More than just a hobby – making a living from beekeeping
With around 7,000 beekeepers and roughly 700,000 registered hives (MPI 2016 Apiculture Monitoring Report), New Zealand produces a lot of honey. Many Kiwi beekeepers start out as hobbyists, with one or two hives in a back garden or on a rural property, then make the jump to selling honey and beekeeping full time.
Although making a living from beekeeping isn’t necessarily easy, turning a hobby into a job can lead to a fun, fulfilling career.
Here’s how to make the leap:
1: Know your stuff
If you want to become a professional beekeeper, you need to become a very good amateur first. Take the time to really understand the craft and figure out what you’re doing. Join a local association or club, join online forums, and find a mentor to help you as you start. Read everything you can about beekeeping and the specifics of your local environment, and stay on top of beehive inspections for at least a year or two before you think about turning it into a business.
2: Honey isn’t everything
Selling honey is the most obvious way to make money from beekeeping, but it’s not the only option. If you want to turn your love of beekeeping into a job, think about the parts you do best and enjoy most.
Beekeepers all over the world earn income from selling non-honey bee products like wax, propolis, and royal jelly; breeding and selling queens or starter colonies; building equipment and hives; helping hobbyists establish and maintain their hives; beekeeping education and courses; and even eco-tourism.
3: Start small
As with any home-based business, it’s a good idea to start small and build up your business before giving up your day job. Many beekeepers sell honey on the weekends or set up online shops to do this. If you’re keen to work as a beekeeping educator, think about running classes in the evenings or weekends, at least to begin with. Once you’ve established yourself and found an audience, you can think about whether you have enough business to turn beekeeping into a full-time job.
4: Tick the boxes
Beekeeping in New Zealand is governed by a number of rules and regulations. If you wish to sell your honey, you also need to meet certain food-handling and safety standards. If you’re planning to turn your hives into a career, make sure you meet all the requirements, fill in all the forms, and stay on top of checking your hives for pests. You don’t want to jeopardise your business on a technicality.
5: Don’t be afraid to charge
When it comes to turning a hobby into a business, the most difficult step can be charging people. If you haven’t been charging for advice, help, or even honey, it’s easy to feel as if your products and expertise aren’t worth much. However, you may find that people respect and value what you do more once you start charging – it’s easy to take something for granted if you’re getting it for free.
Check out similar businesses in your area to get a feel for how much to charge. You don’t want to be wildly out of sync with the market.
Making a living from beekeeping is a big step – but if you’re thoughtful, realistic, and prepared, it could change your life for the better.