The question is simple – is beekeeping profitable? With the global push to save the bees, newbies are taking up beekeeping at an astonishing rate. Backyard beekeepers are literally popping up everywhere. Whether this is out of a sincere desire to help decrease their plummeting numbers, or simply a way to earn some extra money on the side, this question is being hotly debated. Each person you ask has their own opinion on the answer, and often it depends on what they do with the spoils from their hives. They do however, all seem to agree that you can make money from keeping bees, but does it push you into the red, or run closer to the color black?
- Beekeeping for Profit
- Beekeeping Startup Costs
- Beekeeping Grants
- So, Is Beekeeping Profitable?
Beekeeping for Profit
So, you have your bees and hives. Now you want to make some money from your new hobby. That’s what beekeeping for profit is all about, of course! Whether you are planning on selling your wares locally or branching out into eCommerce, remember that holidays and special occasions are a wonderful time to boost your sales. Let your creativity shine through when deciding what to do with your bees. Here are some great ideas to get you started with products made from bees!
This is the most obvious way to earn a bit of extra cash. After all, who does not like honey? With honey being so popular it is extremely easy to market. Depending on where you are located, you can sell your honey at a roadside stand, at farmer’s or crafter’s markets, at local stores, or even on the internet. There is a real upward trend in consumers who want the most natural products they can get, and they are willing to pay a premium to do so. If you slant towards the culinary, consider selling baked goods sweetened with your honey. Home baked goods always sell well and customers appreciate knowing their treats are naturally sweetened.
2. Bee Pollen
Bee pollen has long been available in health food stores and is highly valued for its healing properties in Chinese medicine. Most often you will see it on the shelves in capsule form for internal use. Now joining the ranks of acai berry, avocado, and turmeric as a superfood, bee pollen is said to have value as an antioxidant, and may also help to treat seasonal allergies, among many other conditions. Instead of tossing these small granules out, start bottling them instead!
3. Hive Pollination Services
One way beekeeping for profit is truly starting to shine is by renting out hives to farmers and other types of commercial growers. This is a completely passive way to earn some extra money from your bees and allow growers to reap the benefits at the same time. It is a win-win for all concerned! Farmers and growers are constantly looking for ways to increase their yields and production and having hives on the edge of their fields is certainly one way to do it. Among the crops in demand for extra pollination services are sunflower, almonds, and canola.
This is another obvious choice when beekeeping for profit. Once the wax has been melted down, it makes candles that are far superior to anything you can purchase in a local store. Not only do they burn much cleaner than regular wax candles, they have a lovely honey scent as well. Since beeswax is the only natural wax on the planet, it has value for many other products as well. Some of these products include lip balm, soap, lotions and moisturizers, ointments and salves, hanging ornaments, grafting wax for fruit orchards, doggy paw wax, hair styling wax, wood polish, lubricant stick, sealing wax, shoe polish, beeswax sheets for wrapping food, crayons, modeling clay, cheese sealing wax, swarm lures, wax covered pinecone fire starters, and so many others. As you can see, the only limit to what you can make and sell with beeswax is your own imagination.
5. Replacement Bee Sales
Even the most experienced beekeeper will sometimes need to replenish their bee stock. If you consistently have an excess of bees, you can help reduce someone’s beekeeping start-up costs, or provide a fresh bee supply to another keeper and still manage to carve out a profit for yourself.
6. Selling Hives or Hive Kits
For this one you need to be a bit handy, but if you have already tried your hand at building a hive you should have no trouble replicating it for profit. Try constructing both ready-made beehives and kits the buyer can assemble by themselves. During the long, cold winter months this side project could really turn your bottom line around, especially if you are willing to ship.
7. Bee Propolis
Even if many people have never heard of this sticky substance used by bees to seal the gaps and cracks in their hive, the savvy beekeeper knows its value. It is used extensively in common commercial products and is also reported to have a variety of medical benefits.
8. Your knowledge
If the knowledge of other people is worth money, yours is too. Consider teaching a class in beekeeping yourself, or you could host craft nights where people pay to make items like candles or lotions.
Beekeeping Startup Costs
For those wondering is beekeeping profitable, one of the ways to make this a resounding yes is by having beekeeping start-up costs that are as low as possible. While there are certain items you can do without, some cannot be compromised. It is estimated that for the first year with a new hive, costs range around the $500 mark. Each additional hive is about $300, if you purchase the hives. The other main element affecting cost is the quality of the materials you buy. Obviously, the better the quality, the more expensive the item. Of quick note, when purchasing bees for your hive, ensure you choose a reputable supplier that is known for the health and temperament of their bees. No one wants to end up with a colony of perpetually angry stinging insects!
Your most important piece of equipment will be the hive. Either purchase one already made, in a kit, or download free internet plans to build your own. The purchase price can vary but expect to pay anywhere between $100-$200+ on Amazon.
Also included in the beekeeping start-up costs are a beehive smoker (around $40), a hive brush (less than $10), and a hive tool (less than $15). Check for some items online to see if they can be purchased used to reduce costs further. Personal protective gear is a must-have. At the bare minimum, you will need a veil, but a full suit is one option. Depending on what you choose, the cost could be from $20 to over $200.
Beekeeping start-up costs can become overinflated if bees must be purchased from an outside source. When buying bees, they come in one of two ways. Packaged bees contain a queen, along with either two or three pounds of worker bees. You add them into your hive and start them off with sugar water.
