Recently I met a friend for lunch, and over sandwiches she inquired about our honey bees. I love talking about our bees, and she is a good friend who indulges me. After I provided a status update she asked, “Are you making money yet?” Her direct question caught me off guard. Most people ask us when we will have honey available, and I think my friend was curious to know if our colonies had reached a point where we could harvest honey for sale. Doug and I are first year beekeepers, so we are letting the bees have all the honey this year to get them through the winter. Nevertheless, my friend’s question made me wonder if hobby beekeepers could make a profit from their bees.
Doug and I became beekeepers because we find bees fascinating. We like learning about bees and talking about bees and taking care of them. I also wanted to increase the output in my vegetable garden. Neither one of us eat that much honey, and we never considered keeping bees for the purpose of generating income. First year beekeepers spend money but don’t make money. However, subsequent years may bring opportunities to actually earn some revenue. Therefore, I decided to make a very rough estimate to see if it is possible for a hobby beekeeper to be profitable. As the saying goes, this is a back of the envelope calculation.
Here are the assumptions used:
- Three hives are started from nucs and are all started in year 1.
- No bees are purchased after year 1. Any colony losses are compensated for by spring splits of surviving colonies. After year 1, queens are made by the colony and are not purchased.
- Honey extracting equipment can be obtained at no cost through your local bee club.
- Materials needed to make hive stands are available or can be scavenged for free.
- Varroa mite treatments (Apivar strips) are given in early spring and fall.
- A free source of fuel for the smoker is available.
- You are able to get your honey tested for free through a state agency.
- All of your equipment lasts 7 years.
- A hive consists of: 2 brood boxes, 1 honey super, top feeder, and all the necessary frames with foundation, entrance reducers, queen excluder, cover and bottom board.
- In years 2 through 7, 40 lbs of honey are obtained from each hive, and honey is sold for $10/lb. Annual honey revenue = $1,200.
Here are the upfront costs based on pricing I found on Amazon:
- Hives (3) – $900
- Bee jacket with veil – $69
- Goatskin gloves – $32
- Tool kit (bee brush, hive tool, smoker, etc) – $40
- Bees (3 nucs with mated queens) – $450
Total One Time Costs in Year 1: $1,491
Ongoing annual costs (with or without honey collection):
- Bee club membership – $10
- Sugar (100 lbs) – $50
- Mite treatment – $72
- Small hive beetle traps – $21
Total Ongoing Costs: $153
Costs associated with honey production:
- Honey bottles – $121
- Honey labels – $18
Total annual costs if bottling honey: $139
Year 1: Honey revenue – One time costs – ongoing costs – honey costs = $0 – $1491 – $153 – $0 = (-$1,644)
Years 2 through 7: Honey revenue – Ongoing costs – honey costs = $1200 – $153 – $139 = $908/yr or $5448 total revenue over 7 years
Total profit after 7 years: $3,804
My conclusion is that hobby beekeeping can be profitable but not by much. The risk is also high that your profit will be eroded or eliminated depending upon factors outside of your control such as weather patterns and infectious agents. My assumptions were very aggressive and didn’t include any contingencies. The assumptions don’t include any costs associated with marketing and sale of your honey. It is assumed that all 120 bottles can be sold each year through word of mouth and no advertising costs or farmers’ market fees are included. The other item not accounted for is the labor associated with managing the hives and bottling the honey. Your time is worth something. If you are strictly viewing beekeeping as a way to generate revenue, you would probably be better off to find part-time employment.
Bees can generate money in other ways besides honey. A nuc with a mated queen can sell for approximately $150. You could sell 1 or 2 nucs a year if your colonies are strong and all make it through the winter without issues. Beeswax can also be made into candles or formulated into skin care products and sold. You may even find local farmers who are willing to pay you a small fee to keep your hives on their property for the purpose of pollination. The successful bee businesses in our area have multiple revenue streams including sale of equipment (either as a distributor or a manufacturer), sale of honey, sale of bees, sale of beeswax, and hive rental for pollination. Some offer classes for a fee as well.
Beekeeping can be a hobby that eventually pays for itself, which makes it significantly better for the bank account than other hobbies such as golfing or boating. However, people who start keeping bees need to do so because they enjoy bees. The honey and extra cash are nice, but they aren’t worth the effort if you don’t love the bees. Every time we visit our hives to perform a check, I have a sense of anticipation similar to the feeling I had as a child opening a package at Christmas. You can’t put a price tag on that.