Beekeepers, also known as apiarists, manage and maintain colonies of honey bees that produce honey and provide pollination services. The primary duty of a beekeeper is to keep hives healthy and productive, so they can yield honey and related byproducts such as beeswax.
A beekeeper is responsible for assessing the health of the hive, checking for mite infestations, monitoring and treating the hive when health problems arise, and maintaining detailed records of health, medication administration, and honey production.
A beekeeper may also be responsible for preparing bees and equipment for pollination activities, feeding bees, cleaning and constructing hives, raising and replacing queen bees, dividing colonies when necessary, and replacing combs. Some beekeepers may work directly with honey processing and bottling equipment.
Beekeepers must work long hours during the warmer months, spending most of their time outdoors in variable weather conditions. Work may be required on nights, weekends, and holidays. Beekeepers must wear special protective clothing such as veils, gloves, and suits. They also must properly use bee smokers and other hive tools to safely access the hive.
Beekeepers can have small hobbyist operations or be a part of large commercial production farms. Beekeepers may also specialize in a specific area of interest such as honey production, pollination services for fruit and vegetable farmers, or bee breeding.
Beekeepers may also find work with some elementary schools or 4-H programs, where children have the chance to learn beekeeping skills. There are additional opportunities in education at the college level, with employment available through animal science departments and university extension agencies.
The bee industry is especially strong in countries such as China, Argentina, Turkey, and the United States, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). There are many international opportunities with major commercial operations if a beekeeper wishes to travel and work overseas.
Education and Training
New beekeeping enthusiasts can gain valuable experience by apprenticing with experienced beekeepers before venturing out on their own. Large commercial bee farms also may offer evening or weekend beekeeping classes that are open to the public.
There are a number of beekeeping events across the country, but one of the largest educational events is the North American Beekeeping Federation Conference & Tradeshow put on by the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF). This popular national event is held each January and boasts a regular attendance of over 600 beekeeping enthusiasts. The conference features a variety of educational sessions for novices and professionals, a trade show, and the American Honey Show.
Many colleges and universities offer short course seminars on beekeeping for novices or master courses for professionals. Two such programs can be found at Cornell University and the University of Florida. Cornell University offers beekeeping workshops at the apprentice, journeyman, and master levels. The University of Florida offers a two-day “Bee College” seminar as well as the Florida Master Beekeeper Program (MBP) as part of their Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab. The MBP consists of four levels, the highest being Master Craftsman Beekeeper. There are also a variety of insect-related internships that could be of use.
While a degree is not required to work in this profession, many beekeepers have an undergraduate degree in animal science or a biological field. It is also possible to pursue a graduate-level degree related to beekeeping. Groups such as the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees offer graduate scholarships to be applied to a student’s bee research. A master’s or Ph.D. degree related to beekeeping can be pursued in areas such as agricultural management and entomology.
Income for a beekeeper can vary widely based on experience, education, and type of employment (i.e., hobbyist or commercial producer). Sokanu cites an average salary of $25,000. There's also the opportunity for part-time or hobbyist beekeepers to make money, generally tending to their bees on nights and weekends while primarily holding a job in another field.
Additional income may be earned if a beekeeper produces and markets honey or beeswax products. Another earning option is selling starter or replacement bees to other beekeeping operations.
The number of beekeepers is expected to show continued growth over the next decade, as more and more backyard beekeepers are expected to enter the field or increase the size of their operations. While the industry must continue to deal with threats such as Africanized bees, mites, and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), interest in beekeeping and byproducts such as honey and wax should remain strong.