Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to harvest we go! The end of September not only marks the close of the summer season and National Honey Month, but also the kickoff for bee product collecting!
This means that as a backyard beekeeper, now is a good time to ask yourself an important question, if you haven’t already…
Am I harvesting bee products for FUN or for FUNDs?
Types of Bee Products
The colony in your backyard has sure been working hard over the last couple of months. And amazingly, honey isn’t the only fruit of their labors. Your busy little honey bees are also expert creators of bee products like wax, gangs, wood varnishes, poison, and jelly.
(Is your mind boggled yet? Here’s what all of these bee creations actually refer to…)
Beeswax: Honey production is dependent on beeswax — the building material for the hive’s honey storage system: honeycomb. Once honey is removed from the honeycomb, this waxy, non-deteriorating material can be recycled by the bees themselves. Alternatively, beeswax can be re-purposed for use in high-demand human favorites like candles, cosmetics, polish, inks/paints, beers, lubricants, and leather/fabric preservatives.
Gangs: Okay, okay… bees don’t really have gangs (…if you’ve ever encountered an unhappy swarm, though, you may beg to differ). But in all seriousness, beekeepers need to get their initial bee supplies from somewhere, right? Packaged honey bees are used for just that — delivered as thousands of bees strong, for your backyard beekeeping purposes. And someone has to be responsible for breeding that brood to sell.
Wood varnishes: Honey bees have no idea what kind of magic they’re making as they go about their daily business. But much to the extreme thrill of fine-woodwork enthusiasts (like violinists), bees' propolis (or “bee glue”) is used to concoct special varnishes that keep their timber-treasures in pristine condition. Propolis comes with a long list of health bonuses as well. As a natural antibiotic, it organically fights disease and infection, boosts the immune system, combats cancerous cells, lowers cholesterol, and relieves constipation. And bees aren’t the only ones who bask in the benefits of this bee product— flora, fauna and fellow humans, I’m lookin’ at you.
Poison: Bee-lieve it or not, some types of honey bee venom have been found to help reduce the pain associated with certain kinds of arthritis. So if you think you have it in ya to learn how to “milk” a bee for its venom, it may very well be the most well-deserved paycheck you’ll ever earn.
Royal Jelly: While this bee product doesn’t get nearly as much hype as honey, it's still a hot commodity not only for bee hive inhabitants, but also for consumer purposes (unbeknownst to many a backyard beekeeper). Jelly is used for many everyday products like vitamins and dietary supplements (that treat digestion, cholesterol, menopause, insomnia, fatigue, stress, and cold/flu symptoms), cosmetics, lotions, and skin creams.
The ‘Buzz-ness' Side of Bee Products
If you’re a beginner beekeeper, it’s best to start slow, steady and just for fun when it comes to your colony growth and income dreams.
Bee products will churn a profit for you, but expect your first few seasons of beekeeping to serve as recreation and practice. This is a great time to simply enjoy honing your honey skills, as well as exploring how (or if) to harvest additional bee products.
These first couple years of backyard beekeeping (particularly with the more generous period of down-time in the winter) also serve as ideal opportunities to dabble in some research concerning potential business-related costs (e.g., jars, labels, extraction methods, additional equipment, shelving, booth rentals, etc.), depending on which bee product sales you choose to pursue.
Some food for thought: In terms of a return on investment, pertaining strictly to honey, remember that you may start out your sales with the basic goal of paying off your beekeeping start-up costs (roughly $550-700, depending on what equipment you purchased).
Now chew on this: Let's put your bee products and beekeeping costs into perspective. Once you are settled into your beekeeping and harvesting routine, your hive has the potential to yield about 60-90 pounds of honey per year. Assuming your honey sells for about $5-7/pound, your sales may amount to about $300-600/year per hive.
Oh, and one last thing…. You’ll never need to pay for honey ever again.
Now isn’t that sweet?