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Sourcing bees and earning money as a beekeeper...

 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1575
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Hit on this idea last night and threw something together quickly.

First some figures:
A package of bees costs about £100 to buy. A fair amount of money! You could make a reasonable supplemental income selling packages or nucs from a mid sized apiary. Probably more than you could earn from making honey these days.

I want to hear about swarms and bee colonies in my local area so that I have a chance of collecting them. These days many people would go to the internet as a first port of call when they have a "problem" like a swarm of bees or a colony in their roof or chimney.

Putting the two together:

Last night I set up a simple free wordpress site, with some information and a contact form. I also went to google adsense and set up a paid ads campaign to direct traffic to my site. The trick to making this work is the ability to show your adds only to LOCAL traffic - in my case I chose the county, although I may go even more specific later and to target very specific keywords. I don't want to target every possible bee related keyword, just those likely to be used by people with a swarm or other bee problem.

My add is simple and not at all deceptive - I offer free swarm capture in the Canterbury area. Only people who have swarms that they want catching will click on it. I don't want the others. I get charged by the click so I want highly targeted traffic only. I estimate that a click will cost about £0.50 and that around 1 in ten clicks will lead to a decent chance of a swarm. Even a bum lead - eg a swarm that gets missed - is an opportunity to place a swarm trap in an area known to have bees.

I'm probably going to end up paying between £5 and £10 in advertising for each swarm. Not bad given the cost of a package.

I'm also thinking about offering a paid service, performing trapout from buildings. Advertising it as an environmentally friendly alternative to pesticides and less destructive than a cutout.

Why paid advertising? Very simply a small local website won't get seen for ages - it needs traffic, links, lots of pages and time to become trusted by google. I don't want to invest the time in it and the cost/reward ratio for paid adds in this case is excellent.

I'll let the campaign run for a week or so and feed back.

Canterbury Bees
 
Crt Jakhel
Posts: 131
Location: NE Slovenia, zone 6a
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bee dog forest garden
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Hey. You wrote good content for the site. Clear, interesting. One thing though, photos / videos. People generally like to look at them and build a stronger impression. As swarms are not something you see every day I believe in this case visual stuff would be an even better idea than normally. Even if it's impossible for you to arrange for your resuce operations to be recorded there's still the followup - housing the swarm, seeing how it develops... Just a thought.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1575
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I know, and I'll be developing that side further. It was what I had available while I was lying in bed the other night writing content!

I've taken a few photos of the swarm I caught this week and will take some more when I inspect them next week - looking to see some fresh comb etc... We didn't get any photos of the capture of it unfortunately.
 
Crt Jakhel
Posts: 131
Location: NE Slovenia, zone 6a
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bee dog forest garden
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Related - here's a situation from just 5 days ago. In our town somebody's bees swarmed and decided to settle at the entrance to the town library. It's a surprising location since the library is a modern building, largely made of glass and steel, and there's a busy parking lot as well as lots of pedestrian traffic. The language is Slovenian in case you want to try Google transate. The bees are Carniolans (Slovenia is their homeland). http://sobotainfo.com/novica/lokalno/cebele-iskale-nov-dom/58623

 
Julia Franke
Posts: 66
Location: Berks County, PA
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I really enjoyed the site. I noticed you gave folks a place to input their information. Have you thought of putting your name and number so that people could contact you? Also, maybe some pictures of you and make your name more prevalent on the page, so you become people know you by name for their bee needs. I think doing that would make people feel more familiar. Just my opinion.

Good Luck with everything, I can't wait to hear how things progress.

Julia
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1575
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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First hit

I've spent about £4.00 on advertising so far, drawn about 12 "clicks" on my website and had an email already from a potential customer enquiring about getting a colony removed from a shed. Likely a simple cutout job, or a trap out. Note I make it clear up front that I charge for anything other than simple swarm removal.
 
George Meljon
Posts: 278
Location: Southern Indiana zone 5b
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I admire this project Michael, keep it up!
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1575
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Update from today.

I followed up on yesterday's lead. Turns out that they were bumblebees, not honey bees. I exchanged a nice couple of emails with the lady and educated her a bit on them, as well as suggesting how to get her young daughter interested in them rather than fearful of them. Pleasant if fruitless.

