Table of Contents
- Before You Get Started
- Find A Mentor
- The Basic Requirements
- Setting Up for Success
- Honey Harvesting
Starting a Beekeeping Business – How To Get Going
Beekeeping is a hobby that quickly becomes a passion. If you spend your downtime building hives and harvesting honey you’ve probably already thought about turning your love for bees into a lucrative business by starting a beekeeping business.
Starting a new business is an exciting time, with hundreds of things to do before your company is settled and up and running. When your business involves honey production, there are also the technical aspects of beekeeping at a large scale that you’ll want to consider before you get going.
To help prospective honey producers start their business on a solid footing, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to setting up a beekeeping business in South Africa.
Read on to learn important information about beekeeping, setting up the right conditions for a healthy honey harvest, and the financial considerations that go with every new business.
Are you buzzing with excitement yet? Let’s get started!
Before You Get Started
Beekeeping is one of the most rewarding activities out there, and it’s also an excellent business idea with the popularity of honey and honey-based products exploding in the marketplace.
But before you invest your savings into starting a beekeeping business it’s essential to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.
Whether you’re a total “newbee” or have been keeping bees as a hobby for a while, it’s always good to take a beekeeping course before you jump in and turn your passion into a full-time occupation.
A beekeeping course like the ones we recommend will cover every aspect of working with bees, honey production and harvesting, and troubleshooting.
This will help to close any gaps in your knowledge of beekeeping and give you a comprehensive overview so that you can decide whether it’s something you’d like to do as a business.
Joining an in-person beekeeper’s course also comes with the benefit of networking and getting to know fellow beekeepers, swapping stories, and brainstorming together as you learn more about bees and plan a future business.
Once you know more about beekeeping and all the hard work it entails, if you’re still fired up and ready to make honey (and money) it’s time to register your business.
Find A Mentor
When in doubt, just ask. In South Africa, we have many local beekeepers’ associations as well as support groups on Facebook and WhatsApp. Beekeeping is a complex process and even experienced honey producers need a little advice from time to time.
Joining a local beekeeper’s association and networking with fellow honey makers is a great way to exchange ideas before starting a beekeeping business and to ask for help when you need it. You can scroll through our beekeepers directory and find a trusted professional in your area to connect with. Alternatively, you can join our Beekeepers Support Group on Facebook.
1. Registering as a beekeeper
Before you start keeping bees as a hobby or as a business, you need to be registered with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development (DALRRD) (Formerly known as the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, DAFF for short). This is a legal requirement and you’ll need to renew your registration every 2 years.
Here’s the official lowdown from the department itself:
According to the Agricultural Pests Act, 1983 (Act No. 36 of 1983) – Control Measures R858 of 15 November 2013 relating to Honeybees, any person who keeps, owns, or is in charge of a colony of honey-bees, whether for commercial, hobbyist or as a bee removal service provider is legally required to register annually with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development (DALRRD, formerly DAFF) as a Beekeeper between 1 January and 31 March of each year.
The main paperwork involved in registering can be found on this beekeeping registration form. Once you submit the form and any supporting documentation, you can expect a turnaround time between 5 and 14 working days before you get started.
To learn more about the DALRRD (formerly DAFF) registration process, check out the infographic below or this page on our website.
2. Plenty of space for bees to be bees
Before starting a beekeeping business you’ll need the right piece of land.
Trying to start a commercial honey production business on your balcony or in a tiny backyard is probably going to be a problem – especially if you have fussy neighbors or someone in your community is allergic to bee stings.
The right piece of land for keeping bees will need to be big enough and have sufficient forage (food sources) for your hive to consume.
It’s recommended that you place 1-3 hives per 1000 square meters of land.
3. The right beekeeping tools
Let’s not buzz around the bush here: beekeeping is an activity that requires a lot of tools.
In addition to the usual beekeeping supplies that are required to set up your bee colony, kick-start honey production, and harvest that liquid gold, you’ll also need some specialised equipment to prepare your honey for sale and make sure that it reaches the customer in perfect delicious condition.
The table below contains the basic items you’ll need to buy in order to start your beekeeping business.
|Item||Required Qty||Approximate Cost|
|Beehives||2 – 5 per hectare||R900 – R1275|
|Bee Suits||min 2 pairs||R1650 – R2650|
|Gloves||min 2 pairs||R260 – R370|
|Gumboots||min 2 pairs||From R150|
|Bee Brushes||2 minimum||R60 – R120|
|Hives Tools||2 minimum||R70 – R250|
|Bee Smokers||2 minimum||R300 – R550|
|Queen Cages||2 minimum||R15 – R60|
|Uncapping Forks||2 minimum||R70 – R250|
|Heated Uncapping Knife||2 minimum||R850 – R1000|
|Honey Strainers||2 minimum||R120 – R300|
|Honey Buckets||5 minimum||R200 – R300|
|Honey Settling Tank||2 minimum||R2200|
|10l SS Buckets||2 minimum||R150|
|Electric Honey Extractor||1||R22000 – R38000|
4. A honey bottle supplier
Honey comes in a variety of bottles, from squeeze bottles with caps to glass jars for customers who prefer to serve their honey with a spoon or other utensil.
