Farm, Garden and The Land > Live Stock, Critters and Aquaculture

Bees, so far so good

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My fall/winter experience has been good, though a bit mixed.  I bought two nucs locally in June fairly cheap.  I used them to split and build two new hives with russian queens.  In August everyone got a series of Api Life Var for varroa.  Because of the late splits I had to feed them all.  One of the queens in the original nucs was a mess, I replaced her but it was too late to save that hive.  In September yellow jackets swarmed that hive and the bees absconded.  Bummer.  However, the other three hives are all still alive, two with russian queens and one with an italian mutt.  We’ve had record setting cold here the last two weeks but it is supposed to warm a bit next week so they should be able to move to fresh honey.  It has been quite the learning experience.  My hope is to build a 100-hive sideline business in the next five years.  This year has given me confidence to persue that goal.

Glad your beekeeping experiences have bee pretty good.  How long have you been keeping them?

In my area, the problem that a lot of the beekeepers have is finding places to keep their hives.  Usually they don't have issues finding places to keep them for the Spring since every orchard in the area wants to have them for pollination.  But come Summer, the orchard owners don't want them around anymore.

I know that some of them have also had issues finding places to sell their products.  A lot of the local farmers markets only allow a certain number of certain types of providers.  If they already have 3 people selling bee products, they don't allow the new ones.

Some have complained about having to explain in detail why their honey is far superior to the majority of the honey in the supermarkets and why they are charging a higher price than what is in the supermarket.  This problem is slowly going away, but it still exists in some places.

Not trying to put you off on your goal of the business, just bringing in some of the problems that the beekeepers in my area have voiced to me.  I hope you succeed in your goal.

Thanks for the insights, I appreciate the candor.  I started off as a kid with my dad in the 70’s.  He only kept 4-8 hives but leveraged them for a bit of cash flow through education.  He was an environmental educator and we lived on a nature center in Ohio so it was a good niche.  I went off to the army and other government agencies through the 80’s, 90’s, and early this century before buying a farm and settling down to teach.  I’ve been in the hobby again since 2006, minus time for a couple of deployments with the MI National Guard.  Learning to deal with mites was my biggest curve.
The model I’m playing with has little cash flow from honey, wax, and propolis and none from pollen.  I budgeted for 25lbs of honey per super and 3% wax by weight of honey harvested.  My main profit centers I’m hoping for will come from polination services, nuc sales, and education/consultation.
I live in blueberry, and fruit orchard country and while polination sales are in the dumps right now, I am expecting them to improve.  I am budgeting $63 per hive for that.  Nucs sell as fast as they come availabe in Michigan and net over $100 each.  That would be my main opportunity.  Consultation is just an idea, I did not include it in my business plan, but I’m a professional educator and my dad made it work and I remember how he did it.  Who knows, I might fill in a niche there, too.
This is never intended to be more than a sideline and the total income from the farm (we also finish hogs each year by reservation and deposit and sell a few hundred meat chickens) will only be a supplement to off farm income.  But it does keep me young dreaming about it!

Yes!  All three hives made it to March.  I’ve seen them out a time or two during some warm spells and even enticed two of them to take some syrup a couple weeks ago during a 48 hour warm up.  But today was the big day.  All three of them were bringing in pollen!  Up here in Michigan that means the maples are blooming.  And 40 years ago when I was doing this with my dad, he always said seeing the pollen come in was a sign your queen had made it through winter.  Very excited!

Mine haven't fared so well.  Both my hives are dead.  We had a couple of really warm days in February.  I saw no activity.  I went ahead and opened the hive that was strong and saw no activity.

But I'm really happy that you are having success. with them.  It's so cool to see your hives make it through the winter.


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