Today I picked up another lead, this one is definitely going to be a paid cutout job. There is a colony in a cavity above the door to the guys stables. They have been there three years already and are very well established. They have recently started bothering people and are preventing access through that door. I'll be going to do a site visit tomorrow and will do the cut out over half term (about 2 week's time). I'm hoping for some honey as well as the bees themselves from this, and the guy has given the nod to £100 fee.

I love that I'm getting paid to collect honey and a large colony of bees!

I'm planning on spending some money to get a beevac setup ahead of this. If I'm going to do this semi-regularly I want to be able to do it efficiently.

For other beekeepers reading this - there is definitely the potential for a good little sideline in this. The key is that I'm targeting my advertising to the local area so I'm not wasting money on people further afield and I'm making the advert crystal clear "bee removal service". Doing it this way I appear above all the local pest control people, beekeeping associations and the like.

It is hard to estimate, but when the honey and bees are factored into the whole equation it is probably worth over £300 for a day's work. I could probably even charge a little more for the job as well.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1575
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Just an update...

I have now had 3 leads that could turn into serious paid jobs and have spent £14 pounds on advertising. I'm beginning to think there is the makings of a full time living doing this. I already have a full time job, so once I have couple of good jobs lined up I'll scale back the advertising.

All three jobs are to deal with problem colonies, not swarms.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1575
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Picked up a fourth lead from my website yesterday. I can afford to be a bit picky about which jobs I take which is nice.

I now have definitely lined up:

  • a paid job doing a cut out from a stables
  • an unpaid job removing a swarm of bees from my own parents roof. Went round there this afternoon and they have moved in since Tuesday. My dad had put some mesh screen up over the holes, but they chewed through it. I did warn him that plastic mesh wouldn't be up to the job, but he went ahead anyway. Given that this will be a trapout at least it is as close to my own bees as can possibly be. They look, judging by the activity, to be a very large swarm.


  • I have turned down one job - it was going to be either a really awkward cutout inside someone's bedroom roof, or an even more awkward trapout involving complex scaffolding over a roof. I also wasn't willing to commit to a trapout involving a 30 minute each way journey.
     
    Cam Mitchell
    Posts: 108
    Location: W. CO, 6A
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    @Michael - Love the idea, combing internet leverage and a local personal service. Sounds like it was a smart move for you.

    Question 1: Did you already have experience when you started? Would you suggest I keep bees before offering this service?
    I've been thinking about doing this for a few years. I've done tons of reading about bees and beekeeping. The problem is I don't have much experience with bees, and don't keep any, though I want to.

    Question 2: Are there Africanized bees where you operate? There was a recent discovery here of an Africanized colony just a few miles away. It's surprising because they were thought to be not hardy to cold Colorado winters. Guess they adapted.

    Also, some numbers came out recently from a study here in the USA, that something like 25% of bee colonies died last year, which is up from a third(!) the year before. Granted, this was mostly about large commercial apiaries, but that's a scary number. Think about if 25% of families died every year, though I'm not equating people to bees.
     
    Michael Cox
    Posts: 1575
    Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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    Cam,

    Yes I have had some beekeeping experience, although I it was a long time ago. I'm returning after a 10 year gap. I have done both swarm captures and cutouts before though, so I do basically know what I'm doing. If you have never kept bees before then cutouts are probably not a good plan - you are committing to a good few hours of hot, messy, sticky work while surrounded by angry bees. You can't bail out part way through the process! It is definitely not for a beginner who isn't very comfortable with bees getting quite arsy. Oh, and you are pretty much guaranteed to get stung.

    Swarm catching on the other hand is a great way to start beekeeping. You will never handle a more docile set of bees than a fresh swarm.

    If I was brand new to bee keeping I'd be looking for a swarm or two, and also looking for venues to pace swarm traps for the future. If someone tells you they have bees in their roof they are also telling you they have swarms in their garden every year.

    No killer bees here in the UK fortunately.
     
    Cam Mitchell
    Posts: 108
    Location: W. CO, 6A
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    Michael,
    Thanks for the good info. So swarms it is.

    Bees don't really scare me, and I'm not worried about being stung. I find the hive sound and vibration comforting in a way. Wierd, I know.

