Pondering the Future of Beekeeping

Well year two isn’t quite in the books, but it seems a good time to sit down and wonder where I think beekeeping fits in to my life.

Aleisha, my mentor in beekeeping, has always been a good example of the be vs do principle for me. I think that matters, especially in a hobby that can be as expensive and intensive as beekeeping. It’s a consuming hobby; one that occupies my mind and time, space in my home/yard, and a portion of the budget. A not so small portion mind you.

I think the first question is yes or no for next year. Yes. That’s pretty easy to say. But I definitely prefer to be out there with Mackay or another friend. I do wonder how him moving on to grad school in a few years will impact my enjoyment of beekeeping, but I also recognize that that’s a great opportunity to work with others as well. I guess we’ll see.

The next question is one of numbers. I went up to five hives this year from two. Was that too many? With help, no. But again, what happens when my faithful fellow beekeeper moves away? Fortunately, I can push this one aside for now.

Equipment? I upgraded to all solid plastic frames this year. I’m not sure I care for these. I’ve never seen bees build bridge comb vertically in the hive (well not much anyway), but the bridge comb between the plastic frames is thick, regular, and strong enough that we have to cut it away when moving supers. I hate that, and I don’t like that it makes moving supers a two-man job. I’m stuck with the plastic for now because of the investment, but I will move back to wood I think.

I’m also seriously debating foundationless. My dad built two more hives this summer for his own apiary, and one hive is a full frame (sides, top and bottom); the other is an interesting experiment with bottomless frames (top and sides only). Both are foundationless. I could always cut the centers out of my current solid plastic frames if I wanted to get this same effect. Debating it….

Style? I’m debating moving to a Warre hive style of hive management. In Warre beekeeping, you add to the bottom, not the top as in Langstroth. I like the idea because it rotates your comb more consistently, but I wish I had more standardized equipment. I could always move some of my boxes around to get all deeps on some hives and all mediums on others, but just thinking of moving all those bees and combining/splitting all those hives gives me a headache.

Queen excluders? Definitely getting those. I have avoided those for a long time because I don’t care for that kind of artificial exclusion in the hive, but having dealt with FOUR hives laying eggs in the honey supers and seeing the trouble that caused…. I will probably leave the excluders off until the month prior to harvest. That will give any brood still in the honey time to hatch and move on before harvest.

Business? Hmm… I don’t know. The idea of doing our little beekeeping business really ignited something in me this late summer/early fall. Now? I don’t know…. I realized that my goals and desires are very unique in this and that I could get myself trapped in a cycle of spending a lot of money to make nothing. I don’t want money to drive this particular venture in beekeeping. I want beekeeping to drive this particular venture in beekeeping.

I may still attempt to do something with mentoring, and I do want to do the farmers market (if only to talk to people). I have had a lot of fun making and selling lip balms, and I’ve even made about $200 this year (including honey). Which brings up my next question…

Other products? Making the candles is pretty cool, but time consuming and not long-term interesting. They smell divine, though. But doing lip balms? That’s pretty awesome, if unfortunately a little expensive. Sadly. We still have about 100 lip balms to sell, and that’s cool. I don’t know that I’ll make many more until I sell what I have, though Courtney had an interesting idea for an Orange Dream Bar one that sounds tasty.

Expansion? I think this is the last question I’m facing…. I have had several people tell me they’d love to have hives…

… but not manage them.

Their thought is that I would do it. They would take a percentage of the results, and I’d get the rest. I typically see an 80/20 split with the beekeeper taking the 80.

I admit that the idea is attractive, but the more I think about it, the more I recognize the pitfalls. First, hives are not cheap. Second, now I’m adding distance into my inspections. Third, Mackay is leaving someday, and I already think I’ll be maxed out with my own five. Fourth, how do I handle neighbor issues when the neighbors aren’t even mind anymore? Fifth, at what point would it stop? Would I stop?

I just don’t know that I would stop. I don’t know that I’d ever turn anyone down, and that just ends up costing me more and more money without me having a real mechanism for turning around and selling the supply. Let’s be honest… I haven’t sold what I have, and I have a lot. Once all five hives get going full production, I’m looking at 20 to 30 gallons of honey a year or so on a normal to good year. That’s more than I have any clue what to do with. Really. I just don’t see me handling double that well.

If I had a way to sell it all, I’d consider it in a heartbeat, but with expansion comes trouble in the form of controls, taxes, and liability.

Yep, I think I’ll shelf that question for another day.

I think we have one more visit to the hives this year. I’m ready for the long quiet break, which is something I appreciate about this hobby. We’ll see what next year has in store for us!

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8 Responses to Pondering the Future of Beekeeping

  1. Emily Heath says:

    Intriguing, I’ve never met beekeepers who have trouble selling all their honey before. But then I live in London. Are there any little shops or delis near you that could stock it regularly? Or are you surrounded by huge out-of-town supermarkets?

    • daveloveless says:

      One of the things that I LOVE about Europe is all the small shops. It seems every corner has a bakery or a boutique or something. We just don’t do that here. I could sell in a store, but they’d want enough to maintain a year round presence. Most local beekeepers seem to put their honey up for sale online, and I’ve noticed that many seem to discount it the next year.

      Sigh… I lived in Germany for four years as a kid. It’s times like this that I miss Europe. 🙂

      To be fair, by the way, I haven’t really tried to sell yet except word of mouth. I’m tempted t throw a sign in the front window and see what happens!

      • Emily Heath says:

        We have lost a lot of our small shops in London (replaced by pound stores and fried chicken shops), but quite a few nice ones still remain, especially in the posher parts of town. Farmers markets too. France is the queen of small shops. At Paris I waited for ages in a queue stretching down a street to buy pastries and croissants from a boulangerie – totally worth it.

        One English beekeeper I know leaves honey for sale outside his house (in a rural area), with an honesty jar which people can pay into. The jar has only been stolen once!

  2. Lora says:

    Can we buy some from you the next time we’re out west?

  3. Sarah L. says:

    I’ve been waiting for you to post about your favorite conference talk. Something about bees …… 😀

  4. JeffreyD says:

    Have you contacted the bakery just south of you? How about any local community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in Utah County?

    You might also want to create a Facebook Page (not a Group) for your “company”. You could showcase your wares, post updates on hives, and cultivate a local following. With the right contacts, you could sell entirely to BYU students.

    Or, if you are still firm on avoiding Facebook (even as a company), Twitter might work out ok.

    Or, you could create another blog for the business and publicize that.

    However you proceed, you should create an online identity for the business and promote that–whether it’s face to face, or on your business cards, posters and other marketing materials.

    That’s my free-for-friends marketing advice. Not even honey is expected.

    • daveloveless says:

      I actually have looked at, but not approached, the bakery. I think they’d go for it. My offering is so small that I don’t see the value in online offerings. It’s just not worth the time for me.

      I mostly want the chance to share my product and the passion, so face-to-face is the route I would most likely go.

  5. Pingback: Darlington Mouse Guard & hive entrance reducer « Wallace Family Apiary

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