I’m still exhausted from co-teaching last weekend’s beekeeping economics course here in Calgary. Judging from the evaluation sheets of the participants, our full-day seminar about the business of the bee business went well. In fact, most of the evalu-forms were ecstatic, as were e-mails we received post-course. We’re sincerely happy for that – we put a lot of hours into course prep and the students put hard-earned cash into paying us for our work. It’s a relief that everyone comes away satisfied, albeit mentally drained.
Here’s how the Money from Honey course unfolds. My teaching partner, Neil Bertram, starts the day with introductions and a quick review of class safety and housekeeping rules. We then give about a half-hour background into teachers’ experiences. This is not an exercise in self-grandizing, but an opportunity for participants to see the possibilities of making money from beekeeping. Between the two of us, we’ve pollinated crops, raised queens, produced packages, sold nucs, made comb honey, and produced a boatload of honey. We discussed how we built our businesses, described physical and perseverance skills that served us well, and disasters that beset us.
From our personal experiences, we segued toward other beekeepers’ experiences – folks who have spent years building bee empires or who have been satisfied making a comfortable living caring for modest numbers of hives. For example, we describe how a friend (“The Stationwagon Beekeeper”) ran a hundred hives without a truck, honeyshop, or acreage – he sold nucs each spring. He didn’t extract, bottle, or sell honey. We discussed another beekeeper who sort of accidentally fell into a nice beekeeping opportunity and built it into a large efficient bee business. Also mentioned were famous beekeepers Richard Taylor and Burt Shavitz who serve as examples. Then we reviewed a beekeeper who raises queens and another who runs a bee tourism business. All of this gave our participants ideas on the wide range of bee opportunities they might pursue.
After the beekeeping business examples, our course spends a couple of hours on very practical aspects of beekeeping – expanding from hobby to sideline to commercial: efficiently making splits, buying packages and nucs, purchasing strong hives or entire apiaries. Other practical stuff includes handling large crops, finding and keeping outyards, selection and care of equipment, honey house design, and a dozen similar topics. Even the temperament and skill-set required to succeed in bees is touched upon.
The afternoon is spent analyzing beekeeping spreadsheets – income and expenses, marketing, insurance suggestions, government inspections and regulations, kosher/organic/export requirements, price projections. We also walk through a dozen issues that can sink a bee business.
As I’ve said, it’s an exhausting 7-hour course to teach, but if we can help a few beekeepers escape some of the expensive mistakes which we ourselves have made in our collective 70 years of beekeeping, it’s worth it!