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Beekeeping With A Smile

Does it pay to keep honeybees?  I get that question often in our beekeeping association’s beginner beekeeper school we hold every year.

My answer…. Does it pay to kiss a loved one?  Does it pay to hug a child?  to look at beautiful things like a gurgling creek or the morning dew on a freshly cut field?  to eat ripe blackberries right off the vine? Can the joy, serenity and happiness found in these activities be appraised from a dollar standpoint?

Likewise, as one looks upon the craftsmanship of the creator of bees, observes the diligence of the worker bees as they go about their life purpose, and tastes the fruits of their labor, can we even begin to put a price on that pleasure?  

My first foray into the beekeeping world brings back fond memories of my father, who first introduced me to the joy of beekeeping.  Being a genius and somewhat unconventional, my dad approached our beekeeping hobby (and all of his many hobbies and interests) with complete immersion and mindfulness.

For example, when he decided to prospect for gold, he acquired all of the equipment to pan and dredge for gold, and crush the rocks to assay the gold, concentrating the ore into buttons of gold that could be used for jewelry.  He even purchased a gold mine and opened the Southern Gold and Silver Assaying Company.  Go big or go home… right?

When he decided to have an organic garden, he acquired all of the equipment we needed to prepare the land, plant the garden, and process and can the food.  I won’t even elaborate on his preparation for the camping, shooting and fishing activities we enjoyed.

I was, of course a party to these hobbies which I enjoyed immensely.  Well, most of the time. There was this one time I spent all day digging the manure out of and old barn so we could start our organic compost pile.  Had to throw those shoes away – best garden ever.

And come to think of it, carrying the dredge motor through the woods to the perfect prospecting spot in the stream wasn’t too much fun.  Nor was acting as an anchor on a corner of the tent during a severe thunderstorm that nearly blew us away. 

And then there was the time the boat stalled in the middle of the lake. Being around six years old at the time, I was terrified at the thought of drowning if the boat sank.  Which of course, my dad assured me it would not.  Our fresh-caught fish that day were the best ever, probably because of that special ingredient – love.

And so it went with our beekeeping adventure. We had the best stainless steel uncapping tank, extractor, and storage tank in the ‘honey house’ and all of the necessary bottling supplies.  All for our two little hives of bees that we kept in the city.  Of course, we later expanded our bee yard to the gold mine property. 

Then he moved us into the old dilapidated log cabin near the gold mine to be closer to it. Yes, a real log cabin, on a rock foundation with mud between the logs. You could see the ground below through the wide spaces between the floor boards. We stuffed washcloths in the holes in the walls to keep the cold wind from blowing in. This was 1970. My friends thought it funny to see his Mercedes parked in front of the cabin. My dad….you just have to admire him in all his eccentricity.

Yes, bee keeping does pay.  It pays in the paradise enjoyed, as I sit beside a hive observing the goings-on, just as I did with my father. It pays as I feel the joy of capturing a swarm and placing it safely in a hive. It pays as I taste the sweet honey, the fruits of our efforts – my bees’ and mine, although it’s mostly theirs’, and it pays in the contemplation of the whole beauty and concept of the life and purpose of the honeybee colony.  

The real question… Can I make money keeping bees as a business?

Well, if your aim is to profit financially from the labor of honeybees, you may want to consider the business of providing pollination services, selling equipment, and/or raising and selling colonies and queens, as these will offer the best opportunity for financial profit.  You not only get the benefits of the profit from the products and services but also the benefits that come with a business license. And now may be a good time to start.

  • With fears in the last decade that the world’s bee population is threatened, beekeeping is growing exponentially creating more demand for beekeeping equipment and supplies.
  • The February 2019 issue of Bee Culture reports the average fee for the 2018 almond pollination season reported by the California State Beekeeper’s Association was $190. per colony, and it’s only going up as the future demand for almond pollination services increases.
  • More people are becoming aware of the health benefits of pure honey and other products of the hive. A quart jar of pure unprocessed honey now sells for $20. Creamed honey brings more. Pollen, propolis and royal jelly products are becoming favorites and bring a premium.
  • The demand for locally raised and hygienic queens is creating an opportunity in the queen-rearing business. Queens are currently selling for around $25 each. Specialty queens are more.

While this renaissance in the interest in the honeybee enterprise is creating more opportunity for providers of beekeeping equipment and supplies, even a back yard beekeeping hobby can pay for itself. After the payback of the initial investment, one can make a small profit selling honey and hive products to friends and family.

As for me, it’s a labor of love. Following my dad’s example, I spare no expense on my hobby.  I expanded my bee yard to include a honey house, and my garden space to include more pollinator plants.  Of course, I had to build a fence to keep out the honeybee predators and garden gangsters, and I added a greenhouse to support my gardening effort.  And the list goes on – One Happy Place after another.

My dad is probably looking down on me from heaven, clapping his hands and saying, Happy beekeeping!

2 Replies to “Beekeeping With A Smile”

  • Your writing is so poetic I could feel you being the tent anchor during a thunderstorm, and I could imagine the thrust of you throwing away your shoes after cleaning a barn.

    The idea of your dad keeping an eye on you even now is strong. Maybe he’ll peak over here ever once and a while.

    Thanks for writing this column, Anne. I appreciate your comments.

    • Thanks for commenting Pat. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Dad died at age 46 from cancer. Way too soon, but he said he had accomplished what he came here to do. I’ll ask him to watch over you too.

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