Psst. Wanna make some money?

Neil Bertram, my co-teacher of  Making Money from Honey,  is leading a group participation session about growing a hobby into a sideline bee business.

Most hobby beekeepers keep bees for fun, not profit.  But almost every beekeeper whom I’ve ever met tells me that, well, it would be nice to hear the cash register jingle once in a while. Bird-watchers or golfers rarely expect to make money from their hobbies. But most beekeepers think that their bees should gather money along with honey.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with making money from honey. In fact, from my observations of beekeepers over the years, those who want to make a few dollars (or at least cut their grocery bill) are almost always better beekeepers than those who ignore bees they’ve parked behind the house where they become diseased, infested with mites, swarm indiscriminately, or become the victim of marauding skunks and elves. When a beekeeper cares about her thousand-dollar investment and hopes to sell a hundred pounds of honey a year, appropriate attention is paid to the bees.  I’m not saying that money-making should outweigh good beekeeping. But good beekeeping usually results in  a surplus of honey and some money might be made.

A friend and I teach a crash course in beginning beekeeping. We also teach something we call “Making Money from Honey” which sounds like a crass course in beekeeping. We address the reality that some people are in it for the money. Some of our students hope that bees will supplement their income, at least in a very modest way. Others have kept bees for a while and want to expand their hobby into a business. We are very direct. Chances of making a lot of money are pretty slim. That’s the main message we convey to our course participants.

If you don’t love bees and don’t like hard physical work, don’t pursue bees for money.  Almost any other occupation pays better. It takes discipline, hard work, and good money-management skills to make money from honey. If you have these talents and money is your main goal, don’t waste your time keeping bees for money. Drive a truck and build up a trucking company. Use a hammer and create a construction business. Work your way up from sales clerk to corporate manager at a chain store. If money is your main consideration, don’t plan on getting wealthy from beekeeping.

I’ve seen dozens of people disappointed by their failures as beekeepers. Sometimes situations spin out of control – short crops because of drought or rain or frost, an unlucky accident, falling honey prices. And sometimes the failure is the result of poor money management, lack of discipline, or both.

However, there are successful beekeepers – and even a few wealthy ones. In all cases, these people have poured every ounce of their effort into beekeeping – they skip holidays, rise early, work late, and (this is important) live in poverty for years while every spare cent goes to bee feed, queens, and hive boxes. They’ve also survived inevitable bad luck. Not everyone can keep their eye on a goal that occasionally gets obscured by flood waters, swirling clouds of dust, or smashed trucks.

So why do people show up for a course about making money from honey? Well, if you really love bees and beekeeping, you can still reasonably expect to make a few dollars. I spent fifteen years of my youth making my entire living from bees. I lived cheaply and worked hard, but I enjoyed what I did. My money-from-honey co-teacher, Neil Bertram, keeps about 300 hives of bees and produces over 60,000 pounds of honey every year. Both of us would tell you that (after expenses) we never make minimum wage. But we like beekeeping too much to quit.

Our course covers a lot in seven hours: growing from backyard hobby to sideliner to commercial; equipment choices and shop/honey house considerations; finances, projections, expectations, difficulties, setbacks, and success; how much money to expect from bees in a typical year; handling and marketing your products; case histories of good and bad beekeeping businesses; and the beekeeper personality and lifestyle. Of course there is even more. I created a cool spreadsheet which participants can take home – you enter your number of hives and stuff like the cost of queens, bee equipment, trucks, labour, container costs, and so on and you put in your honey price per pound. That spreadsheet returns an idea of probable profit or loss.

Our next course is coming up this Sunday, May 6. Not everyone can come to Calgary to learn the economics of beekeeping, so I’m writing a book which will include some of what you’d learn from the workshop. Making Money from Honey: The Book should be ready by autumn. Drop me a note if you’re interested in it and especially if you have some suggestions or anecdotes to share.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a geophysicist who also does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written two books, dozens of magazine and journal articles, and complements his first book, Bad Beekeeping, with a popular blog at www.badbeekeepingblog.com. Ron wrote his most recent book, The Mountain Mystery, for everyone who has looked at a mountain and wondered what miracles of nature set it upon the landscape. For more about Ron, including some cool pictures taken when he was a teenager, please check Ron's site: miksha.com.
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16 Responses to Psst. Wanna make some money?

