Honey Bees for Hire
Beekeeping is a profession, and most beekeepers, whether full-time or part-time, hope to make a profit from the undertaking. Traditionally, beekeepers have made money by harvesting and selling honey and other bee byproducts such as pollen and royal jelly. Beeswax can also be harvested and sold for a variety of purposes. But more and more beekeepers are now renting out their bees to farmers, who need bees on a seasonal basis for crop pollination. If done properly, beekeepers can earn considerably more money renting out their bees than they can selling honey, but before you can see these profits you need to establish a reputation, with a track record of strong performance.
First of all, educate yourself. Learn about commercial crops in your area that rely on bees for pollination. Many beekeepers who rent out their hives are capable of transporting them over long distance, trucking fifty hives hundreds of miles, but start out smaller scale. Once youÃ¯Â¿Â½ve identified your target clients, learn about the growing seasons of the crops and about their pollination requirements; how many hives are needed per acre? Learn about how these crops are farmed and what pesticides are used if any (which may be harmful to your bees). The farmers will not expect you to be an expert about their business, but you should know enough to project confidence that you can do the job.
There are hundreds of commercial crops that are pollinated by honey bees, from nuts and berries, to other fruits and vegetables, to feed crops. Some of these crops are more heavily reliant on the hiring of bees than others; California almonds are one crop that has been cited often as a strong market for beekeepers. See whatÃ¯Â¿Â½s grown in your area and learn about the needs of the farmers. In the process, you will get to know these farmers personally.
Next, ensure that your hives are strong. If some of your colonies are suffering from a bee malady, perhaps parasites or pathogens of some sort, then take measures to bring those colonies back to full health. Farmers will pay you per hive, and they will know if a hive is not performing. If you have a total of thirty hives but ten of them are unable to perform at full strength for whatever reason, then you have only twenty hives suitable for hiring.
If youÃ¯Â¿Â½re just starting out, you will probably have more opportunities with small-scale growers who only need a few hives. Many commercial beekeepers who rent out dozens of hives already have established relationships with large growers, and growers will not switch to a new beekeeper on a whim; too much is at stake. Smaller growers are more flexible; many have perhaps relied on natural pollination and are looking to hire bees for the first time. This is your best chance to establish a reputation.
If you have a few contracts to provide bees for pollination in the spring, be sure to take good care of your bees through the winter. Most bee colonies suffer losses during the winter months, when bees live off the honey and pollen theyÃ¯Â¿Â½ve stored in their hives. Some colonies may suffer drop-offs of 30 percent or more; if you have only twenty hives and have contracted them all out, but find that six of these hives are well under strength in the spring, you wonÃ¯Â¿Â½t be able to fulfill your contract. You can help these colonies build up to full strength again by feeding them, beginning in February and continuing until the bees can begin gathering nectar again in the early spring.
There are various other measures that you can take to bring your hives up to full strength by the springtime. You may need to replace a queen, or purchase package bees. Learn your own business.
YouÃ¯Â¿Â½ll also need to determine how much to charge. This will take market research; depending on the season, location, and need, the cost of renting bees can range from $10 to $180 per hive, for a period of a few weeks, which includes the cost of transportation and setup. California almond growers have recently paid the highest prices (up to $180 for a colony for a short period of time); the global phenomenon referred to as colony collapse disorder has resulted in widespread shortages of bees for pollination purposes, adversely affecting the almond growing business (and other commercial crops as well). If youÃ¯Â¿Â½re a Florida beekeeper, you may not be prepared to truck your bees across the country (although some commercial Florida beekeepers do just that), but keep abreast of local conditions and establish a fair price.
Start slow and donÃ¯Â¿Â½t take on a job you may not be able to handle. Word gets around among farmers, and you donÃ¯Â¿Â½t want damaging information circulating about you. Take on easy jobs first, requiring fewer hives and shorter distances, until you can establish your reputation. You can then see where opportunities lead you.