Whether you enjoy honey or have simply observed that it’s an expensive delicacy, becoming a beekeeper is one way to harvest honey that doesn’t involve a trip to the supermarket. But there are questions about whether keeping bees is worth the time and money, and if it’s possible to make money from beekeeping. Here’s what you need to know about the profitability of beekeeping.
Beekeeping Basics: How Beekeepers Work
Beekeeping is a common homesteading practice for people who want to increase their income without using a lot of land. Bees don’t require a ton of property or equipment to maintain, and they produce a valuable commodity that sells well worldwide, which makes urban beekeeping an actual possibility for many people.
What a Beekeeper Does
Beekeepers are a kind of agricultural worker that work with bees and their honey. Between commercial honey operations, pollination programs for environmental support, bee research programs, and hobbyist beekeepers, beekeeping appears to be a growing industry.
But what to beekeepers actually do? Beekeepers who work to harvest honey will monitor hive health, feed bees, and collect honey. Pollination and research programs often involve observing and documenting information about bee and hive health, but in many cases, it does not include harvesting honey.
Beekeepers may build or assemble beehives, use bee smokers to manage bee movements, inspect hives for damage or insects, cultivate bees to grow colonies and queens for sale, and prepare or package honey and other products for sale. Sometimes, this work also includes wintering the bees depending on the apiary’s location and weather conditions.
People who keep bees as a hobby may harvest honey for personal use. However, they may find that they have more honey than they can eat or use, depending on how many colonies they maintain. At this point, beekeeping can become profitable.
How Much Money Do I Need to Become a Beekeeper?
The startup cost of becoming a beekeeper will vary depending on where you live, how many colonies you want, and what type of hives you build. Below is a breakdown of what you’ll need to get started with beekeeping.
Beehives and Stands
When your bees arrive, they will need a new hive to call home. You can choose to purchase raw materials and build your own hives or purchase pre-fabricated ones. A single hive with ten frames starts at around $70 while more elaborate hives can cost upwards of $250.
Depending on how many bee colonies you want to establish, you may need multiple hives, meaning a higher startup cost. You may also find that you need to build or purchase beehive stands. These stands lift beehives off the ground and help protect your bees from predators and weather conditions.
Raw materials may be cheaper than prefabricated hives and stands, but you should also consider the cost of your time. Between sourcing building plans, prepping and cutting materials, and assembling the units, it may be worth the investment to purchase ready-made hives in the end.
While it’s possible to relocate an existing hive of honeybees, it’s not the wisest choice for a brand-new beekeeper. Rather than foraging for a colony to adopt, consider purchasing your bees from a reputable seller.
Buying honeybees is as simple as deciding what type of honeybee to buy, choosing a nucleus or package hive, paying for the bees, and taking delivery of your new colony. A nucleus hive is a selection of bees that are already familiar with one another and is beginning to produce honey. A package, however, includes a selection of bees from assorted hives that need time to become acquainted with one another before they can produce honey.
While some beekeepers prefer the opportunity to watch their hive build itself from the ground up, both options run between $50 and $120 depending on where you live. Another option is to purchase an established colony from another beekeeper or honey operation, but that can cost substantially more than a new colony.
Your bees will likely need human-prepared food when they’re first starting out in their new home. Fortunately, it’s easy to cook for bees. Mixing sugar and water provides bees with the energy they need to get to work. After this initial settling-in period, you likely won’t need to offer any source of food for your bees if there are enough pollinating plants nearby.
In addition to food, you will also need a beekeeper suit, protective gloves, a smoker, and tools for extracting honey and removing frames. Prices vary greatly for each of these products, but you can expect to spend over $100 on these basics.
Space for Bees
Ideally, you already have at least a small area of land for beekeeping. Bees can live in a range of environments, but they prefer locations where there are plenty of flowering plants. However, you can also provide food for your bees outside of what their natural environment provides.
Hopefully, you have space at home for your bees, but many cities now offer community garden plots and may be open to having bees on-site. Another option is to purchase land for your homesteading and beekeeping pursuits.
How Much Money Can You Make Beekeeping?
Unless you can find a role as a beekeeper on an existing farm or honey operation, the amount of money that a beekeeper can make varies greatly. So how much do beekeepers make a year? Here’s what you need to know about your potential beekeeping salary.
Beekeeping as a Career
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks many types of careers, it does not have salary information that is specific to beekeepers. Instead, the BLS combines salaries for ranchers, farmers, and other “agricultural managers” into one category, and the median pay per year is around $69,000.
The BLS defines those roles as careers in which people operate establishments that produce crops, livestock, and dairy products. However, it’s difficult to compare this type of role with a beekeeping operation that only produces honey, versus an operation that produces multiple products.
Types of Beekeeping Jobs
There are two general ways of becoming a beekeeper. One is through finding employment at an existing ranch, farm, or other location that keeps bees and sells honey. The other is by obtaining your own colonies and caring for the hives- and harvesting the honey- on your own.
Although startup costs are reasonably low for beekeeping, you will need some equipment to get started. Once you have purchased your bees, hives, equipment, and any other necessities, it will take some time for the bees to begin producing honey.
Therefore, you won’t see a return on investment until you can begin selling honey. For that reason, you won’t be making an hourly wage unless your operation also includes other food products. That said, overhead expenses aside, you may be able to sell a few jars of honey per month at a profit.
For someone who works as a beekeeper in a farm or ranch setting, beekeeper salaries average about $44,000 per year, according to Environmental Science. Hourly employees on bee farms make around $22 per hour, and many employers may offer productivity bonuses as well.
More experienced beekeepers may earn a higher wage on bee farms or research facilities as well. A degree in biology, ecology, or another science may be helpful. Membership with a professional organization can also bolster a beekeeper’s credentials.
How Much is Honey Worth?
When you see honey in a jar at the supermarket or farmer’s market, it’s almost shocking. This simple-to-produce food is typically expensive, even in areas with lots of competition. But how much is honey really worth?
According to the 2016 Honey Industry Report by Bee Culture, U.S. honeybees produce 161.9 million pounds of honey in one year. This means an average yield of 31.9 pounds of honey per year per colony.
While every hive’s production is different and depends on the overall health and strength of the colony, some classifications of honeybees make more honey than others. For example, Italian honeybees produce the most honey while Caucasian honeybees produce the least.
Beekeeping profit per hive depends on how much money you spend on the hive’s maintenance versus how much honey output it has. For many beekeepers, the “work” is actually a hobby, so the extra money that it generates does not need to be a full-time income.
However, for beekeepers who hope to make income from their hives, consider the figures above. If each hive yields 31.9 pounds of honey per year, the retail price of 462 cents per pound means one hive earns $147.39 each year. At those rates, a beekeeper would need over 200 hives to equal a $30,000 per year salary.
Depending on how much time and money you can invest in your beekeeping operation up-front, there is potential to make a living from beekeeping alone. However, producing enough honey to create a full-time income may prove difficult. With hundreds of hives, a beekeeper can expect to spend hours tending to the bees and harvesting honey, along with processing and bottling it for sale. Still, beekeeping attracts many homesteaders and naturalists who enjoy working with animals to produce something edible and valuable.