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Beekeeping is a fun hobby for many, but perhaps you want to take it a bit further – to turn it into a profitable business. Starting a honey business will require you to properly plan and prepare before starting any operation. You will need adequate resources to buy the materials and equipment you will need. It is also useful to have some knowledge about beekeeping and the know-how of running a business in general. This guide on how to start a honey business details all of what you will need before getting into this sweet venture. Let’s get started.
Starting a Honey Business
It is highly recommended that you have some decent knowledge about beekeeping before starting a honey business. With the right setup, readiness to learn and motivation, you can start your operations. Go at it slowly at first and increase the size of your honey business as you go. If you have a large business in mind, start with a few beehives and then scale up when you have gained experience in beekeeping.
When starting the honey business, there are three main things to bear in mind:
- Providing shelter for the bees.
- How you will maintain the shelter in a suitable state for continued use by the bees.
- Harvesting honeybee products from the beehive.
These three things are crucial to beekeeping and any honey business at large.
Things to Consider Before Starting a Honey Business
A good honey business will be easier to run if you are in control of production and marketing to varying extents. It helps you get through buying equipment and preparing the honey for marketing much easier. Quality is very important in any business, and perhaps even more so in a honey business. Knowledge about beekeeping practices helps you get high yields of top-quality honey and beehive products. Joining local clubs and reading books about beekeeping, harvesting and working with honey are great for gaining knowledge about best practices and the equipment you should buy.
Purchasing the Necessary Equipment
You will need to have the necessary equipment in place before you can even think about getting started in beekeeping, much less starting a honey business. Equipment includes the beehives for the honeybee colonies you will have, and protective wear – beekeeping suits, veils and gloves. These protective equipment are important in allowing you to work around bees safely. Set aside some of your investment money for the purchase of other equipment and beehive treatments for the maintenance of healthy honeybee colonies.
Purchasing beekeeping equipment depends on the size of the honey business operation you are aiming for and the amount of investment money you have. With larger beekeeping operations, you generally have to buy more pieces of equipment such as beekeeping suits and hive tools for each labourer you employ in your apiary.
Depending on where you live, beehives may come in different designs. Popular designs include the Langstroth beehive, the top bar beehive, the Warre beehive, and the British National beehive. Beekeeping practices are also slightly different based on the climatic region you are in. If your region experiences large changes in temperatures over the seasons, prepare well for the cold seasons. Bees have less activity and fewer foraging areas in winter than in other seasons.
One of the most important pieces of equipment in beekeeping is the honey extractor. For large honey businesses, a large extractor that takes many frames at a time is the best option. You may also go for an extraction line that is manned by up to 3 people in a team. Commercial honey extractors allow you to extract honey from many beehive frames in a single day. You can delay the purchase of a honey extractor until it is time to harvest honey.
Getting a Honeybee Colony
You can’t have a honey business without the bees, so after procuring the necessary equipment, the next thing you need is a bee colony. You can buy a colony or catch a swarm yourself. It is important to get a healthy colony in order to establish strong honeybee colonies across your apiary. Beekeepers may also improve the genetics of their honeybee colonies by introducing new queen bees. Trapping a wild-swarming honeybee colony is a great way to improve the genetics in your apiary. With large apiaries, characteristics such as resistance to diseases and pests are very important as they save you large costs incurred in honeybee colony pest and disease control. Indeed, a severe mite of wax moth infestation is capable of wiping out entire honeybee colonies.
Trapping a wild bee swarm is a very fulfilling activity for beekeepers. Making and using a swarm trap is easy. You can also opt to buy a swarm trap instead. Lures to attract bees to the swarm trap are great for your chances of getting a swarm into your trap. Have a beehive ready for when you catch a swarm of bees. Moving bees to the beehive as soon as possible allows the swarming bees to start establishing a home, with less loss in swarm size. More bees in a freshly installed honeybee swarm help the swarm carry out beehive activities quickly and readily.
Knowledge is key, and having a few books about beekeeping is very important. There are great authors with years of beekeeping experience who have published theirs. Beekeeping books have different skill level requirements. The best beekeepers have books for beginner to professional experience levels. As you become more experienced, you will find that each book takes on a new significance.
