There's a honey rush on. Do you want to be part of it?
Here's the formula: Get 1000 hives in your first year. Each hive makes say 25kg of honey. Good manuka honey is selling for lots these days, let's say $40/kg to average out the great and the just good grades of manuka. So, let's see: 1000 hives x 25kg honey x $40/kg = $1mill. That's $1,000,000. In just one year. That's a lot of zeros.
Next year will be more of course. You will be a gazillionaire.
Yes. And no.
Here's the bits that the formula glosses over. If you can nail these then yep, you might be a millionaire. But you have to nail them ALL. And maybe it won't happen in the first year.
How to make 1000 hives
To get the magic $1mill figure, in this equation, you need 1000 hives. You could buy them, but then you would be $1mill in debt, at the current going rate of $1000 per hive.
So, you need to grow them. Bees happen to be excellent at growing, you can split a hive, add a new queen and bingo! 2 hives.
Things to get right:
Why splitting technique is important
- a hive that has just been split is a lot less strong and productive than a hive twice it's size. One big hive will make much more than twice the honey of 2 small hives. That's because more bees are busy doing the housework tasks in the 2 small hives, and there are fewer spare to forage for nectar. So if you split too aggressively you'll get NO honey. Lots of hives, but not $1mill.
- Hives that are too small tend to die - not enough core bees in the cluster to be self-sustaining. Split too much and you'll split them into oblivion.
- There is heavy demand for queen bees these days. For every hive you split you need a new queen for at least one of the split pair. Queens take time to create, and there is definitely a limited supply, first in, best dressed.
What resources will you need for 1000 hives?
- 1000 hives is 1000 x say 3 hives boxes. And lids and floors and frames. That's a lot of $. And, harder, that's a lot of boxes to order from the box suppliers, who will be busy supplying all the other busy beekeepers. And even harder, that's a lot of boxes to build, and paint, and store, and cart around.
- 1000 hives needs 2-3 beekeepers to look after them. Your beekeepers need to know what they are doing. Your uncle and your cousin won't cut it. Or not at first, they could learn later as your operation is going, but for your first $1mill it's a good idea to have someone who knows what they are doing, who can oversee operations and make the good bee keeping decisions.
- Your staff need to be working really really hard. Beekeeping is hard yards. They get up early, work on the weekend, lift heavy things, work long hours. But even more important, they need to be doing the right things. Can you be a strong leader, provide good direction, measure progress, tweak procedures as required, all those management tasks that sort the men(women) from the boys?
How to keep all 1000 hives alive
- 1000 hives at the beginning of the season may not be 1000 hives at the end. Bees die.
- They need varroa treatments, and AFB checking.
- They need feeding in spring and autumn and winter, so they don't starve to death.
- They need managing so they don't swarm and half the bee family ends up in the neighbour's tree, and a hundred other bee nurturing activities.
- Speaking of winter, where are these hives going to go over winter? 1000 hives need a lot of space.
How to make 25kg honey / hive
25kg doesn't sound too bad does it?
But this is ON AVERAGE. So for every hive that does less well, you'll need a hive to do better. And more than 25kg/hive takes quite a bit of skill.
What are the issues here?
- Too vigorous splitting - as we've seen, if you split, split, split, you'll end up with lots of hives, but no honey. Or money. Before the main honey flow (and if we're talking manuka, which we are, that's reasonably early in the season, November to say January depending on where you and your bees live), you'll need to stop splitting and let the bees build up a reasonable strength so there are enough of them to collect and create honey.
How much land do you need?
- Have you got enough room for all these 1000 hives? Currently, industry standard recommendations are 2 hives per ha (for manuka), so that's 500ha of quality farm/forest land you need access to.
- Which will mean you will most likely be putting your hives on a farmer's land. And then will be paying her/him for the privilege. There are lots of ways to do this, but they all cost $. For high grade manuka honey, the days of handing over a jar of honey at the end of the season are long gone.
- And your hives need to be spaced apart from each other, in groups is alright, but all 1000 hives in the same spot doesn't work. The bees will compete for food. And lose.
How to make $40 / kg
Some top grade manuka honey is selling for hundreds. So $40/kg seems attainable. And it is. But....(you knew this was coming, right?)...to get $40 honey is not a walk in the park.
Here's some of the things you need to know:
What sort of land do you need?
- $40/kg only happens for manuka honey. To make manuka honey you need to put your bees in manuka (don't laugh, seems obvious, but this is the bit that goes wrong so often).
- Your farmers need to have manuka, and your bees need to be close to it.
- A small patch of manuka will not provide high quality manuka honey. You need at least 20ha, 50ha is better, so the bees have got lots of mono-floral trees to gather from, or they will end up making a blend of honey from a variety of nectar sources.
- Not all manuka nectar is equal. There is lots of science these days around high DHA v low DHA nectar in manuka. The short answer is, high DHA is preferable. What do you have? Does it matter? (answer: maybe). Can you influence it? (answer: yes, check out the farm consultation packages and recommend them to your farmers ).
What do the bees want?
- Bees actually aren't that keen on manuka. They'll gather from most other plants in preference to manuka first. There are some tricks you can do to get them to go to the manuka, but you need to be deliberate about it.
- Manuka only flowers for about 6 weeks. So that's a lot of weeks left in the year when your bees need something else to eat. You'll need a strategy for this too.
So, is it possible to be a millionaire?
It depends totally on how good you are. Chances are you are human like the rest of us. So nailing all these items in the first year might be a big ask.
My top recommendations
There are some key things here. Be passionate about what you are doing. Do it because you love bees. Love having your own business, and being your own boss. Love being a good manager to others. Love nurturing and growing a fledgling company. The free lunch brigade, that often comes out when there is a 'rush' on, will not cut it.
Know why you are doing it. Have good reasons. Make a difference.
Employ equally passionate people, who go the extra mile, who work hard at doing The Right Thing, and who have the skills that you need. Limit the free-lunchers here too, those who have their hands out for the proceeds without contributing the hard yards.
There! Sounds easy, right?
Good luck. It'll be a great journey.
And if you'd like some more information on how to grow manuka trees for all your bees, check out this DIY course.