Can I Make a Living from Bees???
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  1. #1
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    Default Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    I'm pretty sick of my normal job and instead of just griping, it's time to do something about it.
    I'm 50 years old and at this point, I'd rather do something I enjoy for a living. I'm curious as to what money making options are there to keeping bees. Such as, is there more money in selling honey, or bees? How much money would I need to get a decent start? Should I maybe look into getting a small farm? If so, any recommendations on how to acquire one?

    Obviously this isn't an overnight decision and process, so I'd appreciate any advice! I'm pretty sure I'll have more questions.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    I'm doing it! You might like to read my article on the subject. I think there's lots of way to make a living as a beekeeper. The problem is beeks don't charge for their work.
    http://beekeepinglikeagirl.com/how-t...ime-beekeeper/
    Beekeeping Instructor / Live Bee Removal / San Diego, Ca / 90 hives. Check out my new book: Queenspotting

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    I love what Hilary is doing, and she is living proof that it can be done. But we don't all live in San Diego, CA, and I do think that that is part of Hilary's "secret sauce." (Not to mention she is very innovative and talented).

    However, if you want to make a living from the commodities provided from your hives (honey, bees, wax, propolis, etc.) that is a very different model all together.

    I get about $5/pound for honey. Now I live in a rural area and I know that people can get more than that in some areas. I sell a nuc for $125.00. Again, beekeeping, as well as markets, are local.

    This year I sold roughly 1000 pounds of honey and sold 10 nucs. I started the season with 16 hives and now have 21. So I grossed roughly $6,250. Then, there are your expenses: jars, labels, wood, equipment, gas, sugar, treatments, etc.

    This is my first year to have a positive cash flow (I think it is positive), but just barely. Sure, there are some economies of scale to be gained as you grow, but not many. And at some point, you are going to have to hire labor and make some serious capital investments (fork lift, loaders, large trucks, honey house, etc.)

    I would think a decent living would require a minimum of several hundred hives. A smaller operation may allow you to SUPPLEMENT your income.

    The answer to your question is: YES. You can make a living from bees. But there are easier and less risky ways to make a living.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    I would suggest getting a few hives to start and see if you like it. If so you could start building your numbers up. It's best to not buy into bees (obviously you have to buy some to start) but let your hive #s grow by doing splits. You could buy 100 hives this spring and they could easily all be dead by the next one. You need to learn the ropes first in other words and best way to do that is to start with a few (even 10) and grow it from there at least for a few years. If you got things figured out in a few years then you could buy some more nucs or packages to increase faster!!! Good luck bud

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Good advice from Vtbeeguy. You must also consider your cost vs. revenue. Total labor hours spent, gas, cost of equipment, honey containers/labels, utility cost, insurance, business license, cottage kitchen certificate, taxes etc. Most sideliner beekeepers I know that have taken an honest assessment and did the math find that they make a little more or less than minimum wage.
    My opinions are based on a decade of beekeeping, book learning and watching YouTube videos.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    I heard a statistic that the average length of time a newbee stays in beekeeping is 4 yrs. If you make it past that 4 years, then start moving towards making a living from bees. You will find it is not as easy as it seems.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Quote Originally Posted by ericweller View Post
    You will find it is not as easy as it seems.
    Preach it! Last year was my 5th, still have not 'broke even', though I do own (read paid for) some really good assets to move forward and a growing, loyal, customer base.
    Then there is the non-monetary side: puling honey in the rain because the weatherman is a liar and your only half through the yard. Yes this hive is beating the heck out of you but the welded in QE , WILL be coming out tonight because I will not be driving all the way back to this outyard for two weeks, etc. ...

    To me, the most difficult part is sifting through the bad advice and notions; that's why I love the guys like MP and Ian sharing what they have earned in operational knowledge --though the scale is unapplicable sometimes.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Quote Originally Posted by Outdoor N8 View Post
    To me, the most difficult part is sifting through the bad advice and notions; that's why I love the guys like MP and Ian sharing what they have earned in operational knowledge --though the scale is unapplicable sometimes.
    It can be a challenge sifting the wheat from the chaff when just getting started.
    It looks to me like you have made two VERY GOOD choices.
    I have exactly ONE more hive than you.
    That makes my opinion beyond dispute!

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Quote Originally Posted by ericweller View Post
    I heard a statistic that the average length of time a newbee stays in beekeeping is 4 yrs. If you make it past that 4 years, then start moving towards making a living from bees. You will find it is not as easy as it seems.
    Im sure this stat is accurate but to me its nuts! I am going into my 5th year and holy cow im more addicted to beekeeping than ever!
    I literally cant imagine not doing this. Just gotta figure out how to convince my wife that i should retire from gastroenterology and bee a full time beekeeper!