No matter which type of bottle you choose to use – and it could be a mix of different ones – you’ll need a reliable supplier to provide you with enough of them.
A steady supply of bottles will help you keep your honey production going while ensuring that the quality of the bottles makes filling them a breeze.
A high-quality bottle will also be easy to transport since it won’t break on the way to the wholesaler and retailer, resulting in fewer unsellable items.
5. Label design and printing
Every product needs a beautifully designed and catchy label to draw customers’ attention – especially if it’s a new brand that they’re not used to seeing.
While you could design the label yourself, we always recommend using the services of a professional graphic designer with retail label experience.
Here are the features and requirements of a great label:
- Your logo
- DAFF number
- Contact number or website link
- Honey type/blend
- Origin of honey
- State if the honey is raw or irradiated
- Bottle weight
For a more in-depth guide on labeling honey, you can check out our article on how to label your honey.
6. A beekeeping business plan
A dream without a plan is just a wish. Getting your honey making business off the ground will be a lot easier if you have a roadmap to success and that’s exactly what a business plan is.
Creative thinking is essential for success, but so is focus – and by writing and following a business plan you’ll make sure that you’re hitting all your targets as your new enterprise grows and expands.
Here are some questions to ask before you write your business plan.
- Who is your target market?
Every business needs to know who it’s selling to, and “people who like honey “isn’t specific enough! You’ll need to consider where your customers are based, how much disposable income they have, how much they like to spend on honey, and how that purchase fits into their overall lifestyle and priorities.
- Will you sell your honey yourself, and how?
You have two basic choices when it comes to taking your honey to market: selling it yourself or leaving the sales side to a distributor. If you choose to market and sell your own honey, which is easier than ever before thanks to social media, you’ll need to prepare a sales and marketing strategy. Next, you’ll need to set up a website and social media presence, and dedicate several hours a week to promoting your honey and building a regular audience of customers. The other option you have is to approach retailers directly and persuade them to stock your product on their shelves. To do this, you’ll need to ensure that your honey is of excellent quality, competitively priced, and unique in some way. This could be thanks to its flavor, packaging, or another feature you decide to build into the product.
- Will you be doing the work yourself or hiring a beekeeper?
Keeping bees can be huge fun, but once you start running a honey production business you’ll need to make the shift from enthusiast to professional. The time, effort, and attention to detail that it takes to maintain production hives throughout the year and harvest honey successfully are significant – but if you’re dedicated to producing honey yourself there’s no reason why you can’t do it with the right tools and skills. If you feel that you don’t have the time or expertise to produce honey yourself, or if you’re opening a honey production business as a new venture in addition to other businesses you own or a full-time job, you may want to use the services of a beekeeper. They could be either an employee or work on a contractual basis. The biggest difference between producing honey yourself and hiring a beekeeper is that outsourcing costs money. The salary or fees you’ll be paying your beekeeper will undeniably have an effect on your bottom line. On the positive side, you’ll benefit from having the expertise of someone who can guarantee honey production so that you can deliver to your customers. You can also start out by hiring a beekeeper and taking over this function gradually as you learn more about beekeeping so that your honey production is not interrupted.
7. Threats To Consider – Environmental, sickness and pests
A beehive is a living, breathing community of creatures, and unfortunately there are factors beyond your control that can harm your bee population and disrupt honey production.
While these risks will always exist, there are ways to reduce them and protect your business from downtime and lost production. Here are some of the major threats to honeybees.
Like all animals, honeybees can be infected with various pathogens that cause disease. A beekeeping expert or agricultural vet can help you identify and treat these conditions:
- Nosima disease
- Chalk and stone brood
- Side effects of pesticides
- Hive collapse or death of the queen
Theft & Vandalism
In addition to these illnesses, there are acts of crime and malicious activities that are an unfortunate part of daily life and could affect your beehives.
It’s not unheard of for beehives to be stolen, especially in rural parts of the country. You could also find that your hives have been vandalized or robbed of their honeycomb.
Veld Fires & Pesticides
Parts of SA that experience veld fires, especially in the northern regions, are tricky for beekeepers because there may not be time to rescue the hives in the case of a fire – and it’s almost certain to destroy them.
