I remember the exact moment I wanted to become a beekeeper. I’d been browsing through Groupon offers and found a beekeeping class for my husband and me, $35 per person. He had once mentioned being interested in the hobby, so I thought it would be a cool date night.
Little did I know that a few years later, we would manage a growing apiary and that beekeeping would become my new hobby and, yes, obsession.
Despite my love for beekeeping, I have learned reasons to not keep bees that you might also want to consider.
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Beekeeping as a New Trend
Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby growing in popularity in the past few years. All-in-one kits are not only available at stores like Tractor Supply and Sam’s Club, but you see bee-themed home décor everywhere – and it’s hard to resist. Bees are so darn cute!
As a trendy hobby, it’s easy to see why it’s becoming popular. People like the idea of caring for these tiny pollinators — a great way to contribute to the environment by promoting biodiversity and helping to ensure the continued growth of our crops. We need those bees!
However, before you rush out to buy a hive and start your own apiary, there are a few reasons to not keep bees you might want to consider before taking on this challenging and sometimes expensive hobby.
14 Reasons to NOT Keep Bees
Here are fourteen reasons to think twice and what I wish I would have known before going down this path.
1. Foremost, beekeeping is animal husbandry.
Bees aren’t a pet. They’re more like livestock in the amount of information and training needed to succeed and keep them alive. Unlike a cat or a dog, bees have a complex life cycle and require specialized care that can be time-consuming and expensive.
2. Extensive and ongoing education is necessary.
One of the most significant challenges of beekeeping is the sheer amount of information you need to know to succeed. There’s far more to know than you realize when you first get started, and what you DON’T know can quickly kill your hive.
So far, I’ve attended a Bee School in Central Texas, am planning on going to a full-blown beekeeping conference later this year, and have attended in-person, local beekeeping meetings. We’ve read books, sought experts with our questions, and those darn bees still outwit us! This book, Top Bar Beekeeping, and this one, Beekeeping for Dummies, are my favorites.
3. Bees can leave (abscond or swarm) for no reason.
At least, they can leave for no reason you or an experienced beekeeper can figure out. Sometimes despite all your training and experience, you open up a hive to find it empty. This means that you need to be aware of things like weather, pollen/nectar flow seasons, the health of your queen bees, and pests and disease in your hives. By adjusting your management techniques, along with ongoing learning, you can minimize the chances of your bees taking off for parts unknown.
4. Restrictions, regulations, and neighbors can be challenging.
Another possible issue is restrictions and regulations that limit where you can place your bees or if you can have them at all. While there are beekeepers in cities, on top of Notre Dame in Paris, and many feral swarms that can be found literally anywhere, neighbors can make it difficult.
5. Chemicals, even used at other locations, can decimate bees.
The use of pesticides can also kill your bees, whether intentionally or not, and you need to be careful about where you place your hives. Your bees may collect pollen tainted by a pesticide miles away, and you’ll only know about the problem when you see hundreds or thousands of them dead.
6. Bees can inflict injury.
And those stings hurt! While most bees are not aggressive and will only sting if they feel threatened, each sting is unique. That means you may not be allergic to the first 50 stings but may have a bad reaction to the 51st. I keep a small medical bag with us that includes an Epi-pen, Benadryl, a few Prednisone tablets, and a couple of anti-itch creams.
Once you’ve been stung a couple of times, you know what to expect. It doesn’t feel great, but the pain is temporary.
7. Beekeeping can be expensive.
While a starter kit like the ones I mentioned may not be too expensive, the price of the bees themselves can be costly. A Nuc (nuclear) package can run $200-300 or more, and if your hive dies, you may need to buy another nuc and start over. This is like buying an expensive puppy that only lives for a few months – not a great investment.
Some of our expenses include:
- bee jackets
- bee “Super Suits” (worth every penny if you have aggressive bees as we do)
- hive tools
- boxes and frames
- a smoker, and more.
Overall, in our third full year of beekeeping, I estimate we have spent about $3500 or more and have yet to earn a single dollar!
