compartments in 10 frame deeps. as those 50% of the queens return mated those same nucs are made into 4 frame nuc compartments. This gives me 100 nucs to keep the mated queens in. We also had 40 nucs made up and ready at the start of the season. Many of those are full now.

    5. Have not had the actual results as of yet. My original colonies produced queen cells during the flow. their bees where used to stock mating compartments and they where then moved to an outyard. they have spent the past 3 to 4 weeks building back up for the flow. we are a bit late on the flow by about 2 weeks but they are all now back up to strength. we are also in a drought so that will play a part in just how much honey they make. but they have the population to do so if the nectar is available.

    6. In my third year and I have yet to see any drastic fluctuation in colony numbers. this past spring was the only reduction I have seen and it was temporary. As in only a couple of weeks. we went form 23 colonies in January to 20 for a couple of weeks in May. Losses due to Swarming or robbing.

    Year 1 from one colony to 4 no losses. Year two from 4 colonies to 23 including all nucs no losses.

    Year 3 so far started with 23 and are now at 52 and building. Total number of hives does change day to day due to making new ones and selling some.

    Originally my plan was to produce 125 mated queens sell 85 of them as queens and produce and sell 40 nucs. We are no longer anywhere near that plan but still moving forward.

    I have to agree with the weak colonies getting robbed comments. We lost 5 nucs to robbing shortly after giving them mated queens. We are working on measures to prevent that. Mainly not keepign strong hives near weak ones for now. Robber screens etc.

    I am doing a lot of reading on how to improve out mated queen success and how to get the nucs to build up faster. One result was we sold 12 mated queens and combined those nucs to get them stronger. IT has helped but has been to soon for that brood to emerge yet.

    Our final attempt at build up will come from a combination of all nucs we mange to produce now and the production colonies after the flow is over.

    In the end one way or the other increase is going to cost us. We will have to feed all of these nucs at the very least. There is also the cost of the equipment. but these costs are far lower than purchasing packages or nucs next spring. Plus we are learning along the way. Buying nucs will never teach us how to rear our own queens and make up our own nucs.
    Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.

  9. #29
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Cattaraugus,New York, USA
    Posts
    345

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

    DanielY- Are you planting cells in your mating nucs, or are you placing virgin queens in there. If you are putting virgins in the nucs, that may be part of your success issue. Most beeks I know prefer cells to virgins.
    Allegany Mtn. Bee Farm
    Quality Queens and Honey from Western New York

  10. #30
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    Reno, NV
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    3,083

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

    We introduced virgins. Same method we used last year and got 50% return rate. After the two week period we started getting that same 50% return rate again. So introducing virgin queens may have something to do with not getting better than a 50% return but I am not so sure it had anything to do with the 100% losses.

    It is a long story but once again we have 78 queen cells. This time we are going to introduce them as cells and see if it makes a difference.
    Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.

  11. #31
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Location
    Morro Bay, California, USA
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    914

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

    I don't understand your business plan. California may be a special case, but here anything up to 400 hives is strictly sideline. I know a lot of folks bootstrapping themselves up, and the almonds do buy nice new trucks ---- but they are working days (equipment operators is favorite occupation) and killing themselves and their marriages working the bees nights and weekends. If you are lucky you might get 24 hours notice before the crop is pesticided.

    From your wish list, it sounds like you plan on filling Bear bottles and flogging them retail. Who's minding the store? Retailing honey is a whole other gig. Folks might buy 3 or 5 bottles a year, so you need a big customer list to "farmer market" the syrup and I expect there is someone else locally already in that market. If you value your time at $20/hour swatting flies while waiting for a farmer market customer to decide $20 isn't too much to pay for a jar of syrup, you will be underpaid, since all the other costs represented by the syrup in that jar have to be paid before you net a dime. Every hour you spend at the farmer market is an hour when you cannot work the bees.

    Selling the honey direct to "natural foods" market requires a customers sales rep and the delivery eats time and money. Selling it wholesale by the barrel hardly pays the sunk honey house and extraction costs. I know a beek that scored a moderate sized natural foods distribution biz (actually bought the contracts for $$), but didn't have the production, so having to pay for out-of-state trips to locate and buy "organic" honey. The time and capital to do that need to be accounted for, and the mark-up between buying production and wholesaleing it to a tight-fisted grocery is not much. Groceries sell shelf space, and if you have bottles in June, you also need bottles in November when the customers decide to do their Christmas baking.

    A very friendly neighboring beek I know, who has purchased a broke-down boom truck and some hives, and is trying to break out of sideline subsidized by his day-job (sewer-line installer) was at a music fest I attended, he spent the weekend flogging little bottles of honey (did it pay the booth rental?), while I enjoyed the performers. Meeting all those customers might be nice if you have the personality for it, but I don't.

    Any business plan involving bees has to have a casualty reserve. I know a young beek just about to turn the corner from sideline to full time on the strength of almonds-queen rearing saw half his hives evaporate under the cloud released by a crop duster. I think a business plan (once it has paid the capital loan for all the half-broke down equipment that moves tons of weight) needs a 20% "rainy day" reserve to account for the inevitable casualty losses.

  12. #32
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Brasher Falls, NY, USA
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    27,755

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

    JW,
    all good eye opening advice, but, do you really call honey "syrup"? Is that a Morro Bay colloquialism?
    Mark Berninghausen To combat Ebola, please consider supporting http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org


  13. #33
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Location
    Morro Bay, California, USA
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    914

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

    Quote Originally Posted by sqkcrk View Post
    Do you really call honey "syrup"? Is that a Morro Bay colloquialism?
    Nope, I wasted my morning trying to correct a "newbee's" collapsing mite-infested 8-frame medium foundation-less hives (I wonder where they got that idea from?). The "all-natural" bee killer insisted on calling her nearly-dead social insects "girls" and in the end refused to take the MAQS that I gifted them. That colloquialism makes my skin crawl, in all its sentimental anthropomorphism.
    My use of "syrup" in this post was an attempt to demystify the production of an evaporated nectar solution by half-domesticated eusocial insects and discharge some of my frustration at the mis-advice rampant on inter-tubes.

  14. #34
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Brasher Falls, NY, USA
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    27,755

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

    I feel for ya brother. Pearls before swine comes to mind.
    Mark Berninghausen To combat Ebola, please consider supporting http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org


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