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Beekeeping and Honey Production


									    University of Kentucky                                         College of Agriculture                                           New Crop Opportunities Center

  Beekeeping and Honey
  Apiculture, the study and keeping of bees, often
  begins as a hobby which can later be expanded
  into a small business. A beekeeping enterprise
  can provide marketable honey and serve as a
  source of pollinators for nearby cultivated crops.

  Market and Market Outlook
  The honey market is currently very strong,
  especially for locally-produced honey and                                                  honey butter and whipped honey are made from
  specialty honey. A beekeeper producing a quality                                           extracted honey. Chunk honey is a combination of
  product can easily sell out before the next season’s                                       comb honey and extracted honey bottled together.
  crop is ready. Honey produced from the nectar
  of certain trees, such as tulip poplar, sourwood,                                          The U.S. demand for beeswax, a secondary
  and basswood, often brings a premium price.                                                product of bee activity, is greater than the domestic
                                                                                             market can produce. The beekeeping industry,
  Market options include farmers markets,                                                    which uses beeswax to form wax foundation for
  health food stores, roadside stands, agritourism                                           the frames in the hive, is one of the largest users
  sites, and Kentucky-crafted stores or booths.                                              of this byproduct. There is also a high demand
  Beekeepers producing large crops may consider                                              for pure beeswax candles.
  selling honey in bulk to a honey packer.
                                                                                             royal jelly, a substance secreted by worker
  Honey can be marketed in several forms. Comb                                               bees to feed the queen, and bee pollen (more
  honey consists of chunks of honey-filled combs                                             accurately, “bee-collected pollen”), are being
  taken directly from the hive. Because it is the                                            promoted as dietary supplements. Their
  easiest to produce and the cheapest to package                                             production is expensive and labor-intensive with
  and market, comb honey is often recommended                                                limited markets.
  for beginning beekeepers. While the price is not
  as high as for other types, there is usually a ready                                       Renting out hives to orchardists and farmers
  market. extraCted honey, which is generally                                                for pollination purposes can provide another
  preferred by most consumers,                                                                               source of income. In addition,
  is the liquid portion once it has                                                                          experienced beekeepers could
  been separated from the comb.                                                                              consider selling bees to other
  Specialty products such as                                                                                 beekeepers. These are sold

Agriculture & Natural Resources • Family & Consumer Sciences • 4-H/Youth Development • Community & Economic Development