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Thank you for all the advice!

    Like I said, this isn't going to be an overnight thing. But at least I want to make sure I'm headed in the right direction.

  11. #11
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    Default

    I'm on my 5th(I think) year now. Initially bought 148 hives and when winter hit I was left with 27. Have been dicing from those 27 and took 500 to almonds this year. Last 3 years Ive had over wintering loss around 5%. Assuming youve kept some bees as a hobby before, I would buy 50 the first year and put them in a location that they can be there year round. Split from them. Also buy a used hummerbee/swinger/Bobcat when you finally need one. I had a beekeeper(who is now out a business) tell me the moffett piggy back forklifts are great for beekeeping and I bought one. Big regret. I'm hoping to buy a newer swinger/hummerbee soon. If you were to jump in right away and have minimal losses, you would need to invest about 200k this year to make 100k(if that) off of them next year.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Quote Originally Posted by R055 View Post
    I'm on my 5th(I think) year now. Initially bought 148 hives and when winter hit I was left with 27. Have been dicing from those 27 and took 500 to almonds this year. Last 3 years Ive had over wintering loss around 5%. Assuming youve kept some bees as a hobby before, I would buy 50 the first year and put them in a location that they can be there year round. Split from them. Also buy a used hummerbee/swinger/Bobcat when you finally need one. I had a beekeeper(who is now out a business) tell me the moffett piggy back forklifts are great for beekeeping and I bought one. Big regret. I'm hoping to buy a newer swinger/hummerbee soon. If you were to jump in right away and have minimal losses, you would need to invest about 200k this year to make 100k(if that) off of them next year.

    These numbers are actually quite encouraging. Im hoping to do this in retirement if that day ever freaking comes!

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    If you were to jump in right away and have minimal losses, you would need to invest about 200k this year to make 100k(if that) off of them next year.[/QUOTE]

    Spend 200k to make 100k sounds about right

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Shorebees,

    I agree with what most people say here too. I have heard many people also state that a person should spend a minimum of 2-3 years at a full time beekeeping job before attempting to start their own beekeeping business. I can now see the wisdom in that statement.

    We started out of curiosity about 3 years ago with a swarm of bees that landed on our property. We do not purchase bees, but simply keep splitting and catching more swarms each spring. We grew rapidly up to nearly 150 colonies in no time at all, but with more experience and wisdom, we could have been easily up over 1000 colonies. Here in California, the going rate right now for almond pollination is $200 per colony for about a 4 week period in Feb. So 1000 colonies at $200 per colony is $200,000. That does not include honey sales, wax sales, etc. So yes, you can make a living from bees, especially if you are in the right place at the right time, doing the right things. I believe it is possible for one person to keep 1000 colonies during the year with minimal outside help.

    I have found it to be hard work at times [especially working with a full bee suit on in super hot weather]. I have also found it to be extremely exciting and fun and rewarding. I am a full time school teacher but I feel within the next 18 months I will transition into full time beekeeping. I never thought it was possible to fall in love with an insect, but, wow, these bees kinda grow on ya. Best of all, I have never had to send a bee to the principal's office, never had to put a bee on extended time outs, never had a queen bee yell at me for poor grades of her daughters. But I have beat myself up at times for the poor grades my bees achieved. The reason I have felt this way is because in all honesty, the poor grades were due to my poor performance as a rookie beekeeper, and the bees were not at fault at all.

    I deserve to hear the words in this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75SEy1qu71I

    Fortunately, honeybees are much more forgiving!

    Hope this helps!

    Soar

    PS This is the first year we started accepting contracts to pollinate almond orchards. Here's a pic from yesterday. And yes, I know, we need to laundry the bee suit.

    Enjoy!

    1.jpg
    Last edited by soarwitheagles; 02-10-2019 at 04:29 AM.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    How to make a small fortune with honey bees?
    Start with a LARGE fortune! Shish Boom Bah

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    beekeeping is like a race. Theory crafting ideas to get to the finish line faster and more efficiently than the next guy. It takes a vary rare and selfless individual like ian s and micheal p to share their theories and techniques that have brought them success. Beekeeping is this way because there are usually a few sources of income and any one of those sources can cover your expenses. The tweaking/positioning/fine tuning that we do as beekeepers tries to maximize all potential incomes to the greatest percent and minimize costs to the greatest percent to yield the most efficient and profitable result. I feel since 8-10 years ago commercial beekeeping has been a complex melting pot of strategies, and not always with the true understanding of what their objective is.

