Naturally, people ask me why I started beekeeping. They might expect that it reminds me of my childhood in some way, maybe a close neighbor that kept bees in their backyard, where I would visit the busy, humming hives on hot summer afternoons. But no, it wasn't anything romantic like that. I started beekeeping because I was curious. Kristin asked me to write a guest post for I Can Do It Myself and after reading her blog over, I think we share some common defects. I too want to do it myself, I too want to save money, and I too want to engage with my children. Who doesn't?
I grabbed a pamphlet about the local East Central Iowa Beekeeper's Club and asked a few questions, something about how much it takes to get into the hobby and when I should place an order. I think I got a few basic pointers, but I don't really remember. That year I tried to order a package of bees via e-mail, but I was too late for the season. "We are completely sold out of bees. You need to order in Feb or March. Phil Ebert."
About a year later, February 19th, I had the same thought, went back through my e-mail, and replied with the same question. His reply: "We have plenty of pkg bees available... If you want to go with the 4#, I need you to send me a check for $104." I was in! ($104)
The next beekeeper I met was none other than Mr. Ron Wehr, the supplier of my local Fareway's top-shelf all-natural honey. He taught the beekeeping class that I took at the Washington Kirkwood extension ($35). He is a real, down-to-earth Iowa farmer. He keeps about 300 beehives in various locations around the Keota, Washington, West Chester area. No beard. Very friendly, and his wife is outgoing and very sweet.
My next stop was www.dadant.com. Dadant and Sons was established in 1863 in Hamilton, IL, just 75 miles south of where I live. Mr Charles Dadant was a socialist from France, but that wasn't his fault. I ordered the "Honey of a hobby beginner kit no 1" ($150), which contained:
1 - standard beehive unassembled
1 - all purpose hive tool
1 - reversible entrance reducer
1 - bee smoker to calm bees
10 - 9 1/8 inch grooved top bar frames, unassembled
1 - protective bee veil
10 - sheets plastic based foundation
1 - sting resistant gloves
1 - entrance feeder
1 - book First Lessons in Beekeeping
1 - assembly instructions
1 - smoker fuel 1 lb.
1 - telescoping metal cover, unassembled
1 - inner cover
1 - bottom board, unassembled
There are a few useless parts, but the majority all critical, and all you really need to get started (besides the bees!). That winter I assembled the beehive in the garage, with the girls helping out occasionally. When an abnormally warm day came in spring we all sat out and painted the hive (and a little bit of each other, and a lot of the sidewalk) with pictures of bees and flowers. On April 14th I drove to Lynville, IA, to Phil Ebert's house to pick up my 4lb package of bees. I also picked up bees for a local Amish man, Chester Miller, who has turned out to be a very helpful fellow beekeeper. Chester very kindly paid for the gas. ($0) (Note: You can purchase Phil Ebert's honey products from the Coralville Hy-Vee, on the top shelf, on the left. There's an Amana beekeeper selling his wares there too, but I haven't met him.)
On July 16th I extracted my first quart of honey, using the very messy and slow "crush and soak" method, scraping comb and honey into a strainer held over the old glass pint canning jar. This is also the best method for little fingers to sop up the excess honey from the edges of the frames. WARNING: Everything gets sticky.
At the end of the season we will have at least 20 pints of raw, all-natural, unprocessed, local honey. There may be another season in the fall with another 20 pints. Most of our honey will be consumed by ourselves, and a large portion will turn into Christmas gifts. Calculating the value of the honey is not staight-forward. The supermarket doesn't sell my kind of small-batch honey, but sells the larger-scale local honey for about $5 a pint. At a farmer's market the honey may be worth, with a pretty jar and label, as much as $10 a pint. As a Christmas present, it may be worth $20. As used on toast with peanut butter and cinnamon, it may be worth $100 to me, my wonderful wife, and my two little daughters.
So, in summary, Kristin and her readers, with an initial investment of around $500, you can probably produce $500 worth of honey the first year and probably a lot more the following year. In the worst case you can buy new bees every year for $100 and get $500 worth of honey for your own use. Reign in your fantasies of great wealth and financial independence, though, because honey production also has a big risk factor. Bees die, crops fail, wood rots, skunks attack, droughts happen, and so on. So you could just be a normal honey consumer and buy it from the store. Or you could get close and personal with your food, admiring God's creative creation, learning a lot, and having a lot of fun. I hope that I've convinced you.
Check out Owen and Emily's website and get yourself some of their fresh, tasty honey!