HOW TO WORK AS A FULL-TIME BEEKEEPER

Posted August 15, 2017
by Hilary

How to work as a full-time beekeeper

I have been working as a full-time beekeeper for three years now. When I tell people what I do for a living, it’s not uncommon to see their expression change from wonder to jealousy. I am privileged and proud to do what I love and I recognize that it is a rare thing. So, how did I get here? How might you do the same? Read on for some tips on how to turn your hobby into a full-time gig.

My Story

When I got into beekeeping, I was an art student. I had no plans to start my own business. I did not even have plans to become a beekeeper. I read a beekeeping book by chance and became fascinated, not with beekeeping, but with the bees themselves. I started reading as much as a could about them and finally I decided to get my own hive so, that I could learn more. Once I had my bees, I found that everyone wanted something from me. They wanted me to teach them about bees or about how to become a beekeeper. They wanted me to teach about bee-friendly gardening. They wanted me to do bee removals. They wanted honey. They wanted bees! So, I said yes. I said yes to doing free removals and yes to doing free classes. But then I figured something out. People were not valuing me. They were not valuing beekeeping. I would post a free class with limited seating and 20 people would RSVP with another 20 on the waiting list, but only 4 people would show up for the class. It was frustrating and I was spending all my free time on bees. At one point, I was working 40 hours a week at an office job, catching swarms on my lunch break and teaching classes on the weekend. When I finally started charging people, a suprising thing happened, they started to show up class. It took me a few more years to work up the courage to leave my office job, but after I did, I realized I could have done so much sooner. I had been turning away work all along. I was getting requests for one-on-one help, bee removals and speaking events, but I was saying no to 90% of it simply because I did not have the time. Now, I have much more time, but I still have more requests than I can do. The new challenge is figuring out what I want to spend my time on and what is most profitable. My business emerged organically and it is an evolving animal. That is one of the things I love about it, because I have many interests and different kinds of skills. I enjoy pursuing new ideas and finding new ways to use my talents to help bees and beekeepers.

Learn the Craft

Don’t get ahead of yourself! In my opinion, it takes a minimum of two years of earnest effort before you really understand what you are doing as a beekeeper. And by earnest effort, I mean you need to read. You need to talk to other beekeepers. You need to inspect your hives. I have met people who know next to nothing about bees, despite having had a hive in their backyard for five years! Put in the time to learn the craft before you start thinking about how to turn it into a business. I often get people in my beekeeping classes who declare that they are there because they want to start a beekeeping business. I think it’s great to have a goal in mind, but my advice is to let go of this plan and instead focus on your bees for awhile. Once you have gained some experience and understanding, it may open up some new business ideas you hadn’t been conscious of as a beginner. If you listen to your bees and they will guide you.

How to work as a full-time beekeeper

Get Creative

There are many branches of beekeeping that could be profitable, but most people just try to copy another beekeeper’s business instead of piloting their own. Don’t try to imitate someone else. Figure out what you enjoy, what you are good at and pursue that. Try out multiple things and find out what can make money and what can’t. Try to discover what there is a need for. Know your limitations. Here is a list of potential revenue streams:

Pollination 

Beehive Products (honey, wax, propolis, royal jelly)

Queen Breeding

Starter Colonies

Equipment

Bee Removal

Apiary Maintenance

Education

Eco Tourism

Apitherapy

Writing & Speaking

Scientific Research 

Activism

Photography

How to Work As A Full-Time Beekeeper

Start Charging

The simplest answer to the question of how to make a living as a beekeeper is: start charging! It is amazing to me how many beekeepers work for free. Not only that, but they actively criticize other beekeepers who want to charge for their services. These comments usually come from hobbyist beekeepers who have another source of income or from traditional beekeepers who make their money on pollination and honey sales. Why it is acceptable to charge for pollination, honey and starter colonies, but not education or bee removal is beyond me. They both takes years of experience to acquire the skills and time to perform the services. This kind of oppressive and judgmental atmosphere can be discouraging if you are trying to make a living as a beekeeper with a non-traditional model. Worse, it creates an expectation for free services among the public. If you have encountered this in your community, try starting out small. Offer a service with a suggested donation for instance. Once you build up a reputation, you can start charging.

My advice to everyone is to rise above and try to support all beekeepers no matter how they make a living and what style of beekeeping they choose. We all love bees. I am very proud to be a beekeeper and I am even more proud to run my own beekeeping business. Instead of criticizing each other, we should be celebrating each others successes. Many of the business ideas above benefit other beekeepers. We need more local queen breeders. It’s nice having a local beekeeping supply store for picking up equipment. If you have a dedicator educator in your community you don’t have to give up all your free time to help new beekeepers. Educated beginners are more likely to keep their hives healthy and will pose less of a risk to established beekeepers. And so on and so forth.