Top beekeeping books include “The Backyard Beekeeper” by Kim Flottum, “Beekeeping for Dummies” by Howland Blackiston, “The Beekeeper’s Handbook” by Diana Sammataro, “First Lessons in Beekeeping” by Keith Delaplane and “Practical Beekeeping” by Clive de Bruyn.
Starting beekeeping with a few books to guide you makes it easy to set up the business. A book for beginners, with some intermediate and detailed guide on beekeeping should be enough for you just starting out. You can buy other books later to add to your knowledge of beekeeping. Some beekeepers go with a set of good-quality beginner books and two professional-level books.
Joining Local Clubs
Joining a beekeeping club is a great way to interact with beekeepers. You will pick up on a number of key beekeeping tips from other beekeepers. A beekeeping club is a great place to access books about beekeeping too. You can share your own books, learn about the best titles to buy, and borrow resources from other beekeepers.
You will get to know the best equipment for beekeeping and how useful it can be in your business. When need be, you can borrow or rent equipment from the other beekeepers before you purchase your own. If there is no club in your area, consider starting one if you know other beekeepers near you.
Protecting Honey Bee Colonies in Winter
Beekeepers use various methods to keep their colonies healthy over winter. Bee death in winter can cause weak colonies later on. Wintering bees feed on honey since they can’t leave the hive to get food elsewhere. They guard the hive and warm it. Bees may retreat to the inner parts of the hive and congregate around each other more during winter. If this happens and the hive entrance is left unguarded, bees may get bombarded with the infestations of pests. Robber bees, wasps and other insects that predate on bees or steal their honey may also attack through an unguarded hive entrance.
Regular inspection of beehives is important in a honey business. You should have and follow a schedule of beehive inspections. On warmer days during cold weather, you can feed bees. You can also opt to use insulated beehives that lose less heat during winter. Popular methods of beehive insulation include the use of insulation blankets and plastic insulation armour for beehives. These items for insulation are specially designed to allow ventilation of the beehive and the movement of bees into and out of the beehive.
A Commercial Beekeeping Business Plan
Your honey business will run better if you have a plan for it. You must first prepare and plan before you can succeed. A commercial beekeeping business plan helps you to better understand how to put the business together. It creates a framework on which you can start and grow the honey business. The business plan helps you think long-term about the business in addition and how best to manage expenses.
During the development of your commercial beekeeping business plan, carry out market research to investigate the market opportunity. This gives you insights into the marketplace – its competitiveness and your customers. Plan out the business strategically and capitalize on the business with significant investments to get value from your honey business.
A good business plan should define the goals for your business clearly. It also helps establish if the business is feasible. Establish the factors that are critical to your honey business in the beekeeping plan. How you evaluate the internal and external business environment for the honey business should also be found in the plan.
What should a Commercial Beekeeping Business Plan detail?
A commercial beekeeping business plan answers questions about what the business is, the products offered by the business, and resource availability and use in the business. It also gives a guide on how performance will be measured. It has the following sections among others:
- Mission and goals of the business. These guide the beekeeper in setting up the business and deciding what is important for the business.
- Apiary strategy and implementation strategy.
- Business financial plan of income and expenditure.
- An executive summary of the honey business. The vision and mission of the business may be included in the executive summary.
- Enterprise analysis and planning.
- A marketing plan.
- Break-even analysis.
A break-even analysis is important for the price determination of your beehive products. It allows you to set targets and know how much of beehive products you need to sell in order to make a profit. The analysis can be categorized into three parts: break-even sales units, break-even sales in monetary value (currency), and break-even time.
Establishing a Marketing Strategy
It is necessary to have a marketing strategy in the business plan of your honey business. The plan is an outline of prices, quantity objectives and the time required to generate returns for the business. It takes into account market conditions and the wants of the customers you target. In marketing, consider cash flow to the business, market prices and production risks that affect the business. Distribution of honey products can be done by individual beekeepers or through marketing firms. Some individual beekeepers sell honey through their networks and reach small markets.
