Note: I realised half way through writing this, I really just wanted to share some of the fun I had beekeeping. There’s some finances in there but mainly I just wanted to write about bees.
Beekeeping was a hobby I picked up during the COVID adventures of 2020. It feels like forever ago but I picked up a hive in the spring of 2020 after falling in love with gardening. After a few months of research I bought myself a flat pack hive and set it up and painted it over a weekend. I bought a nucleus (think a small but established hive with a queen, some frames and maybe a few thousand bees) shortly after and put them into their new home.
Bee fact: Honey bee colonies will house around 60,000-80,000 bees in a hive. Consisting primarily of female worker bees. Male bees (drones) are only born in the warmer months of the year as they provide very little value to the hive, in fact, they actually drain resources from the hive. Their soul purpose is to spread genetics and mate with new queens.
Unfortunately my data on costs and amounts of honey harvested over the years wasn’t consistently recorded but I did record some details which we’ll get to dive into in this blog.
In this blog from a few years back where I tracked my finances using the Elastic Stack, I mentioned that I had spent just over $900 starting out beekeeping. Over my several years of beekeeping I would estimate I spent in total probably just under $3,000. The first $900 here was spent on set up costs which included tools, protection, the bee hive flat pack and the bees themselves. After a year of beekeeping I ended up grabbing myself a Flow Hive (a very fancy beehive) which ended up being $1,250. A large chunk of money was spent on jars because you need to put all this honey somewhere. You can’t just store it in your pocket. I tried.
Bee fact: the honey that is harvested from a hive will have a different flavour and colour depending on what flowers are in bloom. One of my first harvests had a strong flavour of lavender as there was a large amount of lavender in the area blooming at the time of that harvest.
Beekeeping is very much an older person hobby. One of my favourite memories I’ll cherish forever was joining an online beekeeping club meeting in the middle of COVID and seeing that every other person there was at least 40 years my senior. I’m glad I was able to learn from them.
I fell in love with bees a few months prior to getting my own hive, after spending a few months researching I figured the best way to learn more was to have a hive of my own. As almost everyone else did, during lock down I built out a garden at home and bees seemed like a natural next step. Beekeeping is a really fulfilling hobby, they really are just special little guys.
Bee fact: worker bees will fatten up the queen bee when she is laying eggs, this prevents her from being able to fly. However, when the hive decides to swarm (the process of leaving the current hive and finding a new home), they starve her so she is able to fly again and leave with half of the hive to find a new home.
I wish I recorded consistently how much honey I harvested from the hive I managed. Unfortunately I only have several photos and some brief notes to refer to. Overall I have recordings of about 42kgs of honey harvested over the year of 2021. Which sounds like a lot, however I’m fairly sure the real number is probably at least 65kgs for that year. Due to the warm weather in Australia, the hive never really shuts down so they’re able to produce honey for longer periods of the year.
For 2022, I believe there was more honey harvested than in 2021, but I have no data to back that up. As of writing I have about 50kgs of honey still in storage, and that is after selling and giving away quite a lot of honey. It really is impressive how much honey you get out of a single hive.
Bee fact: a worker bees lifetime depends on the season. During summer, most worker bees have a lifespan of about 40 days due to all the extra stress and work they need to put in to gather honey. During winter that increases to about 3-4 months as they are spending much more time within the hive. On average, one bee in it’s lifetime produces one 12th of a teaspoon of honey. A lot of work goes into that honey you put on your toast!
Overall, I don’t have much data on the sales of my honey. I mainly only sold to friends and family and gave away a lot of it also as gifts. Keeping bees wasn’t really a financial operation for me, I just wanted to learn about how they operate and it brought me great joy seeing them flying around my garden. I would typically sell a 375ml (.5kg) of honey for about $15. You can definitely get more or less for honey depending on how you market it.
Bee fact: bees will normally travel up to 5kms from the hive in search for pollen and nectar. That’s a crazy distance for such little bees. Additional fun fact, sometimes nectar ferments before bees get to it, which can cause a bee to become drunk. Guard bees (ones manning the entrance to the hive) often won’t let drunk bees back into the hive until they sober up.
Why give it up?
Earlier this year I decided to give my bees to someone else locally who wanted them. I decided to give up on beekeeping for a few reasons, the main one being that my lifestyle changed and I wanted some more time back. Beekeeping requires you to open up the hive and inspect during sunny days, depending on how the weather is, the one sunny day you have during a weekend you may need to tend to the bees. I began wanting to spend those days hiking or climbing outdoors instead. In the end, I had 2 hives (after my 1st one swarmed) and they are both now with other beekeepers, living their best lives.
Bee fact: bees will often communicate using dancing and vibrations in the hive. Inside a beehive is pitch black, but that doesn’t stop workers from telling their sisters where the pollen and nectar is. They do this by moving and vibrating their body next to other bees. Humans have begun understanding how to decipher these dance moves to see what they’re saying.
The real deal
If you’ve never had some fresh honey from a beehive, I can’t recommend it enough. Grab some honey from a farmers market and try some local honey. Not only will you be helping out a local beekeeper but you’ll get some amazing honey to enjoy.
Bee fact: there was a beekeeper who had blue honey being stored in his hives and he couldn’t figure out why. Turns out there was an M&M factory near by the that bees were getting into and using the sugars to store the honey. Unreal.
Bees are just such fascinating creatures, I am so fortunate that I was able to spend as much time learning and managing them as I could. It always brings me great joy seeing them out in gardens, buzzing around, just doing what they do best. One day I’m sure I’ll get another hive, perhaps when I am 40 years my senior so I can fit into the cool club. If you ever see me around, feel free to ask about bees. It brings me great joy talking about them.
Until next time! Bee cool.