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Hi-- I'm new here.

I'm interested in raising honey bees and selling their honey. I'm curious if other people rely on honey as an income producer. I'd like to hear about the scale at which you raise bees (1 hive, 10 hives, 100 hives etc), the time spent per week in all bee-related work, and how you go about marketing the honey.

If anyone has resources like books or articles about honey production that fits into the permaculture ideals, that would be great too.

Thanks!
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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I have 4 hives, I spend maybe an hour a week, mostly just looking at them and checking on things.

As for income, who knows, probably about $200-$500 a year from these 4 hives.

A lot depends on the type of hive you have.  I would go with the largest you can afford (don't do a Lang).  Go for a horizontal top bar or a vertical top bar (Warre or Oscar Perone).

check out http://www.biobees.com for natural beekeeping.  Organic, natural honey brings a premium price, so does pollen, wax, royal jelly, etc.

I think to make real money, you will need probably more than 50 hives.  But, as part of a diversified farm, you could get by with 10-20 hives, and earn $5K a year from bees, just as an addition to other stuff.  For 20 hives, you are looking at a day of work per week, maybe 1/2 day per week.

Bees go could with vegetable production and orchards, so make them one component of a larger project.
 
                    
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I see honey labeled clover flower or wild flower & so forth.

Dose it really make that much difference what kind of flowers the bees are frequenting?
D
 
Abe Connally
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Yes, it does.  Honey can carry the fragrance of the flowers, plus different colors, textures, tastes, etc.

Some flowers, like tobacco, render honey as poisonous to humans.

Oak honey looks almost like oil, it is so dark, whereas clover honey can be almost clear.

 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Yes, the flavor of various honeys are distinct depending on the forage. Here in S. Florida we naturally have a lot of orange blossom honey, which isn't my favorite. It does taste like oranges, but doesn't have much depth to it.  My local favorite is palmetto honey.  Mmmm....

When figuring out income from beekeeping, don't forget the beeswax!  Value added stuff like beeswax candles or beeswax based herbal balms can bring good prices.

Being a primary producer of anything can lead down a whole road of unintended consequences. 
 
                    
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Thanks, that is interesting.
So how do you get the bees to go to the forage that you want??

Is it a proximity thing or is there more to it than that?

D
 
Abe Connally
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Proximity and timing.  Those are the keys.

You want to having something in bloom for every month of production, and as close to the hives as possible.
 
                    
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Wow, this is interesting stuff & it is so much more satisfying to hear about it from real people rather than just looking things up all the time.

Thanks for answering my questions! D
 
S. G. Botsford
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I had a neighbor who was a bee keeper.  I worked for him one summer extracting, and helped him build 300 new hives.

He made good money -- about 60,000 per year and this was 25 years ago.

But his summers were 12-15 hour days 7 days a week.  Because of the protection, you sweat a lot.  The other 7 months of the year were his own.  He used a couple months to repair hives.  (A hive has 5 supers. Each super has 4 pieces of wood, and two metal strips.  A super has 9 frames.  Each frame  has 5 pieces of wood, two wires, and one sheet of patterned wax.  Everything is cut to 1/16".)

Now with the colony collapse problem it may no longer be possible.
 
Jay Hatfield
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Velacreations- Why do you say tobacco honey is poisonous humans?

Tropical-If you are interested in beekeeping you should check in your local area or county for a beekeeping association or bee club. They usually offer classes in the spring of the year. You can also find older beekeepers that need help and are willing to teach you as well.  its a good place to start at least.

I have about 60 hives and you have good years and bad years for production.
 
Abe Connally
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Velacreations- Why do you say tobacco honey is poisonous humans?

I've been told that by many old beekeepers, and I remember reading in some old books about honey production, too.
 
                                        
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Another form of income would be to rent out hives to farmers for polination.
The blueberry farm I'm living on rents about 5 hives every year for about a month or so.
 
Jay Hatfield
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pollination services are where commercial beekeepers make the bulk of there money from.

I have gotten tobacco off several times.  It is dark but i'm still alive. I don't sell it cause I have never gotten that much of it.

in the book"Honey plants of North America" by john h. lovell 1926 writes "The honey off of the tobacco plant has a dark color and compares not unfavorably with buckwheat honey. No disagreeable results follow its free use in the family as an article of food. sections of tobacco honey are reported to sell as well as any of the darker grades of honey.