8. It’s difficult, close to impossible, to recoup your investment.
Plus, you must sell a LOT of honey to cover the basic costs. A beekeeping business that makes money will earn it through selling queen bees they raise and breed, the sale of nucs and bee packages, offering classes, and selling products (not just honey). Here in Texas, placing hives on acreage allows the landowner to qualify for an agricultural exemption.
Hive removal is also a big money-maker once you become very confident with handling bees. Homeowners are often charged several hundred dollars and more to have bees removed from ceilings, walls, garages, and so on.
Take a look at this graph to see how one company earns the bulk of its income.
9. Beekeeping businesses face additional regulations and restrictions.
If you’re considering beekeeping as a business, you also need to be aware of the regulations and restrictions that may apply. City, county, state, and HOA rules can be complex and may limit where you can place your hives, how many you can have, and how you can sell your honey.
10. Murphy’s Law also applies to beekeeping.
There are so many things that can go wrong, from weather-related issues to pests and diseases. Not to mention a lot of beekeeping is guesswork and A/B testing.
This year we had spring arrive much earlier than usual. This triggered our queens to begin laying eggs like crazy! In short order, our hives were packed with bees, and they weren’t happy. We took many measures to keep them content until we could split the hives into small ones and add mated queens. (Mated queens are only available beginning late March/early April through late summer.)
Wild animals can destroy hives, floods can drown your bees, varroa mites can inflict multiple viruses into the bodies of your bees, the hive can kill the queen — just so many issues and problems can develop. Personally, we enjoy the challenge, but not everyone has the time or patience to find solutions. For some people, this is one of the biggest reasons to not keep bees.
11. Some hive issues must be solved ASAP.
There are some problems you’ll have with a hive that must be dealt with immediately.
For example, if you order new, mated queens and they arrive in the mail or you pick them up, you have a limited amount of time to install them in their new hives. It’s raining? You are leaving town? No matter. Those queens won’t stay alive forever. You notice a swarm cell developing on a frame? That means the hive has decided to develop a new queen and they plan on swarming and leaving the hive. Again, you have a limited amount of time to deal with that.
12. Killing bees is, unfortunately, part of the job.
This week, we purchased a new queen with a calmer temperament to install in our worst hive. When we opened the hive, we saw a queen/swarm cell with an almost fully-developed queen inside. We had no choice but to “pinch” her because to allow her to hatch meant that she would battle with the newly installed queen and one of them would die. We placed our money on the purchased queen with known genetics and who was ready to begin laying eggs.
13. In-person help is sometimes necessary but can also be hard to find.
Even if you have access to a mentor or a local beekeeping club, sometimes, you need in-person help, and online help via Facebook groups is limited in how much help they can offer. I recommend finding a local bee group and then also joining Facebook or WeMe groups like Beekeeping for Beginners. If you can find an online group in your local area, that’s even better since they can offer advice specific to your location.
14. It’s difficult to get consistent advice from experts.
We’ve received conflicting advice for almost every question we’ve asked. When we were first starting out, this was quite frustrating. Now with a few years under our belt, we’ve had time to learn from our mistakes and experiences and then compare that with any advice we get.
Do We Regret Out Decision to Become Beekeepers?
Despite these reasons to not keep bees, we have no regrets about pursuing this hobby. It benefits our bees by keeping them healthy and helping them prepare for the winter when little food is available. However, it’s beneficial to us in so many ways.
Beekeeping gives us another reason to get outside and enjoy nature. It’s something our whole family is involved with and gives us all kinds of bonding experiences! We harvest honey and beeswax for things like natural remedies, and perhaps one day soon I can sell enough honey to, at least, cover the cost of one of our Super Suits.
If you’ve read this far and still have an interest in bees, then I welcome you to this wonderful world! This playlist of My Beekeeping Diaries on YouTube shares some of the ups and downs of this hobby. I’m also happy to answer your questions in Comments.
What are some of your reasons to not keep bees?