Beekeeping for pleasure and profit is carried on by many thousands of people in all parts of the United States. As a rule, it is not the sole occupation. There are, however, many places where an experienced bee keeper can make a good living by devoting his entire time and attention to this line of work. It is usually unwise to undertake extensive beekeeping without considerable previous experience on a small scale, since there are so many minor details which go to make up success in the work. It is a good plan to begin on a small scale, make the bees pay for themselves and for all additional apparatus, as well as some profit, and gradually to increase as far as the local conditions or the desires of the individual permit.
Bee culture is the means of obtaining for human use a natural product which is abundant in almost all parts of the country, and which would be lost to us were it not for the honey bee. The annual production of honey and wax in the United States makes apiculture a profitable minor industry of the country. From its very nature it can never become one of the leading agricultural pursuits, but that there is abundant opportunity for its growth can not be doubted. Not only is the honey bee valuable as a producer, but it is also one of the most beneficial of insects in cross-pollinating the flowers of various economic plants.
Beekeeping is also extremely fascinating to the majority of people as a pastime, furnishing outdoor exercise as well as intimacy with an insect whose activity has been a subject of absorbing study from the earliest times. It has the advantage of being a recreation which pays its own way and often produces no mean profit.
It is a mistake, however, to paint only the bright side of the picture and leave it to the new bee keeper to discover that there is often another side. Where any financial profit is derived, beekeeping requires hard work and work at just the proper time, otherwise the surplus of honey may be diminished or lost. Few lines of work require more study to insure success. In years when the available nectar is limited, surplus honey is secured only by judicious manipulations, and it is only through considerable experience and often by expensive reverses that the bee keeper is able to manipulate properly to save his crop. Anyone can produce honey in seasons of plenty, but these do not come every year in most locations, and it takes a good bee keeper to make the most of poor years. When, even with the best of manipulations, the crop is a failure through lack of nectar, the bees must be fed to keep them from starvation.
The average annual honey yield per colony for the entire country, under good management, will probably be 25 to 30 pounds of comb honey or 40 to 50 pounds of extracted honey. The money return to be obtained from the crop depends entirely on the market and the method of selling the honey. If sold direct to the consumer, extracted honey brings from 10 to 20 cents per pound, and comb honey from 15 to 25 cents per section. If sold to dealers, the price varies from 6 to 10 cents for extracted honey and from 10 to 15 cents for comb honey. All of these estimates depend largely on the quality and neatness of the product. From the gross return must be deducted from 50 cents to $1 per colony for expenses other than labor, including foundation, sections, occasional new frames and hives, and other incidentals. This estimate of expense does not include the cost of new hives and other apparatus needed in providing for increase in the size of the apiary.
Above all it should be emphasized that the only way to make beekeeping a profitable business is to produce only a first-class article. We can not control what the bees bring to the hive to any great extent, but by proper manipulations we can get them to produce fancy comb honey, or if extracted honey is produced it can be carefully cared for and neatly packed to appeal to the fancy trade. Too many bee keepers, in fact, the majority, pay too little attention to making their goods attractive. They should recognize the fact that of two jars of honey, one in an ordinary fruit jar or tin can with a poorly printed label, and the other in a neat glass jar of artistic design with a pleasing, attractive label, the latter will bring double or more the extra cost of the better package. It is perhaps unfortunate, but nevertheless a fact, that honey sells largely on appearance, and a progressive bee keeper will appeal as strongly as possible to the eye of his customer.