The downside to this is that packaged bees are notorious for taking off at the first opportunity. Pricewise, packaged bees are between $100-$200. The second way is to purchase a nucleus colony. Usually only slightly more expensive than the package, this established colony comes with the queen, worker bees, five frames of comb containing brood in varying life stages, pollen, and nectar. Being already established they hardly notice when added into your hive. To get your bees completely free, you will need to catch a swarm of wild bees in your area.
3. Queen Specific Items
Everyone knows that the bees follow their queen. No beekeeper wants to get all set up only to find out his queen has ‘flown the hive’! Although they are relatively easy to spot once you know what to look for, there may be times when you need to keep the queen isolated for one reason or another. The safest way to do this for the queen is with the use of a queen catcher. Cheap at around $5, queen catchers ensure that no injuries occur to the queen while she is being moved or held. To make it even easier to find your queen the next time you go looking, purchase a queen marker. Mark her gently with the bright color before you release her from the queen catcher, and she will be easy to spot.
4. Education About Bees
This is one area where you do not want to skimp. There are countless beekeepers who find themselves with abandoned hives because they did not learn the basics of beekeeping. Is beekeeping profitable? Not if you do not know what you are doing! If you live in a large enough area, you may find a beekeeping class for beginners. This is a great opportunity to learn from an expert and get answers to all your questions.
Classes usually run less than $100 and will be well worth the expense. Still concerned about lowering beekeeping start-up costs? The internet is a great free resource. Let Google and YouTube become your friends! Any local beekeeper’s association will be helpful too. And do not forget the library – there are tons of books written on keeping bees.
5. Consumable Items
There are also items you may only need from time to time. Sugar is the perfect example. If the need arises for you to give the bees a helping hand, you will need sugar to make sugar water. Although inexpensive, it is still a cost to consider. Fuel for the smoker is another consumable cost. Since you want a specialty fuel that is non-toxic to your bees, a beekeeping supplier or Amazon will be the best bet.
It does come in cheap though at about $10. How much you purchase will depend on how often you need to use the smoker. Treatments for mites are an additional consumable expense you should expect to encounter.
6. The Wish List
The items listed above are what you need to get started. However, if you enjoy beekeeping you will want to get some other items down the road to make your job easier. Things like honey collecting equipment are not necessary to begin with but they do make it more enjoyable and less of a chore. As you become more experienced it will make sense to buy things a beginner would not need.
Any beekeeper in the United States will appreciate knowing that there are grants out there to help them along the way. Whether you are an established beekeeper or brand new to the game, getting your business off to the right start is the number one priority. Not only farming, but our entire ecosystem relies heavily on pollination from bees. Is beekeeping profitable for the economy overall? Undoubtedly, yes! The boost that bees give yearly to the economy is more than $16 million. To encourage dwindling bee numbers, grants are given out to beekeepers and there are seven main types available.
- USDA Conservation Reserve Program Pollinator Initiative: This grant is for citizens living in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, or North Dakota. To be eligible, they must be replacing habitats and food sources needed by honeybees to survive.
- State Grants for Raising Honeybees: Every state has its own list of programs and specific requirements for grant money. Some even require training. The available amounts also differ by state.
- Federal Grants for Raising Honeybees: The federal government supports agriculture, and bees are a large part of that. The USDA has several programs that give assistance to beekeepers, like the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP) for example.
- Aggie Bonds: Although not a true grant, this form of financing from state governments enables state governments to offer low-interest loans to new apiary businesses.
- Farmers Market Grant: For the purpose of boosting agriculture, this grant originates from various farmer’s market associations. If you qualify for the grant you may receive up to $500,000.
- Rural Enterprise Grant: This program is run through the USDA. Grants between $10,000-$500,000 are given to private non-profits, Native American tribes, or public entities. Once the grants have been received, they are in turn given to businesses grossing less than $1 million and with fewer than 50 employees. Starting a new apiary fits comfortably into the purview set out by the USDA.
- Conservation Innovation Grant: Most states offer this grant for businesses working on innovative approaches to environmental issues. The available amounts vary between $50,000-$200,000+.
- Organic Beekeeping Grants: Anything organic has seen a rise in popularity over the last ten years, and shoppers will pay a premium price to get them. Just like any other organic farmer, organic apiaries have specialty grants available for those who qualify. More often than not these grants are fairly significant, simply because the cost to produce anything organic is seriously prohibitive. This can make a big difference to the success or failure of organic farmers.
Private grants are also available, and a small amount of research will point you in the right direction for your area. Scour the internet and consider speaking to members of your local beekeeper’s association as well. Most beekeepers will go out of their way to help another get established, and it is quite a tight-knit community you will become a part of.
So, Is Beekeeping Profitable?
The simple answer is maybe. There are factors to be considered before a true determination is made. Additionally, there are times when things are completely out of your control. An extremely dry year means there is less natural food for the bees, and they will either leave to find a more plentiful supply, or simply die off. No beekeeper can force his colony to stay in the hive, and bees make their displeasure known easily. Sometimes a simple fix is all that is needed, like additional shade to cool down a hive that is too warm. Then there are times bees disappear for reasons not even science understands. One of the biggest current causes of abandoned hives is Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. Research into this issue is ongoing, but it happens even when the beekeeper is doing everything right.
However, a beekeeper with one hive will make much less than his neighbor with twenty hives. What you get out of it depends entirely on what you put in, and how hard you are willing to work. If you are willing to put the effort into making numerous products to sell, you should find that beekeeping is profitable. Here is a simple equation. Assume that you had two pounds of wax at the end of the season. Those two pounds would make 560 tubes of lip balm. Pricing each tube at a reasonable $4 would mean you sold everything for $2240. Empty tubes and stickers cost pennies each, so you would realize a very handsome profit. For a first year that is quite an achievement, and one to be proud of!