The sound of bees buzzing in a hive, busy pollinating the garden and producing sweet golden honey, is enough to satisfy the desires of many urban beekeepers. However, if you’ve managed to cultivate one successful urban hive, chances are you see potential for other hives around the city—perhaps near a community garden or in a willing neighbor’s backyard. It’s at this point you may decide you want to go into the honey business. After all, the vendor at the farmers’ market has hit a sweet spot with his supply, so perhaps a hyper-local alternative could be just what your community is after. Before making the leap from urban-beekeeping hobbyist to honey entrepreneur, take these thoughts into consideration.
Like any start-up, launching a beekeeping business means you’ll need to invest in inventory: Here, that means the hives. Beehives are relatively low-cost investments in the long-term: The materials needed to set up a single hive, including hive frames, beekeeping tools, brood boxes, protective gear, bees, food and medication, cost about $600—$900 for two hives—but should last up to 30 years.
As a budding beekeeping business owner, a definite bonus is that you don’t need to invest in real estate: You can set up hives in your urban backyard or a lot near a community garden, and the space needed is not much bigger than the hive itself. "I work my hives from the back—a couple feet behind and to the side to take the lid off,” says Jeff Eckel, who runs We Bee Brothers, an urban honey business in Philadelphia, with his two brothers. "That's really all [the space] you need."
Eckel points out that while having a garden or planting bee-friendly flowers or trees can benefit your hives, bees will also fly up to 3 miles in search of food. Having your own garden isn’t a requirement for hive placement, further reducing your start-up costs. Instead, think strategically about where you can place hives for maximum pollination coverage.
Urban beekeeping laws vary from city to city, so before you start a beekeeping business, you’ll need to ensure the practice is actually legal where you live. City and state beekeeping ordinances can include anything from the number of hives you can have in a given area to requiring beekeeping licenses. If you’re unsure where to find this information, a local beekeeping club or cooperative extension office can point you in the right direction.
Doing this research at the beginning of your endeavor will save you a lot of headaches and money in the future. If hives aren’t given the proper distances from property lines or neighboring houses, you could be fined or even forced to remove the hive.
The key to getting a robust honey harvest—and subsequently a profit—is keeping your bees healthy. Regular hive checks can take up a lot of your time when you add more hives to your operation, and if you want to make a honey business worth your while, it’s something you’ll want to keep up on. Your bees are at risk for a number of different diseases and parasites, including American foulbrood, nosema, Varroa mites, Tracheal mites and hive beetles....
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