If you are a hobbyist, you can help by considering the impact you might be having on local business when you offer to work for free (for people who are not close friends or family). If you are a business owner and you are charging for some services, but not others, you can help by reconsidering that choice. As beekeepers, if we stop undervaluing our skills, we can do more. When I was a hobbyist, working 40 hours a week, I never had time to help anyone. People would contact me all the time and I would turn them away. When I started charging for my time and skill, I was able to quit my office job and start helping people full time.

I think the world needs more jobs like these. Fulfilling work done by passionate, happy people. We should all support that.

If you want more in-depth advice on how to start your own beekeeping business, send me an email about setting up a Skype consultation.

21 Comments

  1. Gladys Hutson

    BRAVO, BRAVO!!! I too am a “Bee Educator” I live in North Carolina and have been beekeeping for 8 years. About 2-3 years ago I started my business “The Bee Lady” and now offer education in the local school system, beekeeping classes and mentoring services. I live on 4 acres and have 5 hives on my property. I also plant for my bee and teach other to do the same. Oh, I also sell my honey…but that’s the easy part!!
    I would love to talk more and share ideas. Also check out my website
    http://www.thebeelady.org

    Reply
  2. susan rudnicki

    Excellent advice and almost the exact experience I have had in my own 7 years of beekeeping. I started with the BackwardsBeekeepers club, (Kirk Anderson, Amy Seidenwurm, Russell Bates founders) which taught catching of feral survivor stock, ran a bee rescue hotline for several years (which had 5 dispatchers rotating on the phone hotline) but which disallowed us rescuers from charging except for gas money. I did some huge and complicated multi-day jobs under that model and we were mobbed by callers from all over Los Angeles. The club folded for a few reasons, and one was that the no-charge rule was untenable. I also got a LOT of floozy students getting free bees and mentoring from me. I learned and now have a price schedule for removals, with detailed description of what I will do (which is NOT structural repair, either) and, for mentoring newbees, a Student Contract with my expectations clearly spelled out for reading and equipment and conduct and what students may expect from me. It works so much better. I would add to your list, making relationships with the local bee swarm/exterminator people to gain access to bees they formerly “black bagged” for lack of skills in keeping bees or not being interested. This has helped me a lot to get the colonies I can later sell as nucs to a Permaculture farm in Moorpark that is establishing a couple large feral sourced apiaries. I think diversity in your income stream is really important, since the whole year is going to not be as lucrative from one month to the next. The public is being quite stirred up about all the media stories regarding the loss of the bee population, and though the coverage is always lacking some very important facts and focuses on the wrong things a good deal of the time, there is still the impression in the public mind that honey bees need protection, not extermination. Nevertheless, I still encounter quite a few clients who want a large cutout done for the price of a swarm call (“my neighbor only paid x-dollars for a bee issue!” ) and as much as I try to carefully explain the differences in the work required, they undervalue the skills, time and equipment needed. I found a critical response is to NOT let the potential client rope me into a bid price before I have opened the space to see the size of a cutout. I send them the schedule of pricing based on the number of framed BROOD combs, and do not listen to their stories of when the bees established or any other criteria. Just not reliable. Many folks, even very wealthy potential clients, still opt to exterminate because they simply have no model by which to judge the nature of such specialized work and undervalue the skills. I have been a dental hygienist for 37 years, but that is only one day a week of my life, and the bee work is EVERY day. It is almost always more profitable on a monthly basis, as well. Networking with all sorts of folks working outdoors makes referrals fall your way, too. I have working relationships with LA International Airport, arborists, exterminators, swarm removers, gardeners and landscape maintenance people, commercial building managers, municipal public works and parking and animal control employees, and real estate managers. All these folks often encounter bee colonies and want to know who is doing good work to save honey bees. Get some nice cards and hand them out liberally! I have my card duplicated as a pair of magnetic ad signs on the doors of my truck/car and this alerts the public about what you do. Decide what areas of the city you are willing to drive to—I get too many calls from the Westside, notorious for awful traffic and far from where I live—so I have to tell them I am passing on such jobs, though I love to save bees.

    Reply
    • Sean

      Thank you for sharing. What do you charge for swarm calls etc. I am a newer beekeeper and wasted about 45 mins thinking I was going to get a free swarm (didnt charge for the visit upfront) and when I got there I would have had to do a bunch of carpentry work removing planks to get to the bees. Wasnt worth my time and want it to be win/win. Thanks

      Reply
  3. Lexi Nutter

    do you use any type of contract when providing your multiple services? If so, what all do you include in that contract?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Lexi,

      Yes, I include a contract that spells out whatever our agreement is. I also have a legal waiver I make them sign.

