Beekeeping as a hobby is a wonderful experience your average beekeeper would recommend to anyone looking to try something new. As a profitable venture though, beekeeping is not for everyone. Any venture designed to generate a profit must be treated as a business. As such, hobbies are not really profitable if not approached with the right mindset.
With all of that said, it is entirely possible to keep bees for profit. There are plenty of beekeepers around the world who started out as hobbyists only to turn it into a moneymaking venture. This isn’t to say that you have to build a full-time business capable of paying your bills. Rather, you can make your beekeeping business whatever you want it to be. You can use it to generate only supplemental income or make it a lifelong career.
To make beekeeping profitable, one needs to understand five essential strategies:
- Startup Costs
- Bee Hive Management
- Regulations and Legal Implications
- Time Commitment
- The Products You Choose to Sell
Each of these strategies requires treating beekeeping like a business. Successful business owners know that emotions have to be kept out of the equation. Decisions must be made based on sound business principles first.
If you can do that and have a great emotional experience at the same time, that’s a bonus.
1. Startup Costs
Making beekeeping profitable generally requires thinking along those lines right from the onset. Practically speaking, that means being prepared to invest what is necessary at startup to make sure your business is viable for the long term. If you are already into beekeeping as a hobby, startup costs are no longer part of the equation. But you will incur expansion costs. Your hobby will not make money unless you expand beyond hobby keeping.
Startup and/or expansion costs start with the actual costs of setting up new hives. Thankfully, hives are relatively inexpensive when compared to the raw materials you might need for other kinds of business ventures. A reasonable estimate for setting up a single hive in the United States, complete with frames, tools, group boxes, food, and protective gear is about $600. Add a second hive and you are looking at about $900.
Of course, these costs have to be adjusted depending on where you live. But when you consider that some other small businesses can cost tens of thousands of dollars to set up, beekeeping is relatively inexpensive.
Your startup and/or expansion costs will also include the money you invest in back-office operations. For example, are you going to handle accounting with paper and pencil or are you going to invest in software? You will also be spending money on advertising and marketing. This could mean setting up a website that lets people learn more about your business. You can include an online shopping cart if you want.
The main take away here is that you need to be prepared to fund your business for at least two years before expecting to break even. That is standard for most small businesses, not just beekeeping. If you do not have the funding to do so, you may not be able to keep your operation going long enough to turn a profit.
2. Bee Hive Management
Many new beekeepers do not understand that hive management is essential to long-term survival. Bees, like most other living organisms, are susceptible to a variety of diseases, parasites, and potentially threatening environmental influences. To be a successful beekeeper, you have to do regular hive checks. You must also learn what to look for.
Here’s a short list of some of the most common threats to honeybees:
- American Foulbrood – The disease, along with its European cousin, are now found worldwide. It is a bacterial disease caused by a rod-shaped bacterium that can only be seen under a microscope. It can wipe out an entire colony with very little effort.
- Nosema – This is a family of parasites that causes problems for insects of all kinds. There are 81 species of Nosema, so it pays to learn which ones do the most harm to bee hives.
- Tracheal Mites – If these mites get into a hive, they can also work their way into the airways of individual bees. The mites can eventually kill the bees. Furthermore, female mites make their way to the hairs on a bee’s body where they will lay eggs.
- Hive Beetles – Small hive beetles are found mostly in North America. They do not harm honeybees per se, but they do drive healthy bees out of the nest. A hive could collapse merely by the entire colony leaving in search of a new place to live.
There are a host of other diseases and parasites that can be problematic for beekeepers. If you want to make beekeeping a profitable business, you will either have to learn how to identify these things or contract with an experienced inspector willing to perform regular inspections on your hives.
3. Regulations and Legal Implications
There are always regulations and legal implications attached to running a business. Where beekeeping is concerned, you have several issues to think about. First and foremost is your location. Do you live out in the country where keeping bees is unlikely to impact neighbors? Or perhaps you live in a suburban or urban environment surrounded by neighbors on all sides. In the case of the latter, there may be local regulations controlling how many hives you can have on your property.
If you live in the U.S. or Canada, there may be zoning issues to contend with. Local laws may not allow beekeeping in your location, which would force you to locate your hives somewhere else. You may run into the same kinds of problems with local councils in the UK and major cities in Europe.
Then there is the question of licensing. Are you allowed to make money by beekeeping in your country, province, state, or local area? You may need to be licensed before you can do so.
These are all things you should be checking on before you decide to embark on beekeeping as a profit-generating venture. If regulations prevent you from establishing a beekeeping business, you may still be able to keep bees as a hobby.
You might also be able to sell honey, beeswax, etc. as a hobbyist. You would just have to limit your sales to whatever level constitutes hobby activity in your area. Whatever you do, don’t try to turn beekeeping into a profitable business but pass it off just as a hobby to get by regulations. Doing so could land you in trouble.
4. Time Commitment
Succeeding in any business venture requires a commitment of time. In other words, you will be spending more than just money. You are going to have to invest time in setting up your colonies. You will be putting in time inspecting your hives, maintaining the health of your bees, keeping your property in shape, protecting your bees from outside dangers, and harvesting the products you intend to sell.
Another thing to consider is that you are unlikely to make a profit within the first couple of years. Let’s face it, all the products you can harvest from your hives are pretty cheap in most countries. You are not going to realize an astronomical margin on what you sell. Therefore, it is probably going to take at least two years to break even. You might be into the third or fourth year before you actually start generating a profit.
Money can be made in beekeeping, but it takes time. Do not quit your day job expecting that your hives will produce a full-time income during your first or second year. It is not going to happen unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to invest in dozens of hives and numerous employees to help you run your business.
5. The Products You Choose to Sell
The final thing to consider are those products you choose to sell. If you are hoping to earn a profit just by selling honey, you’re probably not going to make it. Honey is a cheap and readily available commodity in just about every market in the world. Moreover, in some parts of the world, people would never pay for it. They would simply go out into the wild and collect it themselves. Therefore, you need to harvest every available product if you expect to turn beekeeping into a moneymaking venture.
In addition to honey, these other things should be on your list:
- Beeswax – Beeswax is a great commercial product because it can be used for so many different things. You can sell it to candle makers, soap makers, cosmetic and beauty aid makers, and more. Also note that you get more money for higher quality beeswax. In the era of organic health and beauty products, beeswax is a valuable commodity.
- Bee Pollen – Another byproduct that does very well in today’s environment is bee pollen. Health-food advocates promote bee pollen as a super food that can boost immunity, control allergies, and more. You can find it on store shelves in North America, Europe, and many parts of Asia.
- Propolis – Beekeepers can harvest that sticky substance bees use to seal the holes in their hives. The substance is called propolis, and it can be sold as a health product in areas where holistic medicine is normally practiced. It sells well in Asia, Africa, and South America.
- Bees – Believe it or not, you can use your hives to produce replacement bees and starter hives for other customers. You could be a beekeeper to other beekeepers if you wanted to expand your business in that direction. It takes a while to be able to do this but offering starter hives and replacement bees is very profitable.
- Commercial Pollination – Local farmers are usually willing to pay beekeepers to have their hives temporarily relocated to their property so that the bees pollinate. If this sort of service appeals to you, and it should, you can relocate your hives for up to four or five weeks at a time. However, you have to be located relatively close to an agricultural area to make money with commercial pollination.
The long and short of it is that you can make money as a beekeeper. But remember, you have to treat beekeeping as a business in order to do so. If you do not want to put in the time, money, and effort to move beyond the hobby stage, that’s fine. Just don’t expect to turn a profit.