  1. Exciting! Put me on the book notification list. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gene McCune says:

    Hi Ron, had the opportunity to talk to you about producing Ross Rounds some years ago! Enjoy your Blog! Put me on the list when your book becomes available .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. susan rudnicki says:

    After just 8 years (and it is a major part of my income) beekeeping money is more in selling queen rite nucs and doing cutouts. Honey is very labor intensive all the way through, and I don’t find it makes a lot of money for me, even at $20 a pound.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Miksha says:

      There are so many ways to earn some money from beekeeping. Not a lot of money, but ‘some’. It’s kept you going for eight years, that’s quite an achievement in itself. Here in western Canada, the main bee income is honey money, but our course also includes making and selling nucs, raising queens, trapping pollen for profit, working with wax, and so on. There are a lot of directions to go and you found something which works well for you.

      Like

    • susan rudnicki says:

      Ha! had not read the whole post, but now this part sounds like me—” I lived cheaply and worked hard, but I enjoyed what I did.” Post-divorce, 2 years ago, my hobby became (only then) my main income source besides dental hygiene one day a week. Still have one child in college and he wants to go to graduate school, so half the expenses for him as well. Most days are 5 am to after dark. I would welcome your book, knowing your philosophy and sense of humor! Scheduling cutouts is really hard in between regular bee work and nuc management and teaching, because clients don’t get it that I don’t do removals as a full time occupation. A job I did yesterday (and way under bid it—NEVER go by a photo some client sends you for assessing the size of the colony! dumb me…) It had swarmed and failed to make a new queen but had a ton of bees with many large panels of comb, worked off a ladder, and took 4 hours. Anyway, I still love the work, just have to be mindful of protecting my back!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. valbjerke says:

    A customer where I worked for years bring honey in to sell….I always purchased – I also watched people pick up a jar and look at the price and put it back down. To me – the price wasn’t the point. I sell eggs, and used to sell meat birds – at whatever price I felt was at least not going to put me in the hole, all the while knowing my labor wasn’t included. This particular guy puts his money back into his bees and probably has a few dollars left over. He also has a full time job 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Garry Neufeld says:

    I’ve been meaning to get to one of your courses, but i’m too broke. Making money from bees seems mostly impossible. I’d read your book fo sure, I should be finished Ken Schramm’s by then. ha. cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Miksha says:

      “…but I’m too broke” – I hear ya’.
      But it takes money to make money. The course isn’t too expensive ($139) which includes lunch and the manual we wrote for the workshop. Plus you get two guys for seven hours of instruction. People always tell us that they make (or save) a lot more money from stuff they learn at the course than what it costs to there. The book will be cheaper, but the course is pretty intense and covers a lot more than I can put into writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • valbjerke says:

        I hesitated on taking the local course- but glad I’m did. I was surprised at how many people were there that got bees, lost their bees – and were now taking the course to figure out what they might have done wrong…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Alvin Keefe says:

    very eagerly awaiting your book

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Claire says:

    That sounds great and I would definitely be interested in the book when it comes out. I do sell my honey although to be honest I think I give more of it away than I sell, but it helps contribute to the cost of keeping the bees and the bees help with our pollination. As with everything i produce on the smallholding it contributes to our income but we don’t even make the minimum wage. I am starting to use the honey in cakes that I will sell in my cafe so hopefully this will increase my profits. Wish I could take the course, but I live too far away 🙂

    Like

  8. Kim Flottum says:

    Ron, I’ll trade you a copy of my “IN BUSINESS WITH BEES” book, out in late July for a copy of yours….sort of the same topic
    Kim Flottum

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Hi Kim,
      I didn’t realize you were writing a bee business book. Great idea! A lot of folks ponder the money in honey (and most don’t realize that a lot of it flows the wrong direction). I look forward to seeing your new book.
      I absolutely love your Backyard Beekeeper and recommend it to everyone starting out with bees.
      Ron

      Like

  9. Alan Jones says:

    Hi Ron,
    I enjoyed your last book about beekeeping, I would certainly be interested in the new one. The man who mentored me 40 years ago had two sayings ” beekeeping isn’t all honey or money! and”beekeeping is like religion, many are called but few are chosen” both true.

    Liked by 1 person

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