Unless you have melissophobia (fear of bees), backyard beekeeping may be a hobby to consider to make extra cash. Bees are fairly easy to maintain once the colonies have been established and they produce the delicious product known as honey. Honey bottles are a popular commodity at farmer’s markets, festivals, and supermarkets. Keeping bees out back for the purpose of making honey may not be for everyone but it can make for a profitable business idea.
From an environmental standpoint, setting up a backyard beehive can help sustain the population of the honey bees, which are in great decline in recent years. The bees in turn will help pollinate your flower and vegetable gardens to produce bigger and better results in your harvest.
One of the most important considerations before becoming a backyard beekeeper is the law. Not all locations will allow for bees to be kept near families or businesses in urban or suburban areas. Even if your area permits beekeeping in the yard, your neighbors may not be happy to have a busy, buzzing hive so close by. Before investing your money into beekeeping equipment and the bees themselves, find out the specific laws and regulations in your area. As a courtesy, you may also wish to inform your neighbors ahead of time so your backyard bees come as no surprise.
Bees produce honey from spring through fall. It is best to set up your colonies in early spring so honey production can start in the summer. Bees work tireless to create enough honey to sustain their colony through the cold winter months. They often produce three times as much honey needed by the hive. It is the excess honey you can harvest, bottle, and sell. Some honey must remain in the hive to feed the bees and give them enough energy to continue pollinating flowers and producing more honey.
Establishing your colony will require the setup of your bee boxes and frames, procuring the starter bees, and ensuring the environment where they will live is bee-friendly. Bees need to have a water source near the hive. Water is collected by the bees, especially in the spring and summer months while honey is being produced. Bee experts recommend setting up colonies by a creek or small pond. If such a location is not possible, set up source of water for your bees about 20 feet away from the hive. Water sources may include a small water garden with floating plants bees can easily utilize for collecting water since they can’t swim. Bees prefer standing water so automatic fountains may not work well. Keeping a quality source of water nearby the hive will help deter the bees from visiting your neighbor’s swimming pool for a drink.
The area should also be surrounded by trees and flowers. Bees can fly several miles to locate pollen but also prefer sources nearby the colony. Bee-friendly gardens can be planted to encourage bees to stay closer to home. Some examples of bee-friendly plants include:
Bees also love flowering fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Keep plants grouped together to attract the bee’s attention. Plants which have a long blooming lifecycle will ensure bees have access to the flowers for long stretches of time. It is very important to avoid use of any chemicals or pesticides in your garden or near your beehive. These chemicals are toxic to bees and can become problematic to maintaining your colony. Even if your bees are kept on one side of the lawn while your garden is on the other, pesticides can be carried by the wind, lawnmower, or even on your clothing.
Bees can be purchased from other bee farmers or over the Internet. A typical colony can be started with around 10,000 bees, which needs to include a queen, workers, and drones. Make sure to have your hives totally assembled and set up in the right locations before getting your bees.
Hives, or bee boxes, are often placed on foundations to keep them off the ground and dry. Hives which get too wet can develop fungus problems, causing disease. Make sure to have good drainage in the area around your hives. Cement blocks are just as good a foundation as are expensive kits. Hives should face south so they are exposed to sunlight throughout the day. Having some partial shade will help keep a hive healthy in the heat of summer. If you live in an area susceptible to high winds, keep colonies sheltered near shrubs or a protective wall near a shed or garage. The nearby wall will also require bees to fly up and over things, which can prevent them from bothering the neighbors.
The three types of bees you will be working with include:
- Worker bees – these are the sterile female bees of the colony, which work to feed the other members.
- Drone bees – these bees will hang around to mate with the queen. Any drone the queen mates with will lose his reproductive organs during mating. The queen will store the drone’s eggs for later use. Any drone not mating with the queen will be forced out of the hive in the winter time.
- Queen bee – every colony has one queen, responsible for laying eggs. The worker bees are tasked with feeding the queen and tending to her every need. The queen can produce as many as 1000 eggs a day at the height of laying season
There is a variety of instructional videos online, which provide detailed steps for transferring bees into their new hives. Protective gear including a beekeeping suit, veil, and gloves are recommended. A smoker will also be needed to calm the bees during the activity.
If you are just starting a new colony of bees in the spring, don’t be surprised if no sizable quantities of honey are ready to harvest in the fall. It can take a year for the hive to get established and start producing harvestable honey.
Once your bees have settled and started to produce, you’ll need to think about purchasing any equipment necessary to harvest and extract the honey. Some people still prefer to harvest honey the old-fashioned way, allowing the frames of honey to drip into large bowls. An extractor makes the process easier and much faster.
After the honey has been harvested, it needs to be promptly bottled as raw honey. Pasteurized honey will undergo a heat treatment to remove potentially harmful bacteria. Honey bottles can be purchased on all sizes and in bulk quantities depending on your needs. Once the honey has been poured into food-safe honey jars, they need to be cleaned up to remove excess honey spills. After the jars or bottles have been capped, labels can be affixed to the front, detailing the type of honey, the weight of the jar, and your company name and contact information.
Other regulations for bottling and labeling honey may be enforced where you live. Check with the local, state, and federal agencies which oversee honey production and food sales. Once you are sure your products are legal, take them to market. Research the price of honey being sold by competitors in your area and calculate your own labor hours and overhead expenses to formulate the price of your honey. Many honey producers start out small, selling only single jars of honey. Once you are more experienced with the beekeeping and the harvesting process, you can invest in larger honey bottles and seek out ways to market to those with high-volume honey needs.
Honey is an incredibly versatile product. Not only can be profit from the sale of the honey being produced by your bees, you can also branch out into the sales of beeswax and its related items. Beeswax can be highly profitable when made into candles, soaps, lotions, and lip balms.
Honey is also a popular ingredient is a variety of home remedies and recipes. Natural honey can be used in various ways – eaten straight out of the jar to relieve allergy symptoms or as a sugar substitute in your favorite baking recipes.
Here are some other ideas for using honey:
- Burn Relief – honey works like a natural antibiotic and can be used to treat minor cuts and burns.
- Hair Conditioner – honey is used in many hair conditioning products. When combined with olive oil, it can transform dry, stressed out hair into a healthy mane.
- Face Mask – honey has been known to relieve certain skin conditions, including acne and eczema. Honey mixed with coconut oil can be applied to the skin as a face mask to help rehydrate.
- Acid Reflux Treatment – raw honey will coat the lining of the esophagus to help eliminate the burning pain of acid reflux.
- Cough Suppressant – honey has long been used to soothe sore throats and stop coughs. It can be enjoyed on its own or used in tea with lemon.
- Emergency Food Supply – honey doesn’t spoil, as long as it has been properly sealed after harvesting. Honey makes a great staple in your stockpile for emergency situations.
Many of these products can be developed into a niche business idea in addition to the sales of honey and beeswax.
Keeping bees to profit from honey sales may be an ideal side business to start while you are doing other work. As the bee business continues to grow, it can quickly become a profitable, full-time career move. There are some risks associated with raising bees, especially as a newbie to the beekeeping arena. With some dedicated research, patience, and a good business plan, you can grow a small bee business into a honey empire.