Finally, animals like honey badges that eat honey will not hesitate to feed on your hive if it’s accessible. For this reason, it’s advisable to elevate your hives at least 1 m if honey badgers are known to live in the area where your honey production takes place.
Setting Up for Success
Now you know what it takes to set up a beekeeping and honey production business, it’s time to take the leap and get started.
Here’s a quick list of things you need to do before you can make your first bottle of honey:
1. Where to place your hives
If there’s one thing we know about bees it’s that they love sunshine. The area where you place your hives should not be shady at all and should enjoy as many hours of direct sunlight today as possible.
Your bees will also need to be close to a source of food and water.
Flowering plants and some agricultural crops can provide the pollen the bees need to grow, while a damn or artificial body of water is the ideal place for them to take a well-deserved drink after all that flying and pollinating.
Knowing where to place your hives is important and so is knowing when to do it.
The ideal time to establish a beehive is during the spring and summer when it’s swarming season. That means that bees on the lookout for a new home may choose to inhabit your hives, and if they don’t you can always purchase a queen and pre-packed colony to kick start honey production.
2. How to attract bees
We all like beautiful fragrances, and so do bees! They respond especially well to certain organic compounds that are similar to the ones that attract them to plants and flowers. Here’s a trusted recipe that many beekeepers find extremely effective.
Bee Lure Recipe Ingredients:
- Half a cup of Olive Oil
- 5 Drops Lemon Grass Oil
- 5 Drops Eucalyptus Oil
- 5 Drops Lavender Oil
- Mix everything together
- Paint the inside of your hive with the mixture and wait for the bees to appear – and if they don’t, you can always buy some!
*Recipe by Johan Klopper
3. Where to buy bees
If you can’t attract a swarm of bees to your hive, don’t stress. You can buy an entire colony of bees, including a queen, pre-packaged and ready to insert into your hive frames.
The benefits of buying bees include high-quality honey producing DNA, reliability, and the ability to get up and running almost immediately.
For best results we suggest you choose a bee breeder from our directory of bee colony suppliers.
4. Hive maintenance
Every piece of equipment needs to be maintained, and your beehives are no exception. Once you’ve set up your hives, you’ll need to keep an eye on them and take steps to prevent them from becoming damaged.
- Do the necessary repairs. Regular inspection of your beehives will reveal parts of the hive that have become broken or are cracking from sun exposure. Fixing these before they get any worse will save you money in the long term
- Use entrance blocks. These are pieces of wood that narrow the entrance to your hive, keeping your bees warm in winter and preventing pests from entering the hive.
- Remember excluders and supers. A queen excluder is a device that prevents the queen from laying eggs in the honeycomb. Supers allows extra honeycomb to be produced during high flow seasons like spring and summer.
- Replace lost beeswax. This magical substance is used by bees to produce honeycomb and can easily be lost during harvesting. You’ll need to replace your beeswax regularly so that your hive can produce honey at optimal efficiency
- Keep your hive safe from the rain and sun. Bees love the sun life but extremely hot weather can have a damaging effect on your hive. Installing a rain cover that also provides shade on super hot days is a great way to keep your hive in perfect condition.
5. Hive Health
Maintaining your beehives isn’t just about keeping the physical parts like boxes and frames in good order. One of the most crucial tasks that any beekeeper needs to carry out its regular inspection of the bees themselves.
Here are some points you’ll want to bear in mind Here’s what you can do to keep you’ll be population in great health, producing delicious honey.
Beekeeping Pests: Prevention and treatment
Varroa is a small mite that can cause huge disasters in your hive. These tiny animals can infiltrate beehives, infecting the bee colony with viral diseases, eating honey, and placing huge stress on the population so that it eventually collapses.
Avoiding these little criminals is easy to make regular hive inspections and keep your bee population healthy so that it can fight them off.
If you do end up with a Varroa infestation you can use Thymol (a thyme extract) to control the mites and start the process of rebuilding your colony.
Small hive beetles
These insects are common throughout southern Africa and once they get into your beehive they can cause real chaos.
If you open your frames for inspection and see creatures that look like worms wiggling around, the infestation may be well underway already.
Hive beetles eat both honey and brood and destroy honeycombs to the point where the population may collapse entirely and start swarming to abandon the hive.
These are destructive little insects that can eat through your honey in no time. They can also cause your entire hive to collapse by placing huge stress on your bee population.
The best defense against these creatures is a large, healthy bee population. Your bees will naturally take care of these unwelcome guests as long as they are strong and the population doesn’t shrink too much in the winter.
The wasp is a natural enemy to bees and may try to invade your hives and feed on the honey inside while stinging the bees and even attacking the queen.
