What’s my plan? Well, since you ask, I shall enlighten you.
I am not a commercial beekeeper. The main reason for me keeping bees is that I enjoy getting out of the city into rural Cheshire so that I can be closer to nature and feel the passing of the seasons as they happen. Town life is somewhat insulated from all of that. Then there is the simple fact that, for me, bees have become an obsession; they are amazing insects, and it is a privilege to be a part of their lives – hopefully, a positive part. Both sides of my brain are stimulated by keeping bees; the analytical scientific left side which loves to scrutinise data, and the intuitive, creative right side which can think holistically and feel a part of something vast and unfathomable.
Nevertheless, beekeeping is an expensive hobby so, having spent two years visiting some very smart and very experienced bee farmers, I’m coming around to the view that I should at least try to get some return from my investment in all of that equipment and time. I’m not silly enough to expect to make a profit, far from it, but it makes sense to try to earn a few pennies given all of the pounds expended (cents/dollars for some other countries!). Potential revenue sources are:
I do not have the operational scale to sell queen bees to the public. I would be competing against queen breeders who have hundreds, or perhaps thousands of colonies, and who produce beautiful queens carefully selected from their best stock. I only have 16 colonies right now; it’s a non-starter. I will undoubtedly produce queens of my own, but that will be for my use and perhaps a few friends/acquaintances. It is an area of beekeeping which I find fascinating, so I’m going to plough ahead with raising queens for myself. By the way, on the image below do you see how some workers are all dark whereas some are half dark/half yellow? They have the same mother but different fathers.
Over-wintered nucleus hives are always in high demand and sell for at least £250 each. Every year I take some nucs into winter, to ensure that I can make up for any colonies that do not survive the cold dark months, so it should not be difficult to increase my numbers of such nucs with a view to selling them on. There is a potential problem with this plan though; I use Langstroth hives (because I prefer them to anything else I have seen) but nearly every beekeeper in the UK uses a strange type of hive called a “National” hive, or sometimes a “WBC” which is basically the same thing. Would anybody want to buy my nucleus colonies on Langstroth frames, I wonder? The frame sizes are different, and most people will therefore not be interested in my nucs, no matter how good they are.
Selling Package Bees
Packages are merely boxes of bees with a queen. They are cheaper than nucs and have the advantage that they can be shaken into any hive, which solves the Langstroth vs. National problem. Again, there are suppliers of package bees who have all of the economies of scale that I do not, but every year demand exceeds supply. Demand is always strong early in the season because people lose colonies over the Winter. I could make up lots of nucleus colonies in late Summer, take them through the Winter, let them grow strong over the Spring, then either sell them as Langstroth nucs to anybody interested or as packages. If I made packages I would be left with the frames from the nucleus colony; lovely frames of brood and stores which I could use to boost my production colonies or cell builders. That seems like a decent plan.
Everybody that likes honey seems to love mine and selling it has never been a problem, so this is an obvious way to recoup some of my costs. I have an opportunity to sell through a farm shop next to one of my apiaries. As long as I manage to harvest a good honey crop, I should be able to make this work. However, if I am going to sell via a shop rather than to friends/acquaintances, then I will need to look into the food hygiene standards to make sure that I am fully compliant. I believe that I am, but need to be sure; I don’t want there to be any doubt that I am selling a safe and wholesome product.
Other Products of the Hive
Propolis and wax and royal jelly can be used in various potions and elixirs, mostly in the health food or cosmetic industries, but none of this is remotely interesting to me, so I shall leave it well alone.
So I plan to sell honey and possibly some nucs or packages. The nucs/packages project will have to begin by taking nucs into the Winter of 2019 intending to sell them in the Spring/Summer of 2020, which seems a very long way off. That’s fine though; I’m doing something I love and even if it didn’t pay me a thing I’d still be doing it. As for the honey, that’s down to me, my bees and the British weather!
How exactly I achieve this plan will be something for me to write about another time. For now, my focus turns to preparing for a sneaky trip to Lanzarote with Mrs Walrus next week to catch some sunshine, and, of course, Christmas shopping. Bah humbug!