Beekeeping and Honey Production comb

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					    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 that 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
  product can easily sell out before the next season’s                                       of comb honey and extracted honey bottled
  crop is ready. Honey produced from the nectar                                              together.
  of certain trees, such as tuliptree, sourwood, and
  basswood, often brings a premium price.                                                    The U.S. demand for beeswax, a secondary
                                                                                             product of bee activity, is greater than the
  Market options include farmers markets, health                                             domestic market can produce. The beekeeping
  food stores, roadside stands, agritourism sites, and                                       industry, which uses beeswax to form wax
  Kentucky-crafted stores or booths. Beekeepers                                              foundation for the frames in the hive, is one of
  producing large crops may consider selling honey                                           the largest users of this by-product. There is also
  in bulk to a honey packer.                                                                 a high demand for pure beeswax candles.

  Honey can be marketed in several forms. Comb                                               royal jelly, a substance secreted by worker
  honey consists of chunks of honey-filled combs                                             bees to feed the queen, and bee pollen (more
  taken directly from the hive. Because it is the                                            accurately, “bee-collected pollen”), are being
  easiest to produce and the cheapest to package                                             promoted as dietary supplements.           Their
  and market, comb honey is often recommended                                                production is expensive and labor-intensive with
  for beginning beekeepers. While the price is not                                           limited markets.
  as high as for other types, there is usually a ready
  market. extraCted honey, which is generally                                                Renting out hives to orchardists and farmers for
  preferred by most consumers,                                                                               pollination purposes can provide
  is the liquid portion once it has                                                                          another source of income.
  been separated from the comb.                                                                              In     addition,    experienced
  Specialty products such as                                                                                 beekeepers could consider

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

        Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
selling bees to other beekeepers. These are sold      tasks. Every other spring the queen should be
as a small nucleus hive, or “nuc,” that is easily     replaced. While some inspections can be brief, it
transported and later expanded to a full-size         is important that the hive be examined in a timely
hive. Selling queens is another way experienced       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 and
water, such as a dripping hose, should also be        tracheal mite can result in serious bee losses in
located nearby. Avoid locations near large rivers,    the hive. Recent successes in bee-breeding have
highways, public areas, or on hilltops. Hives         provided strains of bees that are mite-resistant
located near cultivated crops are potentially in      and disease-resistant. Obtaining bees and queens
danger of exposure from insecticides. Obtaining       from a reputable source, frequent inspections, and
the cooperation of the grower and/or pesticide        proper management helps 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
                                                      Honey is considered ripe when the bees cap the
Sources of honey                                      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 hive
various plant species visited by the bees. It is      once they are completely capped over. The
not economically practical to produce a crop          average yield in Kentucky is about 50 pounds of
solely for honey production; however, cultivated      honey per hive per year. The honey should be
plants grown for other purposes can provide an        processed soon after harvesting and then stored
important source of nectar. Common nectar             in sealed containers in a warm, dry place or in a
sources include agricultural crops, fruit trees,      freezer until marketed.
small fruits, ornamentals, and wild flowers. 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 may 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
is packaged in clear glass or plastic containers.     honey extractors with associated equipment
Chunk honey is prepared by placing a portion of       cost about $500. However, extractors can be
honey comb in a jar and filling up the rest of the    borrowed from other beekeepers and some local
jar with the extracted liquid honey.                  beekeeping associations make them available
                                                      to members. A grant from the Kentucky
Beeswax is collected after all honey has been         Agricultural Development Board to Kentucky
removed from the combs. It should be cleaned,         State University has allowed the construction of a
melted down, and strained. It stores well at room     number of large-capacity honey extraction units.
temperature in the form of large chunks.              Twelve of these units have been established at
                                                      selected County Extension offices around the
Labor requirements                                    state. Since their establishment in 2003 nearly
Labor needs for beekeeping and honey production       200,000 pounds of honey have been extracted
are quite variable. For example, the time spent       using these units. Four additional units are
establishing new hives will depend on materials       expected to be placed in 2009.
used. In addition, considerable time can be spent
simply driving between hive locations. While it       Producers wishing to purchase their own
is difficult to estimate exact labor times, honey     extraction equipment and enter larger-scale
producers should expect to spend at least 5 hours     honey production will need at least 40 hives to
per hive per year caring for bees and harvesting.     recoup the typical costs of extraction equipment
                                                      in 3 years or less. Based on Pennsylvania State
Honeycomb processing times will vary depending        University estimates, a 10-hive production
on the type of honey produced. Producers should       and processing system would require an initial
expect to spend about an hour per hive processing     investment of nearly $3,750 while a 50-hive
comb honey. Additional time will be required for      system would require an investment of more
further processing.                                   than $5,650. Based on a price of $2 per pound,
                                                      extracted honey producers using this complete
Economic Considerations                               system could realize returns to land, labor, and
Initial investments include the purchase of           management easily approaching $100 per hive,
hives, beekeeping equipment, bees, and queen.         provided hives are rented for pollination at an
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has            annual rate of at least $60 per hive. Recent retail
calculated a per hive startup cost of $160 for hive   honey prices exceeding $4 per pound in Kentucky
materials, and up to $110 in additional beekeeping    could create significantly greater returns.
equipment. Beekeepers selling honey in bulk to
a honey packer will avoid the cost of bottling and    Selected Resources
marketing the honey in jars.                          • Beekeeping in Kentucky (Kentucky
                                                      Department of Agriculture, 2007)
Producers of comb honey will need at least one
year of production to cover the cost of hive          BeekeepinginKentuckyJan2007.pdf
materials. At a price of about $1 per pound of        • Beginning Beekeeping for Kentuckians
comb honey, a 10-hive comb honey system can           (University of Kentucky, 1996)
yield returns to land, labor, and management
well over $50 per hive, especially if the hives are   ent41.pdf
rented for pollination.                               • The Kentucky Beekeeper’s Calendar
                                                      (Kentucky State University, 2004)
Pressing or extracting equipment will represent
an additional investment for producers of chunk       C463-4038-99BE-82B2D5609694/0/
and extracted honey. The least expensive              beecalendar.pdf
• Kentucky State Apiarist (Kentucky                    • How to Get Started Keeping Bees
Department of Agriculture)                             (University of Georgia) 
• Kentucky State Beekeepers Association                to_get_started.htm                          • Income Opportunities in Special Forest
• American Beekeeping Federation (Georgia)             Products – Chapter 10: Honey (USDA)                        
• Beeswax (Virginia Tech, 2001)                        agib666/aib66610.pdf              • National Honey Board (Colorado)
• Honey (Virginia Tech, 2001)                          • Producing Pollen (University of Florida, 2003)
pdf                                                    • Some Ohio Nectar and Pollen Producing
• Honey Bee Program (University of Georgia)            Plants (Ohio State University, 2000)                 

Photo courtesy of John Clayton,                        Issued 2005; Revised May 2009
                  For additional information, contact, your local County Extension agent

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Description: Beekeeping and Honey Production comb