We also have some blue colored honey at certain times under certain conditions here in North Carolina.

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Here's a cool local honey business model and kickstarter campaign in Portland, OR, though looking to expand to Seattle and Olympia, WA, and San Francisco, CA, too:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1141938600/bee-local-artisan-neighborhood-honey.

(At first, I didn't notice that the top picture on the kickstarter page is actually a video.)
 
Damian Magista
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Hi All,

I'm the owner of Bee Local. The Kickstarter mentioned previously is my little project.

This is my first true year of business and so far it's been very well received. Keep in mind that up to this point I have been working a day job. Supporting yourself solely on honey production is tricky.
Most of the time you have to go commercial to really make anything.

My model is a bit unique, however it is working. Logistically it's very challenging. I also leverage other opportunities as well so it's not just the honey.

It's was a pleasant surprise to see my project pop up here. If anyone has any questions about it feel free to ask.

Damian
Bee Local
www.beelocal.com
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Damian Magista wrote:Hi All,

I'm the owner of Bee Local. The Kickstarter mentioned previously is my little project.

This is my first true year of business and so far it's been very well received. Keep in mind that up to this point I have been working a day job. Supporting yourself solely on honey production is tricky.
Most of the time you have to go commercial to really make anything.

My model is a bit unique, however it is working. Logistically it's very challenging. I also leverage other opportunities as well so it's not just the honey.

It's was a pleasant surprise to see my project pop up here. If anyone has any questions about it feel free to ask.

Damian
Bee Local
www.beelocal.com


Welcome to permies, Damian! And congratulations on meeting your kickstarter goal!

Did you see the lengthy thread here about CCD? Your experienced input would be valuable there. Also, Paul has a video with Jacqueline Freeman talking about solutions to CCD. I think Jacqueline does a lot in the Portland area, perhaps you've met?

Another cool aspect of your business model is serving customers who have pollen allergies who want to try local honey to help alleviate that. I so appreciate and admire what you're doing.
 
Damian Magista
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Gorsh, thanks!

The CCD thread pretty much covers it. I haven't met Jacqueline...I like what she has to say.

In a nutshell commercial beekeeping practices are akin to large scale poultry or livestock farming. The methods are unhealthy for the bees so of course something terrible is going to happen. CCD symptomatic of a broken system.

Bee kept in urban areas do very well. We don't really see CCD. I attribute this to the fact that they aren't being moved/stressed all the time, they have a wide variety of forage and are not exposed to the extreme levels of pesticides that commercial bees are.

Imagine if we were rudely woken up at 4 in the morning, knocked around, sent to some unfamiliar place, could only eat Wonder Bread (tm), given all sorts of chemical treatments and all to top it off all of our food stores were taken from us. I think we would become sick as well. It's not rocket science. We are treating the honeybee horribly.

I started Bee Local to help support our bees and bring healthy honey production back to the local level. There are so many benefits to doing so. As you mentioned local honey for allergies. Awareness of our immediate environment and how we treat it, etc.

I'm wondering off a bit, this was meant to be about "honey as main income" so I'll bring it back.

I know there are fun, low impact and creative ways to make honey your main income. Even with the larger guys like Tim Wessel (not sure how much his honey is his bottom line) but he's doing larger scale in a healthy way. I'm meeting with him in the near future which I'm pretty excited about.

It's about having a true passion for it and taking the leap. I'm leaving my full time fairly well paid job next week to concentrate solely on Bee Local. Nerve wracking, yes indeed. Exciting, absolutely.

As an aside, I will be offering Beekeeping lessons this season. They will be hands on once per month running from June - Harvest. There will be limited spots and I'll post a link to the info when I get everything set.

If anyone is interested in urban beekeeping we have a specific group called Portland Urban Beekeepers that meets once per month to talk all things bees with a bent towards beekeeping in the city. We met at Caldera Public House upstairs. This months meeting will feature the amazing Carolyn Breece of OSU. She is a super bee-scientist doing incredible work. For more info:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/PDXBees/

 
Peter DeJay
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That's exciting to learn about what you're doing up there in Portland Damian. I got into bees last summer by making several hive boxes (2 top bars and a single level warre) and catching 3 of the 5 or 6 swarms I was called about. That's the exciting part! Down here in Ashland my friend Laura is starting up a College of the Melissae, its going to be a fun bee season!

