Is Beekeeping Hard?
Beekeeping isn't something that most of us learn while growing up. So it can seem like an intimidating hobby or profession to get into.
Is beekeeping hard? Being responsible for an entire colony of living things can be hard work. There's some heavy lifting and physically difficult tasks involved, especially when it's time to harvest your honey. Bees are also susceptible to many different pests, diseases, and predators that you'll need to watch out for. And the financial investment to set up your first hive can also be hard for some people.
Urban beekeeping is becoming ever more popular. But does it live up to all the buzz?
In this article you'll learn how difficult beekeeping is, how much it costs to get into beekeeping, and how much time it takes. None of the following is intended to put you off beekeeping. Personally i think beekeeping is a fascinating and addictive pass time! So I'll also tell you about the rewards of being a beekeeper that make it all worth it! But if you’re considering beekeeping I recommend you get to know what’s involved first. I hope the following helps.
How Hard is it to Keep Bees?
Beekeeping can be a very rewarding hobby. But there are also several things that make it difficult.
The physical aspect
Beekeeping can be hard work. A ten frame medium super full of honey would weigh about 55 lbs (25 kg) each, so it's a pretty good workout. Especially when they're completely full of honey and you're lifting them up or setting them down from a pretty high level.
A super is the hive box used to contain the frames of honey comb. They’re called “supers” because they’re superimposed on top of the brood boxes. Supers often come in three “depths”: shallow, medium, and deep. They also exist as 8 frame or 10 frame options. So a 10 frame super is a fairly average size, but smaller or bigger is possible.
Both harvesting honey and general care of your bees requires a certain amount of strength and physical fitness. Beekeepers are known for complaining about bad backs! For that reason I probably won't recommend that my grandpa should get into beekeeping!
Heavy lifting aside, beekeeping is hard on your body in other ways. You're out in the heat of the summer sun, completely covered by a bee suit and veil. Or if you try to wear lighter clothing, you risk having to deal with bee stings.
Bees are fragile
So many different things can negatively affect your bees.
There's the natural stuff like viruses, diseases, mites, and wax moths. Then there are predators like skunks, raccoons, and maybe even bears depending on where you live. Plus adverse weather can harm bees. Not to mention man-made chemicals.
I read recently that there's about a 1 in 3 mortality rate for bee colonies. Of those, about 66% are from bees dying over the winter and the other 33% of deaths occur during the rest of the year.
As a beekeeper you are constantly challenged to find ways to help your bee colonies thrive. This can be hard at times, (but that’s also part of the fun!).
It's financially difficult
Starting your beekeeping hobby can be expensive. You can easily pay more than $500 for all of the initial stuff you'll need to get started. Between buying bees, hives, and other equipment.
A hobbyist who wants all the best equipment can easily spend a considerable sum of money during their first year. And you likely won't get much money back in the form of honey you can sell in your first season.
If you are considering commercial beekeeping, it requires a five-figure investment. Most people who keep bees commercially don't even make most of their money from selling honey like you'd think. Most of it comes from renting their hives out to help pollinate large farms.
Make sure that you know what you're getting into when you decide you want to be a beekeeper! It might seem like a nice casual hobby, but it requires regular effort! That doesn't mean that it isn't worth doing. Just that you need to know what lays ahead if you decide to pursue it.
But by setting reasonable expectations and knowing what beekeeping really entails, I hope to help make you stick with beekeeping for years to come.
Is Beekeeping Time Consuming?
Just because you've bought all your equipment and have everything set up doesn't mean the hard part is over.
Bees require care throughout the year. And often they require different types and amount of care depending on the season. They're very seasonal little creatures and adapt with the change in available food and temperature throughout the year.
As a rough estimate, you should expect to spend between 15 and 30 days per year to look after one hive of bees. That doesn't include all of the initial preparation and setup, but is how long it will take to maintain your hive once everything is up and running.
You’re beekeeping activity actually varies according to the time of year. During the most active seasons between spring and fall, you will typically visit your hives once per week or every two weeks. A hive visit can take anything between a quarter of an hour to an hour. In winter when the colonies activity slows down and stops you will visit your hives more rarely just to check for storm damage and making sure bees have enough feed. There’s also a flourish of activity needed when you harvest your honey (but that’s one of the fun parts!).
Adding additional hives will take up more of your time, but it also isn't a 1:1 ratio. The time spent per hive will decrease a bit since you can tend to two at a time, and you'll also become more experienced.
If you’re thinking of beekeeping as a hobby, and if you're asking how much time you'll need to put into it, maybe you're not approaching it for the right reasons. It should be something you enjoy!
Let's compare it to another hobby. A whiskey connoisseur could simply down a shot as quickly as possible, but that's not the point. The enjoyment comes from sipping and enjoying the subtle nuances. The same goes for beekeeping. You should want to give more time to your hobby! Learning is a big part of being a beginner beekeeper, and you'll want to spend time studying and observing your bees, as well as researching and discussing with other beekeepers.
For a beekeeping enthusiast, it's not uncommon to spend a few hundred hours per year talking with other beekeepers, watching their bees, researching, or just sitting and watching your hive work.
Like most things, the more time and care you're willing to put into looking after your bees, the more you'll get out of them too.
What kind of tasks will take up your time?
Over the winter, if your bees didn't produce enough honey to last the winter, you'll need to be regularly checking their supply of sugar fondant so they don’t starve. There's also more hive safety and maintenance like clearing away ice and snow in the winter.