Selling honey products through marketing firms utilizes their brand presence in the market while giving you an avenue to move large volumes. It is more suitable for beekeepers with large colony beekeeping operations to sell through firms than individually. A marketing budget detailed in a marketing plan shows sources of marketing resources and how they will be spent. It should feature in your commercial beekeeping business plan.
Benefits of a Commercial Beekeeping Business Marketing Plan
A marketing plan for a commercial honeybee business sets goals and outlines how best to achieve them. Beekeepers with clear and efficient marketing plans enter new markets, maintain the market and increase market share over time. They also guide the development of new honey business products to meet customer needs. With a solid marketing plan, you are able to raise your competitiveness in the business.
How you package your beehive products matters in your honey business. Well-packaged honey and other beehive products attract customers and help them relate the product with value. Packaging for honey should be food-safe. You may have varying sizes of packaging to suit the different quantity needs of your customers. Clear packaging in a honey business allows customers to see the contents of the package and builds trust with your brand.
Beekeeping Business Profits
The profits you realize in the beekeeping business vary by region and the amount of honey your honeybee colonies produce. On average, a beekeeper can expect to sell a pint (473 ml) of honey at USD$10 and a quart (o.94 L) at USD$17. Selling honey to bulk packers or processors gives you different prices than selling wholesale or retail prices. For your honey business to be profitable, you must keep costs down while making sure you get good honey yields per beehive.
Factors Affecting Profits
Factors that affect your honey business profits should be controlled. These include controlling pests and diseases of honeybees, purchasing assets early on in beekeeping and making the best use of available labour. Beekeepers that maximize these three factors enjoy good honey yields and great prices for their honey. Their honey businesses are profitable and can grow to large operations.
1. Pests, Diseases and Predators
Controlling pests and diseases of honeybees allows bee colonies to remain strong, and strong colonies are able to produce much more. Beekeepers who neglect disease and pest control in their honeybee colonies suffer low honey yields. Colonies that are diseased or suffering a pest infestation cannot produce brood and honey in large amounts. Some diseases and pests of honeybees lead to colony collapse where bees may all die or leave the beehive. Beekeepers should also take steps to ensure predators and large animals that attack bees do not gain access to the apiary. These animals such as bears, not only cause losses of honey in a beehive but may also damage the beehives in their pursuit of honey.
Beekeepers use a combination of methods to keep pests and diseases at bay. The application of chemicals in a beehive is one common way. It is recommended to deploy different chemical treatments over time when dealing with pests of honeybees so they do not develop resistance. You should also practice proper beehive hygiene and regular beehive inspections to prevent diseases from infecting your beehives. Join regional and local beekeeping associations and clubs to get up-to-date news about bee diseases in your area. Some diseases can spread across apiaries and cause heavy losses. If you get an early warning that a disease has been noted in your area, you should take preventive measures and be on increased alert so you notice the disease early if it infects your honeybee colonies.
2. Equipment Costs
When starting a honey business, it is best to purchase most of the assets you will need and which are useful for large operations. A means of transporting your honey is important for when you harvest. Other significant assets are beekeeping suits and a honey extractor. Of course, beehives for your honeybee colonies must also be purchased. You can start out with a pick-up truck, a large extractor and a beekeeping suit for each labourer you have. Over time, increase the number of beehives you have and add the other assets accordingly.
3. Labor Costs
Labour in a honey business can run up high costs for you. The common labour rate in beekeeping is $12 per hour. Setting up beehives and inspecting them are the least labour-intensive activities in a large apiary. Installing bees, treating beehives for pests, diseases and parasites, and harvesting honey can be very labour-intensive. For a honey business with many beehives, make sure to hire experienced labourers who work fast and make a few mistakes. You may pay slightly more for experienced labour, but it pays off in the long run.
How Many Hives Are Needed to Be Profitable?
Honey business operations have varying levels of profitability. Large operations promise better profits due to better use of assets. They also give more honey yields allowing beekeepers to achieve more revenue than smaller operations.
With proper beekeeping practices and high vigilance, a beekeeping operation of more than 25 beehives should give good profit ratios. Honey business operations of less than 25 beehives are not very profitable. Beekeepers running a honey business should keep financial records so they can easily assess their profitability.