So back to bee income, what popped into my head was to ask if you have a farmers or growers market where you are at Tropical. Usually there's at least one person who sells honey and beeswax products, that would be a good resource. Also I would imagine local bee pollen would be a sought after commodity. However, I would caution getting into beekeeping just for the monetary purposes. Bees are sensitive creatures, and it takes time to truly understand them and be able to steward them. I would recommend taking several seasons of fostering bees and watching them before you take their hard earned food, which they need to survive the winter. Knowing when to harvest honey and wax and when not to is important for sustainable beekeeping. For instance, while I am a staunch supporter of Top Bar Hives, I've learned this year that you can't harvest from them for at least a season, as it takes them tremendous energy to make all that wax comb from scratch, and each time you harvest honey you are taking a chunk of the wax too.

That being said, I think it is so important that everyone that feels the urge to get into bees. Learn about them, built a hive to have so that you can observe them. Small scale hobby bee stewards are whats going to protect them, spreading them out, physically and genetically.
 
Damian Magista
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I would agree with Peter on all counts. You'll know instantly if you are suited to be a beekeeper. It's a calling. They aren't easy critters to keep. They are sensitive and will
sometimes frustrate the beejeebus out of you. With that said they are amazing.

Swarm chasing is a hoot. I didn't do it last year but the year before I caught 12 + swarms until there was no more gear to put them in.
 
Brad Davies
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What's a ballpark for how many acres per hive? I know like everything there are huge variables, just wonder if it's ~1/4 acre, ~1 acre, ~20 acres. I've never thought about keeping bees before, but I do like making mead...
 
Damian Magista
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You don't really need any room. You only need enough room to place the hive and be able to walk around it. The bees will fly out and forage within about a 4 mile radius. You could put quite a few hives on 1/4 acre.

There is no issue with putting several hives right next to each other.
 
Brad Davies
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Damian Magista wrote:You don't really need any room. You only need enough room to place the hive and be able to walk around it. The bees will fly out and forage within about a 4 mile radius. You could put quite a few hives on 1/4 acre.

There is no issue with putting several hives right next to each other.


Sweet!

Thanks for the info!
 
Kay Bee
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Hi Damian and Peter - glad to see other folks from Oregon on here talking about bees!

It's been a couple years since I've kept bees after selling our place in north carolina, and am looking forward to getting back in to it this spring. I'm working on my prototype for a top bar hive right now and have my 5-frame nucs ordered for May. I'm up in the rural, northern part of Jackson county, so it will be quite different from my old suburban setting for beekeeping. Hopefully the orchard/food forest I started last spring will be a good source of food for the bees.

Once I see how these first 5 hives do over the next few years, I should have a better idea if there is any options to try and make beekeeping a part of our commercial long-term plan.
 
tel jetson
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one aspect of Damian's outfit, BeeLocal, that's pretty great but isn't obvious browsing his website or his kickstarter page is the effort he's going to to keep things local (Damian, if you object to me sharing this, please let me know right away). sounds like honey and other hive products are delivered on bicycles (very awesome), and his hives are being milled by local carpenters instead of purchased from large suppliers. I think he mentioned that his website and all his promotional stuff is done by a local outfit as well.

if it isn't there already, "local" is well on its way to becoming an obnoxious fad word, but the local approach has a lot of merit. chances are good that these choices are costing Damian a bit more up front, but they pay off in the long run by keeping resources circulating locally so that more folks can afford to buy his products. beyond that, contributing to a strong local economy reduces reliance on long and vulnerable supply chains that are becoming more common, but certainly have the potential for devastating interruption.

so much of the bee industry is based on migratory beekeeping that props up unsustainable and polluting orchard practices. local production of honey for local consumption is very nice to see.

the bicycle bit also has many obvious benefits that you're all likely aware of.
 
tel jetson
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Brad Davies wrote:What's a ballpark for how many acres per hive? I know like everything there are huge variables, just wonder if it's ~1/4 acre, ~1 acre, ~20 acres. I've never thought about keeping bees before, but I do like making mead...


