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Beekeeping is an honorable occupation practiced the world over. Some people practice beekeeping as a primary occupation while others do it part time. Still others keep bees as a hobby. It is all good. The world needs more beekeepers in order to sustain bee populations that have suffered significantly in the last 20 years. However, what does beekeeping entail?
As someone from a beekeeping background, I can testify to the fact that keeping bees is highly rewarding. But it is also a lot of hard work. But nothing in life worth having comes easily. For successful hives that continue year after year, you have to be willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen. You also have to be willing to invest financial resources as well.
If you are new beekeeper just getting started, you should understand exactly what is involved. People have been keeping bees for thousands of years, so we know it can be done. But making it work over the long term really requires an understanding of what the new beekeeper is getting into. That is the point of this article.
What is Beekeeping?
The place to start this discussion is defining what beekeeping actually is. The term seems simple enough, but it is simple to a fault. To make this easier, let us look at what the Sokanu website says about beekeeping. For the record, Sokanu is a career-matching platform that helps people discover what they are best at in terms of career choices. They also offer links to jobs platforms.
Sokanu describes beekeeping as managing bees. In other words, it is the job of the beekeeper to maintain beehives in a safe and secure manner. It is the beekeeper’s responsibility to create and maintain an optimal environment that allows the bees to do what they do naturally. A beekeeper should never be forcing nature on the bees. Rather, nature should be allowed to run its course within the optimal environment maintained by the beekeeper.
We can make the definition even simpler still. Think of a parent. A parent cannot ‘grow’ a child. Mom and dad cannot make a child become a particular kind of person. What they can do is create an environment of safety, nurturing, discipline, and education that allows the child to flourish as he or she grows. Nature does the rest.
This is the essence of beekeeping. You work on behalf of your bees to help them do what they are naturally programmed to do. You benefit alongside them. You probably benefit by harvesting the honey, beeswax, and other natural byproducts your bees produce. You also benefit from the sheer enjoyment that comes from beekeeping.
Your bees benefit by having a safe and well-maintained environment in which to thrive. Your beekeeping ensures they have access to food and water sources. They thrive more easily because you keep an eye out for pests and diseases. You even protect the hives from the weather. All this makes for a happier life for your bees.
How Do Beekeepers Maintain Hives?
A big part of beekeeping is maintaining your hives. Ignoring your hives risks colony collapse. So check your hives at least once a week. Depending on conditions, you could check them multiple times in a given week. What am you checking for? Lots of things.
First, you want to make sure there are no pests interfering with the hives. Mites are one of the biggest problems. If there are any problems with mites, you want to identify them as quickly as possible to avoid colony collapse. Along with pests, you are also checking for any evidence of disease. Sick bees do not produce as much. And if disease is allowed to progress unchecked, it could completely destroy a hive.
Next, you want to inspect your hives to make sure they haven’t suffered any weather-related damage. Wind, rain, and excessive sunlight can all be damaging to hives. Any signs of weather-related damage are an indication that you either need to move your hives or find better ways to protect them in place.
Finally, check your hives to keep track of production. A lot of things can interfere, including a queen that is not laying enough eggs or workers that are not bringing enough food into the hive. You have to learn the signs of lower production, what causes it, and how to respond to it.
What Kinds of Things to Beekeepers Harvest?
Beekeeping also entails harvesting the byproducts of bee production. You don’t necessarily have to make a profit doing this if you don’t want to, but you still have to harvest these products if you want your hives to thrive. If you can make a little money as well, that’s a bonus. Just so you know though, there are commercial beekeeping operations that do make a profit.
Here are the products to focus on:
- Honey – Obviously, honey is a great product to harvest. You can use it at home, give it to family members and friends as gifts, and even sell it via a little roadside stand. I mean, who doesn’t love honey?
- Beeswax – Honeybees produce a natural secretion we call beeswax. They use this wax as a building material for the honeycomb. You can harvest it from your hives and sell it to local candle makers (or make your own candles). Larger, commercial beekeeping operations sell their beeswax to companies that make skincare products, furniture polish, etc.
- Royal Jelly – Worker bees secrete a substance from their salivary glands known as royal jelly. This nutrient-rich substance is the primary food source for the queen. Royal jelly contains high concentrations of numerous B vitamins along with amino acids. It is also believed to be a very good antioxidant. It can be sold to companies that make natural health food products and dietary supplements.
- Propolis – That sticky substance bees use to close holes in their hives is known as propolis. The substance also helps to protect bees against disease. You could harvest it because of its antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties. The same companies that purchase royal jelly are also big fans of propolis.
There are at least three other products that beekeepers can harvest from their hives. They are bee pollen, mead, and bee bread. These may not be in big demand where you live though, so don’t worry too much about these (unless, of course, you do happen to live in a region/country where these products are in demand). At the end of the day, some beekeepers do find them worthwhile to harvest.
How Else Can Beekeepers Make Money?
If you want to make money with your hives above and beyond the products you harvest from them, there are some other choices. The first is to encourage bee reproduction to the extent that you are able to create starter hives for other beekeepers. There is a lot of work involved here, so this isn’t for the faint of heart.
Starter hives are hives that come complete with the hive structure and a thriving colony already intact. New beekeepers use starter hives to get their operations going. Experienced beekeepers might also have use for starter hives for increasing the size of their own operations – or even for rental. That brings us to the next thought.
Farmers love honeybees because they pollinate crops. It is quite common for farmers to rent hives at certain times of the year, for weeks or months of the time. This is something quite intriguing. Renting hives to local farmers offers the opportunity to do more than just keep the beekeeping hobby to yourself. It gives you an opportunity to help someone else.
You could, for example, concentrate on building a few starter hives to be sold later. But before you sell them, you might perhaps rent them to a local farmer to give the bees an opportunity to get some work in. That makes for more stable hives for the customers who eventually buy them.
A third thing you can do is create starter packs for new beekeepers. A starter pack is a small package containing a queen, some drones, and enough worker bees to start the colony. The kits are sold to beekeepers who either have hives already or are planning to install them once their kits arrive. Along those same lines, you can also sell individual queens to other beekeepers. Queens are in high demand, so this is quite lucrative.
Are There Any Legal Ramifications?
Everything we discussed thus far relates to the actual job of beekeeping. But beekeeping also entails a bit of administrative responsibility as well. For example, there might be legal ramifications for keeping bees where you live. You might not be allowed to just buy a few hives and set them up in your backyard without any permission or approval, for example.
In the U.S., laws regulating beekeeping are administered locally and at the state level. If you live in the U.S., you might be lucky in that there is nothing you have to do to satisfy your state. Then again, you might have to apply for permits from your county and inform the town in which you live of your plan to start beekeeping. None of this will be too difficult, but in some American cities, beekeepers so have to jump through hoops to get their approvals. As for other parts of the world, the legal ramifications of beekeeping vary, so you will need to check locally beforehand. For example, a lot of European countries regulate beekeeping at both the national and local levels.
Some legal environments in South American countries and on the African continent make for great beekeeping with very little regulation to worry about. Beekeepers can set up an operation without having to inform anybody. At any rate, it is not wise to begin beekeeping without checking applicable regulations.
There are also taxes to think about. If you are selling any of the byproducts you harvest, the money you make might be taxable. If you are not trying to earn a huge profit and just keep bees because you enjoy it, potential tax liabilities should be minimal.
What Does Beekeeping Entail – Final Thoughts
Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby that is both rewarding and relaxing. Still, it is not right for everyone. Know that beekeeping entails a lot of hard physical and mental work. You really have to look after your bees just as carefully as you would your family pets. Bees are delicate creatures that can be harmed very easily.