The minimum safe number of hives to have in a honey business when starting is 50. With 50 beehives in your first year of operations, you will inject considerable capital into the business but get profitable quickly.
Having another job that can funnel cash into the honey business may be needed. Keep your debt low when you have less than 100 beehives in your honey business. After your first year with 50 beehives, look at increasing the number of beehives you have to 100 within 3 years.
A honey business operation of 100 hives or more is quite profitable. It is also easy to fuel growth using retained earnings from the business. Getting a substantial loan is possible when you have 100 hives in your honey business operation.
Returns on assets and liabilities are the biggest determinants of profitability in a honey business. They vary over time and may increase in some years while going lower in others. Older honey businesses tend to be more profitable than younger ones. This influences growth and as a result, older honey businesses have generally more beehives than younger businesses.
How Many Gallons of Honey Can You Get From a Hive in a Year?
The amount of honey you harvest is important for your honey business. Honey and other beehive products are often sold by weight. A single beehive can give a yield of anything between 20 and 60 pounds of honey. On average, beekeepers get more than 25 pounds of honey within a year.
Bees in a new beehive have low amounts of honey during honey harvest time. An abundance of honeybee forage also impacts how much honey beekeepers get from a hive. Strong colonies with many bees give better yields of beehive products. Beehive diseases and pests of bees also affect the amount of honey you can harvest from a single beehive.
Honey bee colonies have to maintain sufficient brood levels in order to have good colony strength. Honey is stored by bees in good times for use during hard times. When you harvest honey, you should leave some for the bees to use when conditions are not favourable for foraging.
How Honeybees Get High Honey Yields per Hive per Year
Skilled beekeepers have found out various ways to keep strong colonies and have high honey yields. They make sure to have bee colonies that are good at foraging and making honey. Planting flowers that bees love is one way of making sure to have a good honey harvest. You should also provide a water-drinking place if water places are far from your apiary.
Records in beekeeping are an often overlooked part of the honey business. Beekeepers should keep two types of records: records of beehive activities and observations, and records of incomes and expenditures related to the honey business.
- You do not have to keep elaborate records or have financial accounting skills. Simple records that capture important information are adequate for general use.
- Properly kept records in your honey business help you make quick and accurate assessments of the profitability of the business.
Unfortunately, many beekeepers are not willing to share financial information or records of their honey businesses, despite being profitable.
Estimated Investment Needed for a 1,000 Colony Bee Operation
Beekeepers with honey businesses have varying size apiaries. A 1,000 colony bee operation is a large operation on average. The investment needed for such a honey business operation is considerably large. Basic investments in the operation vary in number. The investment also varies depending on the labour you use in the apiary. This estimated investment needed for a 1,000 colony bee operation in the USA is $500,000 to operate for at least 1 year. Once you harvest honey after the first year, the cost of keeping the apiary is going to be reduced. This is because you will not be buying any more equipment for setup anymore.
Beekeeping assets depreciate over time. The return on assets will however remain the same for as long as they are in use. Beekeepers should fuel the growth of their apiaries using retained earnings. They may also pump in money from another job they have. Loans are also a popular way of financing investment in a beekeeping business. A high debt ratio is not good for your honey business. You should thus keep liabilities at the lowest attainable levels while increasing your assets. A honey business with less than 25 beehives is often not very profitable, so start the business with more beehives if possible.
Your estimated investment for a 1,000 bee colony operation should be enough to buy beehives, protective clothing, pest and disease control and honey harvesting equipment. You will also need to buy bees for the beehives you start with.
Due to the large size of the apiary, a large honey business operation with 1,000 colonies requires you to have a mode of transportation. In most cases, a pick–up truck is adequate. It comes in handy when you are going out for a visit to the beehives and need to take some tools, equipment or beehive treatment materials with you. The truck also makes it easy for you to transport harvested honey from the apiary.
Bringing together the 1,000 bee colonies can be done over a period of time. It allows you to spend small amounts of investment capital at a time. You also gain experience in beekeeping as you expand the operation.