that really depends on your location and goals. if you're in an urban or suburban area with a lot of landscaping, Damian's absolutely right. the large variety of flowers ensures good bee forage for a long season.

if you're in a rural area, though, the story might be different, which seems counterintuitive. if there's a lot of agriculture around, you may have very strong and very brief nectar flows, then a long dearth. it depends on the dominant crops. one example: canola/rape regions such as Alberta. when the canola flowers, there's such a strong nectar flow that honey-binding is a very serious risk, but then there might be eight months with very little food coming in.

if there's not much agriculture around, it depends on the variety and abundance of nectar- and pollen-producing plants. you can change this mix yourself, but that's not necessarily a quick option. basically, it's complicated, which probably isn't the answer you want.

there are figures readily available for hives/acre for a variety of crops for pollination purposes, but I don't think those are what you're after.
 
John Polk
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Here is a link to Pollinator Partnership. They are very much into local & urban bee keeping. They have some good info on pollination plants on a regional basis:

http://www.pollinator.org/beekeeping.htm

They also have a series of booklets that divide the country into dozens of regions and for each region list natural pollinators, as well as the regional plants that attract the pollinators:

http://www.pollinator.org/guides.htm

 
Jeffrey Hodgins
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What about borage honey is there anything bad about is because the bees love borage I hope it is safe.
 
Lori Crouch
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I have some questions for you, Damian.

1. What is the cost of the containers to market and sell the honey? (either dollars or percent of sales/revenue)
2. Do you need to go through a permitting process in order to sell the honey around town? Any Federal/State requirements or inspections?
This question could go for any urban beekeeper:
3. Are there any complaints from neighbors of beekeepers due to increased bee activity? Is it really noticeable that there are bee hives on the lot?
4. Keeping a jar of honey (~8oz.) per year for ourselves how many hives would we need to have for surplus to sell honey even if it's just a few jars to begin with?

We are on a small urban lot and I am building up the flowers and flowering trees in our yard in order to have a hive in the next year or two. Thank you!!
 
Patrick Mann
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Lori Evans wrote:3. Are there any complaints from neighbors of beekeepers due to increased bee activity? Is it really noticeable that there are bee hives on the lot?
Depends on how many hives, where located, how big a property, availability of water on your lot (if lacking, they may end up in your neighbor's hot tub / swimming pool / bird feeder) ... Swarms are the main concern.

Lori Evans wrote:4. Keeping a jar of honey (~8oz.) per year for ourselves how many hives would we need to have for surplus to sell honey even if it's just a few jars to begin with?
You can get a surplus from 1 hive. But there is great variability among hives, so you need more to average things out. And to distribute fixed overhead.

Lori Evans wrote:We are on a small urban lot and I am building up the flowers and flowering trees in our yard in order to have a hive in the next year or two. Thank you!!
Bees will forage over a range of 8000 acres. Plant your yard for your own needs - for your bees, it's more interesting to look what's available within a 2 mile radius.

 
Kay Bee
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Patrick Mann wrote:
Lori Evans wrote:3. Are there any complaints from neighbors of beekeepers due to increased bee activity? Is it really noticeable that there are bee hives on the lot?
Depends on how many hives, where located, how big a property, availability of water on your lot (if lacking, they may end up in your neighbor's hot tub / swimming pool / bird feeder) ... Swarms are the main concern.

Lori Evans wrote:4. Keeping a jar of honey (~8oz.) per year for ourselves how many hives would we need to have for surplus to sell honey even if it's just a few jars to begin with?
You can get a surplus from 1 hive. But there is great variability among hives, so you need more to average things out. And to distribute fixed overhead.

Lori Evans wrote:We are on a small urban lot and I am building up the flowers and flowering trees in our yard in order to have a hive in the next year or two. Thank you!!
Bees will forage over a range of 8000 acres. Plant your yard for your own needs - for your bees, it's more interesting to look what's available within a 2 mile radius.


some of our neighbors expressed concern, but mainly it was over potential problems rather than any real problems. Neighbors who had children that were allergic to bee venom was the most serious concern. It never ended up being an issue. Our bees were very mild-mannered. The worst trouble they got in to was pillaging a hummingbird feeder

Our harvest of the surplus honey varied from zero to nearly 70 pounds in our best year from a single hive. How much extra you may have to sell depends on the year and how much you and your family consume in a year. I'm still using up the remainder of that last big harvest.