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as a small nucleus hive, or “nuc,” that is easily     replaced. While some inspections can be brief,
transported and later expanded to a full-size         it is important that the hive be examined in a
hive. Selling queens is another way experienced       timely manner throughout the year.
beekeepers may profit from their enterprise.
The technique for rearing queens is taught in         Swarming, which greatly reduces hive strength,
workshops at Kentucky State University.               is most often associated with overcrowding in the
                                                      hive. It can be avoided with proper management
Production Considerations                             practices.
Site selection and obtaining bees
Ideally, hives should be located within 1 to 2        Pest management
miles of a succession of spring, summer and fall      The most common brood diseases in Kentucky are
nectar sources. Some shade should be provided         chalkbrood, American foulbrood and European
during the heat of summer, along with protection      foulbrood. Other diseases include nosema and,
against the cold winds of winter. A source of         occasionally, some viruses. The varroa mite
water, such as a dripping hose, should also be        and tracheal mite can result in serious bee losses
located nearby. Avoid locations near large rivers,    in the hive. Recent successes in bee-breeding
highways, public areas or on hill tops. Hives         have provided strains of bees that are mite- and
located near cultivated crops are potentially in      disease-resistant. Obtaining bees and queens
danger of exposure from insecticides. Obtaining       from a reputable source, frequent inspections,
the cooperation of the grower and/or pesticide        and proper management help prevent bee losses.
applicator will be essential to avoid bee losses.
                                                      Skunks and mice are common in rural areas, but
Bees can be captured from a swarm, obtained           can be excluded with screens or other barriers
from an established beekeeper or purchased            at the front of the hive. Bears, which are now
from a commercial bee supply company. Along           common in eastern Kentucky, are kept away with
with the hive and hive parts, other necessary         electric fences.
equipment includes a smoker, hive tool and
protective gear for the beekeeper.                    Harvesting and processing honey
                                                      When bees cap the honey, it is considered ripe.
Sources of honey                                      Supers, the chambers used to store surplus
Honey color and flavor are determined by the          honey in the hive, can be removed from the
various plant species visited by the bees. It is      hive once they are completely capped over. The
not economically practical to produce a crop          average yield in Kentucky is about 50 pounds
solely for honey production; however, cultivated      of honey per hive per year. The honey should
plants grown for other purposes can provide an        be processed soon after harvesting and stored in
important source of nectar. Common nectar             sealed containers in a warm, dry place or freezer
sources include agricultural crops, tree fruits,      until marketed.
small fruits, ornamentals and wildflowers. One
hive will require several acres of flowering plants   Pieces of sealed and undamaged honey comb
to provide it with sufficient nectar.                 can be cut into neat pieces, packaged in plastic
                                                      wrap or boxes and sold as comb honey. Liquid
Management                                            honey can be separated from the combs using
The beekeeper will need to regularly open each        professional extracting equipment. Small scale
hive to examine the condition of the brood,           beekeepers, however, can do the job cheaply
check food stores, look for signs of disease and      by crushing the combs and letting the honey
pests, and to perform various hive maintenance        run slowly through strainers. Extracted honey
tasks. Every other spring the queen should be         is packaged in clear glass or plastic containers.
Chunk honey is prepared by placing a portion of       other beekeepers and some local beekeeping
honey comb in a jar and filling up the rest of the    associations make them available to members.
jar with the extracted liquid honey. Beeswax is       A grant from the Kentucky Agricultural
collected after all honey has been removed from       Development Board to Kentucky State University
the combs. It should be cleaned, melted down,         has allowed the construction of a number of
and strained. It stores well at room temperature      large-capacity honey extraction units. At least
in the form of large chunks.                          twelve of these units will be established at county
                                                      Extension offices around the state by late 2005.
Labor requirements
Labor needs for beekeeping and honey production       Producers wishing to purchase their own
are quite variable. For example, the time spent       extraction equipment and enter larger-scale honey
establishing new hives will depend on materials       production will need at least 40 hives to recoup
used. In addition, considerable time can be spent     the typical costs of extraction equipment in three
simply driving between hive locations. While it       years or less. Penn State University estimates an
is difficult to estimate exact labor times, honey     initial investment of over $3,500 for a ten-hive
producers can expect to spend at least 5 hours per    production and processing system and nearly
hive per year caring and harvesting for bees.         $5,500 for a 50-hive system. Based on a price of
                                                      $2 per pound, extracted honey producers using
Honeycomb processing times can vary depending         this complete system could realize returns to
on the type of honey produced. Producers should       land, labor and management easily approaching
expect to spend about an hour per hive processing     $100 per hive, provided hives are rented for
comb honey. Additional time will be required for      pollination at $55 per hive. Recent retail honey
further processing.                                   prices exceeding $4 per pound in Kentucky could
                                                      create significantly greater returns.
Economic Considerations
Initial investments include the purchase of
hives, beekeeping equipment, bees and queen.          More Information
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture                • Apiculture (Kentucky State University)
has calculated a startup cost of $160 for hive
materials, and up to $106 in additional beekeeping    program/agriculture_natural_resources/
equipment required per hive. Beekeepers selling       apiculture.cfm
honey in bulk to a honey packer will avoid the        • Beginning Beekeeping, ENT-41 (University
cost of bottling and marketing the honey in jars.     of Kentucky, 1996)
Producers of comb honey will need at least one        ent41.pdf
year of production to cover the cost of hive          • Kentucky State Apiarist (KDA)
materials.    At a price of about $1 per pound
of comb honey, a ten-hive comb honey system           • Kentucky State Beekeeping Association
can yield returns to land, labor, and management
well over $50 per hive, especially if the hives are   • American Beekeeping Federation
rented for pollination.                     
                                                      • Beekeeping (Penn State University, 2001)
Pressing or extracting equipment will represent
an additional investment for producers of chunk       bees.pdf
and extracted honey. The least expensive honey        • Beeswax (Virginia Tech, 2001)
extractors with associated equipment cost about
$500. However, extractors can be borrowed from        beeswax.pdf
• Honey (Virginia Tech, 2001)                        • National Honey Board
• Honey Bee Program (University of Georgia)          • Producing Pollen (University of Florida, 2003)                
• Income Opportunities in Special Forest             exe?DOCUMENT_AA158
Products – Chapter 10: Honey (USDA)                  • Some Ohio Nectar and Pollen Producing              Plants (Ohio State University, 2000)

Photo courtesy of John Clayton                                                           Issued 2005

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