When starting small first, go for a large honey extractor that can hold many frames at a time. 6-8 frame extractors are good for both small and large honey businesses. They extract honey quickly and can get through frames from many beehives quickly. After the apiary has grown bigger, you can install larger honey extractors.
Protective clothing that you buy typically lasts more than 1 year. Good quality protective clothing should protect you from bee stings, be usable in both hot and cold weather and be comfortable for you. Manufacturers of beekeeping suits, jackets and smocks use different materials and veil designs in their protective wear. Equipment for a honey business is a long-term investment. Get the best equipment you can buy and maintain them well to last long.
Other Beehive Products
In addition to honey, there are other products you harvest from a beehive. They include propolis and beeswax. Beekeepers also sell brood combs, bees and entire swarms from beehives. These additional beehive products add to the total monetary yield per hive in a year.
Selling honey after harvesting may require you to process it. Some buyers of honey prefer to have it still in the honeycomb when they are buying it. Others are fine with honey that has been extracted from the honeycomb. To give your honey consumers the best quality honey, do not add anything to harvested honey.
A Look at Commercial Honey Extractors
Large honey business operations magnify beekeeping activities. Harvesting honey and processing it through extraction is a single-day activity with few beehives. On apiaries with hundreds of beehives, you will need large honey extractors to go through beehive frames quickly. This requires beekeepers in large honey businesses to go for commercial honey extractors.
Commercial honey extractors are largely electric and utilize centrifugal force to extract honey from beehive frames. They capitalize on extracting honey from a large number of frames at a time to make sure you finish honey extraction as quickly as possible. Let us take a look at a few commercial honey extractors that are currently available to beekeepers.
Cowen Manufacturing 28-Frame Extractor
The 28-frame extractor is made and sold by Cowen Manufacturing. It is built in a production line design with racks and drip pans on both sides of an extraction section. It features extraction, uncapping, hot water, pumping and spinning systems to not only extract honey but also remove wax from the honey. The extractor is loaded with beehive frames containing honey on one side where they are uncapped.
Pushing frames onto the loading side of the extractor results in empty frames being pushed out of the extractor. More than one person is required to operate the extractor. With experience using the extractor and a two-man team, Cowen Manufacturing promises that you can go through anything between 100-150 super boxes in a single 8-hour shift with this extractor line. This 28-frame extractor line uses a 115-volt electric current and may require more than one plug.
Lyson 40-Frame Complete Mini Extracting Line
This 40-frame complete mini-extracting line comes with a built-in uncapper with a feeder and knives heated using water. It is a professional quality extractor that holds 40 frames at a time. It is easy to load the extractor using its manual frame cart. Each cart takes 20 frames. Loading and unloading times are minimized on this extractor to give you greater throughput. This is an ideal extraction line for medium-sized honey business operations.
Lyson Beekeeping is the maker of this extracting line. They are a Polish company that has won awards with for their beekeeping equipment. The 40-frame mini-extracting line comes with a motor controller for speed varying. It also includes a programmable controller with a colour LCD output. 8 programs are available for automatic control of the speed at which the extractor runs.
Cowen Manufacturing 60-Frame Air Ram Extractor
Medium commercial beekeepers are very well suited to the 60-frame air ram extractor. It is made and sold by Cowen Manufacturing. The extractor is a two-man honey extraction line and takes 60 frames at a time. It promises you extraction of honey from up to 300 honey super boxes in a day. The extractor line features a powered loading conveyer, automatic self-adjusting drive, stainless steel reel, and a food-safe tank for collecting honey.
Loading the 60-frame air ram extractor is done at one point where the frames are uncapped and then conveyed to the extraction section. The extractor line mechanically loads the frames into the extractor. The extractor in the line works automatically using electricity. Operation of the line is continuous with an average extraction cycle lasting 7-10 minutes.
Cowen Manufacturing 60-Frame Non-Air Extractor
The 60-frame non-air extractor is a variant of the same-sized extractor line by Cowen Manufacturing. It uses slightly different technology within the extraction line but takes the same number of frames at a time. The non-air extraction line is more economical and is great for large operations that have the capacity for growth.
