Beekeeping Benefits Include Pleasure, Profit

by Andy McGuire, UNL Extension Educator

Why would anyone want to keep bees? There are a variety of answers depending on what motivates you.

If you are considering a side-line business, then this may be a good time to look into beekeeping. Marion Ellis, beekeeping specialist at UNL, believes that beekeeping offers a good opportunity for those seeking supplementary income. According to Ellis, an operation of 25-200 hives would be the right size for someone not wanting to go into beekeeping full-time. The bees could be kept within a close radius of your home and existing structures can be modified for honey processing and storage. Larger operations require specialized equipment, storage buildings, and trucks, and are spread out over a large area.

The honey from side-line operations can usually be marketed directly to consumers at a premium. Possible outlets include orchards, roadside produce stands, Christmas tree farms, advertising agencies (many are looking for Christmas gift packages for corporate customers to send their clients), tour companies (they like to give small thank-you gifts that reflect the area they visited), restaurants (if you supply them with honey, persuade them to put up a honey display by the cash register), or a sign in the yard along the road leading to your home.

If your needs are not so tangible, consider some of the other rewards of beekeeping as lauded by beekeepers through the centuries. (Taken from Ellis’ newsletter Bee Tidings)

William Shakespeare in King Henry V, "For so work the honey bees, creatures that by a rule in nature, teach the art of order to a peopled kingdom."

Dr. John Dzierzon in his 1882 book, Rational Bee-Keeping Principals, states "The keeping of bees is an occupation as pleasant as it is profitable."

The Baron von Ehrenfels called bee-keeping the ‘Poetry of Agriculture’

Sue Hubbell in A Book of Bees says quite simply, "For a long, long time - for nearly forty years- I never had any bees. I can’t think why. Everyone should have two or three hives of bees...I have kept bees now for fifteen years, and my life is better for it."

What else could you want? More, it appears: unfortunately the number of people who keep bees has been declining. The results of this decline could be serious because of the demise of the wild honeybee, and the need for bees in pollination of many crops, especially fruit, nut, and seed crops.

Consider these benefits from Ellis’ Bee Tidings newsletter:

  • Keeping honey bees allows one to be a part of the natural world that our tinsel and television society has hidden for many people.
  • Honey bees are superb teachers when trying to instill an environmental awareness and conservation ethic in young people.
  • Honey bees provide ample opportunity to engage young people in meaningful work that will teach them valuable skills, give them confidence in their abilities, and allow them to earn spending money.

Are you interested but think that it is only for people on farms? You can keep bees just about anywhere, even in the city where they are needed to pollinate many orchard and garden crops.

Want to learn how to keep bees? Marion Ellis conducts two beginning beekeeping courses each year with the location based on request for information from county extension offices. If you are interested in having beginning beekeeping classes in your area, contact the NSAS office at 402-254-2289 or Marion Ellis in Lincoln at 402-472-8696.

If you would rather learn on your own, there are many books available for beginners such as: The Queen and I by Ed Weiss (Harper & Row), The Beekeepers Handbook by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile (Macmillan Publishing Co) and Beekeeping, the Gentle Craft by John Adams (Wynwood Press).

Ed Weiss has made a video for new beekeepers. It covers set-up, working, harvesting the honey, and preparing the hive for winter. You can order the video by calling 203-762-3538.

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