In spring, once your bees have survived the winter and start making food again for themselves, you’ll have to start regular hive inspections again. You want to check that brood rearing is going well, and make sure the bees have enough to eat if there are an increasing number of mouths to feed.
In the fall there can be a lot of tasks to complete. After the honey harvest you’ll probably be treating hives for various pests and diseases. You might also need to feed bees sugar syrup to compensate for the removed honey. And then you need to start preparing hives for the winter.
There will be a natural ebb and flow in the activity and needs of your hive. Some months will require a lot of work, while others you might not really need to do anything at all. In general, a good estimate is that you'll spend about half an hour per week looking after your hive as a beginner.
Is Beekeeping Profitable?
Here's the bad news. You probably won't make a profit from your bees in the first year. Especially considering the up-front investment needed to get started with beekeeping.
But once you've got a few established hives, you might be able to make a profit. I’ve heard of beekeepers who make $500 per year per hive, but keep in mind that you only harvest once per year. That means if you're becoming a beekeeper to make a side income, you'll need a lot of hives. To make a full-time income, you should expect taking care of your hives to be a full-time job.
But honey is only one of the byproducts of beekeeping. There are other ways of turning a profit from bees.
When you think of making money from beehives, honey is probably the thing that comes to mind. But there are actually several other income sources from bees as well.
A beehive can produce anywhere from about 20 to 60 pounds of honey per year. It depends on your weather, temperature, location, flora, and more. A pound of organic honey will sell for about $9 per lb at a farmer's market.
Beeswax is a surprisingly useful and coveted material. It's used to make a bunch of different products including candles, lip balm, and soap. Beeswax can vary a lot in price depending on quality and color.
It might be hard to sell bulk beeswax yourself, so you may want to turn it into consumer goods yourself before selling it.
Bee pollen is being touted by some people as the latest superfood. There are claims that it can increase your immunity, reduce seasonal allergies, act as an antioxidant, and even treat osteoporosis.
Propolis is a resin-like substance that bees produce and use to seal holes and gaps in their hive. Some people use it for the same reasons they would consume bee pollen like boosting immunity. But it also has a more practical purpose in products like chewing gum, cosmetics, and car wax.
Large farms will often pay beekeepers to rent their hives. You can get paid to move your hive to a farm for a few weeks and get paid for your bees to pollinate the farmer's crops. The most common crops that bees are rented to pollinate are almonds, sunflowers, and canola.
The great part is that you get to keep all the honey your bees produce while they're rented out, so it's like double the income!
If you're really into bees, you can create starter hives or provide replacement stock to other new beekeepers or those who have lost their colony to disease or swarming. You can also make some extra cash by custom building your own hives or kits.
Most hobbyist beekeepers don't do it for the money. But once your beehives have been established for a while, each hive should produce about $200 worth of honey per year.
If you want to go through the extra effort of collecting, marketing, and selling all the other products I listed above, that number could be significantly more.
The Rewards of Beekeeping
If beekeeping is such hard work, why go through all the effort? You've got to put out money up front, spend lots of time learning about how to take care of your bee colony, and then regularly check up on them. So what's the reward?
Probably the obvious reason why you want to keep bees. I mean, how many beekeepers do you know who don't enjoy honey? Once your bee colony get going and when the season is good your hives will be overflowing with this sweet golden stuff!
It Satisfies Your Curiosity
If you love science and biology, then beekeeping can be a great hobby. It’s fascinating to look into the private lives of bees and see how a hive operates. It's really fulfilling to watch the hive grow and develop over time.
I love learning about a topic in depth. So it's fascinating for me to learn how bees work. Including seeing first hand how eggs are produced, how larvae are fed, how bees search for flowers and pollen, and how honey is made. It's one thing to read about it in a book, but it's a whole other thing to see it happen right before your very eyes!
It Helps The Environment
If you aren't in a place where there are many natural pollinating insects, you can help the environment, and also your garden! Keeping bees will increase the amount of pollen spread between plants. That will lead to more healthy and green plants around your home, both ones that produce food for you and also ones that are just nice to look at.
You might be surprised how many other beekeepers there are in your area. People don't exactly go out of their way to make it public, but I guarantee that they're out there! There is most likely a beekeeper's association in your area. I've found they're very friendly people and very willing and eager to help newcomers who share their passion for bees.
How do I maintain good relations with my neighbors as a beekeeper?
It's good to be considerate of your neighbors when you're starting off your beekeeping hobby. I'd talk about your beekeeping plans with them, and ask if anyone in their family is allergic to bee stings.
Some people might have a negative reaction to the idea of their neighbors keeping bees, but I've found all my neighbors were actually supportive of the idea and very interested in it! In fact, keeping bees brought me closer to some of my neighbors since they're often interested in how it all works and it gives us something to talk about.
What are some reasons NOT to be a beekeeper?
Beekeeping can be a fantastic hobby, but I think you've really got to be passionate about it. I wouldn't do it just for the honey. It's far easier and faster just to pick up a jar from your local grocery store.
I wouldn't do it for the money either. You might make a small income from your hives if you sell your honey and other bee byproducts. But generally only enough to cover the ongoing upkeep of your hives. For the amount of time you'll put in, your hives will pay out less than minimum wage.
I wouldn't do it because it's easy either, because it's not. It's also not the kind of hobby you can just put down for a few months at a time and pick up later. A beehive is an entire community of hundreds of living things that require your ongoing attention.