    I have considered setting up some trap/bait hives on my property for swarm catching, though I don't know how good my success will be.
    I'm in the desert, you see. Not a ton of flowers and nectar/pollen sources, though there are some. I'm also planting many more trees and shrubs, and perennial herbs.
     
    Kris Arbanas
    Posts: 87
    Location: PNW
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    Is there any chance of catching a swarm by just leaving an empty top bar hive on your property or is a bait hive necessary?
     
    Michael Cox
    Posts: 1575
    Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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    A bait hive is basically just a smaller hive box. Smaller is more for the beekeepers convenience (moving them around, storage in winter) than for the bees preference.

    You should be able to use full size bodies to attract swarms, provided you already have colonies in the nearby area, that those swarms don't have somewhere more attractive to go like old nest sites, and you bait the hive appropriately. Best bait is old brood comb with some lemongrass oil.
     
    Kris Arbanas
    Posts: 87
    Location: PNW
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    Awesome, thanks!
     
    Ardilla Esch
    Posts: 198
    Location: Northern New Mexico, Zone 5b
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    I have found asking people some questions about what they observe helps prevent dead-end swarm calls. Ask them to describe what they see and what the bees look like - without asking leading questions.

    That helps prevent you from showing up to find it is really yellowjackets, bumblebees, a cut-out, etc. Many people just don't know honeybees or a swarm from other insects or other bee activity. I also ask if the person has already attempted to get rid of them in any way (i.e. spray pesticide on them). A few questions can save you a lot of time.
     
    Michael Cox
    Posts: 1575
    Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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    Just an update - this project is still ticking along. Quite good fun, but yet to bring me any new bees to take home!

  • I have so far spent £85 on advertising, for around 20 leads from my website.
  • Of those leads, 3 have been for honeybees and the rest bumblebees
  • Two of the honeybee leads were dead ends - one guy happy to live with them in the wall, another the landowner sprayed before I could setup a cut out
  • I am now charging £15 for a visit/consultation - people seem happy to pay it, regardless of whether I can end up helping them myself - essentially selling reassurance and knowledge


  • Tonight I am doing a bumblebee rescue from someones lawn - her kids play football over it, otherwise I'd say leave them alone.

    Tomorrow I'm doing a site visit for a potential cutout job.

    I've found it very interesting that the ratio of calls about bumblebees vrs honeybees is so far against the honeybees. To my mind this really indicates how much the honey bees have been struggling - even 10 years ago we were getting regular calls about honey bees and local swarms.

    Overall I have paid for my petrol money and advertising but still need to get some more bees for myself.
     
    Michael Cox
    Posts: 1575
    Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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    Ardilla - I think you are on to something with asking them to describe what they see.

    I just turned up at a job to a "nest of bees in the lawn" expecting to be digging out and moving some bumblebees. Turned out to be a swarm of honey bees on the ground! They had been there a full week, just sitting on the grass - very strange!

    I suspect that they swarmed when we had a spell of warm weather but then got caught out by a weak of cold weather and rain.

    It is a very small swarm so my plan at the moment is to put them in a box and feed the hell out of them for a while. Fingers crossed there will be a worthwhile queen in there and I'll nurse them through to be a worthwhile colony next year.
     
    Michael Cox
    Posts: 1575
    Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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    Jackpot today - got a callout for a "massive swarm". Expectation not very high I was half expecting bumblebees again. Well, I ended up boxing the biggest swarm I've ever seen. Double rugby ball size at least.

    They were pretty much all in the box when I left this afternoon, but there were loads of flying bees. I'll go back to pick them up after dark and hope that they haven't absconded!

    These guys were gatecrashing a 7 year old's birthday party. Plenty of space so they didn't bother anyone, but added some excitement.
    trampolineswarm1.jpg
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    trampolineswarm4.jpg
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    Michael Cox
    Posts: 1575
    Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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    And a couple more pictures...

    I had definitely got the queen in the box as when I put it up on the top of the trampoline the loose bees started a route march to get in. Very cool to watch.

    trampolineswarm5.jpg
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    Did you see how Paul cut 87% off of his electric heat bill with 82 watts of micro heaters?
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