      Reply
      • Charles “Dave” Prather

        I have been keeping bees and working with them for about 40 years. I would like to start an apiary to make beekeeping/swarm removal a full time occupation. I currently have 6 hives and my father has around 20. I guess our problem is start up capital for more swarms and processing equipment. My state does not have any grants or stipends for beekeeping. So I have plenty of land, time and knowledge but not enough capital. How to make a dream a reality?

        Reply
        • Hilary

          Start small and build.

          Reply
  4. Troy Dere

    What about insurance? Are you a bonded/insured honey bee professional? I have found the insurance angle a bit tricky.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Yes, it is tricky. I have liability insurance.

      Reply
    • David

      I recommend contacting Al Ford at Texas Insurance to discuss ins for beekeepers — al@txins.com

      Reply
  5. David

    Thanks for this great post! Very helpful

    Reply
    • Hilary

      This is my article for startups.

      Reply
  6. Justin Maness

    You’ve got a great perspective on the beekeeping community as a whole, we are one crazy quirky bunch but i agree we should always be supportive of each other, natural or conventional, entrepreneur or “Free-bee” whatever your style.

    Reply
  7. Michele

    Great job and great ideas! I’m an italian hobbyst beekeeper and I started one year ago. I have three hives and I agree with you. The community of beekeepers provide a WONDERFUL service to everyone, why don’t we charge for our services? 😉 carry on and thank you for your support work!

    Reply
  8. Stephanie

    Love this post! I’m a hobbyist wanting to expand my bee empire. I’m on my second year of beekeeping and sold honey for the first time this fall. I didn’t break even from my initial investment but I did make about $250. Not too shabby for one hive in the back yard. This spring I plan to add a second hive and next year I want to start maintaining hives in other people’s yards… for a fee of course. Thank you for all the info!

    Reply
  9. Sam

    Your blog is really inspiring! I look forward to go into the bee business and i read a lot about it on the web, i need to build my beehive and there is so much ideas to make a beautiful one! I don’t want to live from beekeeping but one in my garden will be so cool!

    Reply
  10. Mark REEVES

    Great blog Hilary, thank you.

    What a lovely way to earn a living but like all things in life we get out what we put in. You have an obvious passion for ???? and you are a very hard worker, obvious from the time that you dedicate to your bees, education, your blog and helpful advice. I think it’s great , the way that you educate the children, well done I think that’s lovely to get little ones interested at an early age can only be a good thing. I am a new bee keeper and find it fascinating, I hope in the future to also in a small way become a professional bee keeper. I have been lucky and have had two careers doing work that I have a passion for, as a deep sea diver and roof Slater and tiler and find bee keeping a breath of fresh air and I’m truly hooked. Thanks Hilary.

    Kindest regards.

    Mark.

    Reply
  11. Anna

    Very inspirational post! I got my first hive last spring! I’m one year in. My hive has been SO PRODUCTIVE this year that I harvested 2 quarts of honey and there’s still at least 80 lbs left in the hive and it’s only early spring. I divided everything up and in total sold about 80 oz of honey in less than 12 hours which almost paid for the extractor. I am finding so much joy in learning about bees and keeping them happy and healthy. I’ve also been focusing more on subsistence farming with a garden, chickens (both for eggs and slaughter), and goats for their milk. The more I find my passion in this type of work the less passion I find for my job, and I’m a doctor believe it or not! My five year plan is to move away from working full time and to share the fruits of my labor to the community in a way that is generates a sustainable profit. I firmly believe that efforts such as this brings people closer to nature as we are intended, and lifts a substantial burden from Mother Nature’s shoulders as this lifestyle is significantly more Eco-friendly. In my wildest dreams I will have a small locally-supplied grocery store full of canned garden goods, humanely raised and slaughtered chickens, eggs, goat’s milk and bee products! As a woman I am often grappling with my boyfriend over the best way to handle our hives, garden, lifestyle, etc. I’m not saying I’m going to leave the man but your post has certainly inspired me in more ways than one. What I’m saying there is, I don’t need a man to help me get the job done!!! Keep on (bee)keeping on! Best wishes to you and your bee-autiful hives. 🙂

    Reply
  12. Noah

    Question for you…

    Someone reccomended you to ask this. I didn’t know who you are before this but you were reccomended as someone that knows a lot.

    So here goes…

    I’d been trying to study out how to pull of trying to see what the maximum number of hives someone could do in an urban backyard? Do you have any insight on this? (I’m sure part of the answer is to keep them calm and under control. But there’s more to it than that.) I’m curious what you’ve tried regarding this and what you might say.

    Given that some places cost a lot to live, I think it could help a lot to get help with this.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      This is not a question that can be answered really. There are too many variables.

      Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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