Bees can and will range for miles if necessary for a good source of nectar and pollen, but they can also stay closer to home depending on availability of forage and weather. Our bees were mostly elsewhere, but they would stick around in cool weather or if there was an abundant "treat" available. Japanese plums and figs were their favorite fruits if there was excess ripe fruit beyond what our neighbors and my family could pick.
 
Lori Crouch
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Thank you so much for all the great information! It helps me to know the projects I need to set as priority; water is definitely going to be number one on the list.
 
Damian Magista
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Lori Evans wrote:I have some questions for you, Damian.


1. What is the cost of the containers to market and sell the honey? (either dollars or percent of sales/revenue)

I assume you are talking about jars and labels? It's maybe $1 - $2 for the packaging. That's just materials though. I hand emboss and write the names on each jar.

2. Do you need to go through a permitting process in order to sell the honey around town? Any Federal/State requirements or inspections?

In Portland you do not. This is designed to support local Farmer's Markets and encourage small business. Outside of Portland, yes. For retail you have to pack in an approved Oregon Ag Dept facility...like a commercial kitchen. Check your city, county and state regulations.

This question could go for any urban beekeeper:
3. Are there any complaints from neighbors of beekeepers due to increased bee activity? Is it really noticeable that there are bee hives on the lot?


In my case no. Pay attention to flight path and as mentioned may want to set out a water source so they are not drinking out of your neighbors pool. Is it noticeable? No. You can walk right past one of my urban apiaries and have no idea there are upwards of 8 beehives just over the fence. Keep in mind that am careful to place for flight path and spots that are not seen from the street. Last year I walked by a house in a busy neighborhood of Portland and they had placed a freakin' Top Bar Hive in the open so the flight path went across the sidewalk. This meant that the bees bumped you as you walked past. This to me is irresponsible for a variety of reasons.

Swarming looks scarier than it is. They will buzz around in a big cloud for a bit then land on something; fence, tree limb, eave of a house. Just go collect them or don't. They will eventually fly off adding to the genetic pool, which is badly needed. However, some ppl may be freaked out. A huge part of urban beekeeping is educating people. Also, give your neighbors honey. That does wonders.

4. Keeping a jar of honey (~8oz.) per year for ourselves how many hives would we need to have for surplus to sell honey even if it's just a few jars to begin with?

A good producing hive should yield 50 - 80 lbs of honey. That's quite a few 8 oz jars. Keep in mind a first year hive is a build up year. It may or may not produce for you. Just don't take too much honey from them. Otherwise you are stuck feeding and risk a starve out.

We are on a small urban lot and I am building up the flowers and flowering trees in our yard in order to have a hive in the next year or two. Thank you!!
 
Damian Magista
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tel jetson wrote:one aspect of Damian's outfit, BeeLocal, that's pretty great but isn't obvious browsing his website or his kickstarter page is the effort he's going to to keep things local (Damian, if you object to me sharing this, please let me know right away). sounds like honey and other hive products are delivered on bicycles (very awesome), and his hives are being milled by local carpenters instead of purchased from large suppliers. I think he mentioned that his website and all his promotional stuff is done by a local outfit as well.

if it isn't there already, "local" is well on its way to becoming an obnoxious fad word, but the local approach has a lot of merit. chances are good that these choices are costing Damian a bit more up front, but they pay off in the long run by keeping resources circulating locally so that more folks can afford to buy his products. beyond that, contributing to a strong local economy reduces reliance on long and vulnerable supply chains that are becoming more common, but certainly have the potential for devastating interruption.

so much of the bee industry is based on migratory beekeeping that props up unsustainable and polluting orchard practices. local production of honey for local consumption is very nice to see.

the bicycle bit also has many obvious benefits that you're all likely aware of.


I don't mind at all. Share away. Agreed, "local" will/is a fad word like "organic". Anyway, you nailed it on the head. What I do does cost more. It's extremely labor intensive. I manage 35 hives spread across several apiaries; most beeks manage theirs in one location.

As Tel stated, this how we break that reliance on a broken agricultural system. So to me it's worth it. So yeah man, well put.

 
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