Avoiding these creatures is a matter of installing entrance guards, performing regular hive inspections, and keeping your beehives away from fruit trees where wasps like to feed.
Strange bee behaviors and what they mean
From time to time you may notice your bees acting strangely – and there’s usually a good reason for this.
While some of the behaviors below don’t require much action from you, others may indicate a problem with your hive which should be solved as soon as possible.
Bees gathering around the entrance of the hive.
This could be a sign that your beehive is too hot on the inside, especially during summer. Bees don’t like an inside temperature above 32° C and will move outside to cool off, just like we do if we’re stuck in a hot room.
Bees rocking back-and-forth.
This behavior isn’t fully understood but it usually happens when bees have been collecting a lot of pollen and it could be a way for them to clean themselves off. You probably won’t need to take much action if you notice your bees doing this and as far as we know, it’s not bad for their health.
Bees stealing honey from other hives.
It’s not only wasps and beetles that can invade your hive. Bees from other hives that try to break in indicate that the hive where they came from is not producing enough honey to feed them and if it belongs to you, you’ll want to inspect it as soon as possible to see why honey production has fallen to such low levels.
Winter beekeeping care tips
We all need a little extra TLC during the winter months. At this time of year, your bees will be less active and honey flow will slow down considerably. This makes it even more important to take care of your hive to help your bees survive the cold and be ready to produce delicious honey again in the spring.
Here are our top tips for beekeepers during the winter:
- Don’t touch the honey – leave it for the bees to feed on in the cold months
- Remove empty supers, especially small colonies. You’ll give your bees more space to keep warm and patrol for pests.
- Place your hives in the sun. Your bees will need as much warmth as they can get during the winter months.
Your bees will naturally seek out food from surrounding plants and flowers, but when nectar is scarce you’ll need to feed them yourself to prevent your colony from dying off.
You can feed your bees special feeding nectar or leftover honey from your last harvest. Sugar solutions aren’t recommended since they can affect your bees’ health and the flavor of your honey
Don’t feed your bees when they have access to natural nectar from flowers. Keep artificial feeding for emergencies or cold seasons when flowers are scarce.
It’s best to avoid open feeding containers since they can attract bees from other hives and pests to your hive
Avoid feeding your bees too much just before winter because it can cause a population explosion just before the cold months and place too much pressure on your colony ahead of the lean months.
Honey Harvesting How-To
Once your honey is ready, you’ll need to harvest it successfully before it can be bottled and sold.
For first time honey producers, the question is: when should I harvest and how?
Spring and summer are seasons when honey flow starts to pick up and reach its peak. You’ll get a reasonable harvest by mid spring – but if you wait until the summer that’s when your bees will produce the maximum amount of delicious, sweet honey.
Knowing when to harvest is one thing, but knowing how may be even more important since incorrect harvesting techniques can result in substantially lower yields.
How to calculate potential honey yields
Before starting a beekeeping business, you need to know how much honey you can expect to produce, to know that you need to calculate how much honey can be harvested from a single beehive each year.
For each hive, you can expect the following yields:
- 1 – 1.2 kg of honey per super frame,
- 10 super frames per hive
Each harvest will produce approximately 11-12 kg of honey, with a typical beehive being harvested twice a year. Overall, you can expect around 20 kg of honey per beehive per year.
Tips for a successful honey harvest
- Use a clean comb. If it has been in a brood chamber or contaminated by pests or chemicals, it’ll compromise your honey.
- Harvest the first crop as soon as it’s capped. This will produce an early varietal, and springtime artisan honey is a great niche product to sell.
- Know your seasons for taste variety. Early honeys harvested in spring are light and mild and summer honeys are darker and pack a flavour punch.
- Your cells should be 90% capped. If the remaining uncapped honey can run out of the cells, it’s not ready yet.
How to harvest honey
There’s the easy way to harvest honey, and there’s the way that gives you broken honeycomb, spillage, and a major headache. We know you’ll choose the first one.
Follow the steps below for quick and hassle-free honey harvesting:
- Remove the frames – but only those with honey on them. Let the brood keep brooding.
- Cut off the caps with a cold or hot knife. This is far better than the crush and strain method that will reduce your honey yield the next year.
- Take your frames for a spin. Using a centrifugal honey extractor, you can remove the honey you need and keep the wax intact for your bees to use again.
Once you’ve extracted your honey, don’t forget to store it in airtight containers before you bottle it.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations! You’re almost ready to kickstart your honey production business like a pro.
We hope you enjoyed reading our comprehensive guide to starting a honey business in SA. If you have any questions or need help stocking up on beekeeping supplies, we’d love you to browse our online store or contact the Bhive team today.