Navigate / search

Beekeeping: a hobby brimming with possibility

Beekeeping is for people who like options. Not only do we have infinite choice when it comes to hive design and management technique, but the variety of things we can produce with our bees is staggering. When we erect our initial hive and order our first bees, most of us think of honey. But honey is the tip of the beekeeping iceberg.

If you were to ask me what I produce with my hives, I might say comb honey because that is the first thing that comes to mind. But more practically, my bees provide material for my website. Their antics, habits, vagaries, and tantrums add spice to articles about their biology, physiology, morphology, and pathology. My bees tell me new stories every day; I just have to listen and translate.

Some bees are kept simply for pollination, producing crops and flowers and seeds for everyone. I say “simply” but pollination is anything but simple. When mere humans are asked to pollinate something, we are perplexed to say the least. Can you imagine pollinating a field of clover? All those itsy-bitsy florets down on the ground in the searing sun? Sweaty. Itchy. Sneezy. Buggy.

An array of products from the hive

Looking beyond honey, pollination, and the occasional website, what else do beekeepers produce with their charges? Here’s a short list, though I’m likely missing something.

  • Besides being the basis of many homemade craft items such as candles, lotions and soap, beeswax has a variety of commercial and industrial uses. Properly prepared beeswax can fetch good prices and is always in demand.
  • Pollen is used as a food supplement by many people, but it can also be saved and fed back to bees during lean times. Pollen collection can easily be added as a sideline to honey production.
  • Propolis is often purchased by manufacturers of various health care products, including toothpaste, mouthwash, and sunscreen. Although propolis is simple to harvest, the amount you can collect is dependent on both your location and the subspecies of honey bee you keep.
  • A growing market exists for royal jelly, especially in those regions where it is considered a super food capable of extending life and slowing the aging process. Harvesting royal jelly is a labor-intensive pursuit that actually makes you feel older than you are, but for those so inclined, it commands a high price.
  • Venom is used by some medical practitioners for treating a variety of ailments. It is interesting to note that venom can be collected without harming the bees. A glass plate with a tiny electric current running through it is installed in front of the hive entrance. The bees sense the current and attempt to sting it, but since their stingers cannot penetrate the glass, the bees walk away unharmed and ready to sting again. The venom is then harvested from the hard surface of the plate.
  • Producing queen bees is an excellent way to expand a small operation. Nowadays, locally-produced queens are popular and command a decent price. Even if you are too far north to produce early queens, replacement queens during summer and fall are always in short supply.
  • The market for good quality nucleus hives is enormous. In early spring, you can split your hives for swarm control and produce nucs at the same time. Placing the frames in cardboard nuc boxes makes them less expensive and easier to handle, and anyone selling nucs, especially on medium frames, has a ready market. I constantly hear requests for medium-depth nucs that the beekeeper doesn’t have to cut down to fit.
  • Larger operations, especially those in southern locations, can also sell packaged bees. Packages require more hives and more labor, but like nucs, quality packages are a hot item.
  • Frames of open brood are something I would have never thought to sell, but a number of beekeepers have asked me where they could buy them. It makes sense: a frame of open brood can be priceless. Open brood can be used to keep bees from absconding, prevent laying workers, boost populations, or manage queens. Especially for those beekeepers with but one or two hives, a source of open brood frames would be awesome.
  • Of course, all that extracted honey you have stashed away can be fermented into mead. Wildly popular in the Middle Ages, mead has recently experienced a re-birth and is easily produced at home using commercial wine yeast.
  • In many cultures, bee larvae is prized as a high-quality source of protein. Bee larvae can be served dried, fried, boiled, baked, or any way you fancy: barbecued bees, bees ‘n rice, bee and bean burritos, bees au vin. I’m told that honey bee granola is a good recipe for beginning this culinary adventure, although I think I would rather have the larvae dried, ground, and hidden in something else. Some people suggest that instead of culling drones and feeding them to chickens, we just sauté the larvae—mites and all—in a little butter with sliced button mushrooms and sweet onions. Coarsely ground pepper, I imagine, disappears the mites.
Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Comments

Wendy
Reply

Thanks Rusty for the very informative article. Recently I was wondering if we were capitalizing on all possible resources our bees produce. I can see now that we aren’t. I’ll be exploring more possibilities.

AramF
Reply

Rusty, next potential topic: drone larvae sauted with mushrooms. I am game.

Rusty
Reply

Aram,

I’ll cook, you eat.

Margot Rideaux
Reply

Two drone frames of larvae are going to supplement my dog meals. They loved the scrapings that ended up all over the deck. I can’t bring myself to bite into one.

Rusty
Reply

Margot,

I’m not there yet either, but I promised myself I will (someday) give it a try.

Steve
Reply

Interesting article. But selling frames of open brood doesn’t sound possible unless you sold enough bees with them to keep the brood warm and feed the larva.

Rusty
Reply

Steve,

It would have to be very local, like within a bee club, to make transfer possible.

patsquared
Reply

You had me going until you got to the barbecued bees, bee & bean burrito…etc.I’m not sure I could bee convinced to eat these little dears.

Nice article though on all the ways to monetize bees. Mine are part of a research project but when it ends and the hive leaves, I will be getting my own bees just for enjoyment on a sunny summer afternoon.

April
Reply

The birds and the lizards around the beehives in my yard like to eat the drone larvae. I think I will just leave it for them to eat. Good article!

dgrc
Reply

Hi Rusty,

We’re coming up on State Fair time here in Minnesota. The bee exhibit is a popular one which also includes demonstrations of how to cook with honey.

Like most state fairs, ours includes all sorts of unlikely Food-On-A-Stick, usually battered and deep fried. Now, at our hives, we take an integrated pest management approach and use the green frames of big-cell plastic foundation to encourage drones, which attract mites. A couple days prior to emergence, we take the frames and drop them in the freezer.

You can see where this is going…

Rusty
Reply

Sounds like a puzzle. How many drones can you fit on a stick?

Natalee Thompson
Reply

I tasted drone pupae yesterday during an inspection and I thought of you!! Lol! It did not taste like chicken, but that’s okay, it’s not.

Rusty
Reply

Natalee,

So good to hear from you! It’s funny, when I wrote that post I was thinking of you, especially when I got to the granola part. But clarify something for me: you said you tasted the pupae during an inspection. I assume that means raw? OMG, you’re a braver soul than I.

Emily
Reply

There are so many directions beekeeping can take you in, you’re right – cooking, cosmetics, art work (you can make paintings with an iron, melted wax and some paint!), candles, talks to local schools/libraries, photography and more. I know a beekeeper who sells adult drones to a local restaurant.

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

Adult drones? Hmm, sounds crunchy.

Natalee Thompson
Reply

The drone were pupating and I had only tasted larvae, in the past. Not completely different tastes, but the larva texture was better. Both were sampled raw.

I would have liked to have made the granola during our class. It was swarm season in the thick of our research project, so I was dealing with swarm “management” /”control” all spring! I had placed foundationless frames in the brood chamber for the bees to build the beautiful drone comb on but with everything else I had going, I let my granola fantasies go. I may have to make time, just for the fun of chatting about the possibilities. I could send some your way. I’m a neat- knick when I bake, but I warn you, I eat bugs….?

Rusty
Reply

Natalee,

You should write a guest post and tell us about your culinary adventures, with photos. That would be so cool.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.