    There is room for enormous profits in commercial beekeeping, however sadly there is room for bankruptcy. To stay above water you must at least be able to maintain a stable number of hives, and hit one potential income source well.

    The big problem is that you have to know how to manage 500+ colonies and keep the alive over winter in order to set yourself up for the following year. (jump in and fail this and you are in trouble) This information is scattered through the internet and is there, but depending on how you want to run your hives you really dont know where to start.

    There wont be too many people friendly enough to tell you their hard earned knowledge especially because its a competition. I have lost hundreds of thousands of potential income due to poor or un-optimal decisions and alot of that knowledge could be summed up in a page or 2.. That means each piece of advice from the right person is literally worth 20k or more.. add that up a few times and you can see beekeeping can be more expensive than a doctorate degree.

    To get started you probably need one load of bees to "make a living"

    450 @ $210 after almonds -- split to 2.5:1 -- 1125 -- pickup 100 -- 1000 honey producers -- 3k supers or secnonds @ 25$ -- hire extracting (not good option because you will be last and your bees will get wrecked by mites) 10% - pickup 100

    -buy truck/fk lift -- 30k if you find good used deals
    -buy 2 loads of feed -- 25k
    -misc - 30k

    900 -- ship to ca -- hope you get at least 450 in almonds

    About 200k will get you started give or take some. To break even you will need at least 450 hives into pollination or equiv in marked up honey sales/ nuc sales. You will need a building for storage and extracting at some point. But 200k and the right decisions can get you in the door and on your way to making a good living.. However 200k and the wrong decisions and you risk you and your families well being because the expense/profit is in the bees at the end of the day

    alt scenario could easily look like this -- buy 450 --split -- mess up on accident -- 900 hives alive -- 700 honey producers -- 1.5 loads to almonds (or nuc sales equiv) -- 60% die over winter -- 240 shabby hives to split with following year -- try something new -- succeed -- 400 hives next year to split -- or -- fail -- 100 hives to split next year -- take out loan / buy bees -- try again -- out of business if fail
    Last edited by Woodside; 02-14-2019 at 01:22 PM.
    Young queens - Tanner Christianson

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Buying 450 ,hives would be a very bad idea unless you were already an experienced commercial beek. Buy maybe 50 tops and let the bees grow in numbers themselves. Taking out a loan for the bees themselves would be a terrible idea.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Woodside - true about the cost of good information. After my father "Gave away the Farm", I am much more reluctant to show my cards. After 116 years, one does learn SOME things. Clues.... yes, complete answers, not so much.

    Crazy Roland
    Linden Apiary, est. 1852

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    I'd wager a strong work ethic is also required.

    Alex
    Ten years of Beekeeping before varroa. Started again spring of 2014.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Can I Make a Living from Bees???

    Lots of good information so far, a few more things to consider.

    Many people make a living from beekeeping, it is possible, but the question is can YOU.
    The biggest wear and tear on myself is from the emotional component. Beekeeping is an emotional roller coaster. Everything is going perfect one minute and the next everything is falling apart.

    Spend some time with a notebook or xcell spreadsheet and think very carefully about incomes and expenses. How many colonies will it take you to make what you consider a comfortable income? DO the math. Try to figure out what will work for YOU in YOUR area. What has been your typical honey crop? are your bees generally big enough to build nucs or shake packages in a marketable time frame (demand tapers pretty dramatically by mid june)
    Now consider how many locations will that take? Are there already other beekeepers in your area who might either get pissed of and/or be a valuable resource. Can you be a resource to other beekeepers in your area. And how will you handle the increased scale? Trucks, forklifts, boom loaders? WHAT ABOUT FEEDING? Will you buy syrup or mix? How will you distribute syrup? Will you produce honey? Will you extract your own crop in your own building or will you hire it out?

    I started with 2 colonies and have grown to 500, making a whole slew of adaptations along the way. It is totally possible if you are diligent, hard working, practical, and committed.

    The importance of Mentorship cannot be overstated. Personally, I was fortunate to spend several years working with a very good beekeeper. Mostly I helped them in CA during almonds and occasionally through the summer but it got my toe in the door for pollination, it got me someone I trust and can talk to regularly, and showed my how a mid-size commercial outfit can function.

    IN CONTRAST, I have also spent sometime working with someone who grew too fast. Consider this a warning. In my opinion it is a disaster. TRying to run more bees than they are prepared for, a constant state of crash and rebuild, trying to keep up, and it really takes a lot of the fun out of beekeeping. If it was my outfit, I would be a total wreck. Don't grow faster than you are prepared for and equiped to handle.

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