This 60-frame extraction line variant is more manual than its air-ram counterpart. The brakes on this line are operated by foot, gates are opened using levers, frames are pushed into the reel using a crank apparatus, and the machine’s hood is hand-operated. The extraction line is a sensible investment for large operations which are still growing. It allows fast extraction of honey so that honey super boxes can be put back onto beehives quickly.
Kelley Beekeeping 72-Frame Stainless Steel Radial Extractor
This is a large radial extractor made by Kelley Beekeeping. It takes a large number of frames at a time so you spend less time in honey extraction. The extractor runs on electric power. It is built for commercial operations and heavy use. Beekeepers with hundreds of frames to process get the job done quickly with this extractor.
The 72-frame extractor is made using 22-gauge stainless steel on the sides. 18-gauge stainless steel is used at the bottom of the large drum of this extractor. The extractor has a diameter of 60 inches and is 35 inches high. Kelley Beekeeping has made this 72-frame extractor with a variable-speed AC motor for easy use. This extractor comes with a 3-inch brass flange. The honey gate and stand needed for the extractor are sold separately.
Dadant M00432 84-Frame Honey Master Extractor Segmented Reel
An extractor this big is a great choice for large-scale honey business operations that have reached their maximum planned sizes. The 84-frame honey master segmented reel extractor is made and sold by Dadant, a reputed beekeeping equipment supplier. It is made using type-304 stainless steel that is welded together. The extractor shows good craftsmanship in fabrication and reinforced leg structure. With an extraction cycle lasting a conservative 15 minutes, you can extract honey from more than 2,500 beehive frames in a day.
This large extractor comes with electronic speed control for its ¾ horsepower motor that runs on DC electric power. The extractor is built in an inverted cone design to allow drainage of all extracted honey. It has a 3-inch male pipe threaded to allow connection to other honey collection receptacles and pipes. The tank of this extractor has a diameter of 62 inches.
Cowen Manufacturing 120-Frame Air Ram Extractor
Cowen Manufacturing is the maker of this massive honey extractor. It is a 2-3 person extractor line that extracts honey from 120 frames at a time. It easily extracts its way through more than 70 honey super boxes in an hour. This is perhaps the best honey extractor for large commercial honey bee businesses. It is a valuable investment for a honey business that has reached its planned maximum size in colony numbers. The extractor is durable and affordable to maintain. It runs on AC electric power.
This 120-frame extractor line is loaded with beehive frames and uncaps them within the line. It then moves the frames along a conveyor system with a drip pan to the extraction tank. The extractor uses a lever-operated air ram to load uncapped frames into the extraction tank. After extraction, it removes the empty frame onto the unloading section of the line. An air-ram brake holds the extraction line’s stainless steel reel in place during loading and unloading.
Maintaining Honey Extractors
It is important to clean and grease honey extractors. Cleaning them with hot water is recommended. It keeps the extractors free of contaminants that may get into honey and make it unfit for consumption. Greasing keeps moving parts lubricated and properly functioning. Each of these commercial honey extractors has its maintenance manual that you should read and follow carefully. The extractors may use oils of varying viscosity ratings and compositions. Do not operate the extractors on wrong power ratings or when dissembled.
You may store honey and package it later. You can market your honey locally or across larger regions. Listing in business directories both online and offline is great to market your honey business. Beekeepers also use other advertising methods for their honey business products.
Beekeepers also store honey in comb for some time and then extract it later. Honey in comb stays in its natural form for a long time. Stored honey in a container that is not opened frequently keeps it nutritious and high quality for a long time. Honey does not ferment due to its very high concentration of sugars. You may also put honey in cold storage without affecting its quality.
Use this guide on how to start a honey business for a better idea of what is needed to set up a successful beekeeping operation. It is easy to start your own beekeeping enterprise and run it. You can practice small-scale beekeeping or go large-scale, it’s up to you. Beekeepers with large apiaries often start small to gain experience in beekeeping and honey marketing. With experience and increased financial resources, they then expanded the honey business to the size they set out to achieve. This is one of the best ways to start and run a large honey business. You can also check an interesting article on starting a business and what is an LLC.