Developing a beekeeping enterprise

A step-by-step guideline to help 
interested mountain people develop
a viable beekeeping enterprise

Step 1: Decide on the objective

Be clear on why you want to do beekeeping. For honey, for pollination, for colony production and sale? This will help you collect required knowledge and skills.

Step 2: Decide on the bee species
Which bee species do you want to use?  In HKH countries, two species of bees are used for beekeeping. They are the indigenous or locally available Apis cerana, also known as the Himalayan hive bee or the Asian hive bee, and Apis mellifera, an introduced species. 

This is important for learning the right bee management skills and estimating costs. The cost of bee colonies, and beehives,  is different for the two bee species. Making a business plan will give beekeepers an estimate of costs and expenditure, and the expected benefits.

Step 3: Feasibility assessment for beekeeping 
Honeybees need food (nectar and pollen) to survive, grow, multiply, and produce honey that comes from various plants i.e. agricultural/ horticultural/ ornamental/ wild (herbs, shrubs/bushes, trees). Thus, the availability of bee floral resources during different months of the year is a primary requirement for beekeeping. In other words, the success of a beekeeping enterprise depends on the availability of floral resources that are in bloom through different months of the year. A good crop of honey can be harvested if an area that has an abundance of honey/ bee plants within the foraging range of bees i.e. preferably within 500 m radius of the bee colony). 

Thus, it is important to assess whether a given area is good for beekeeping or not. If not, it is important to ask if anything be done to make it suitable for beekeeping. Feasibility assessment is conducted to find out whether: 

  • An area has enough bee flora within foraging range of  bees to feed on and gather honey
  • Environment (climate/weather) is suitable for beekeeping
  • Whether it is safe from bee predators
  • Market for honey and other bee products 
  • Can anything be done to make it suitable for beekeeping?

Step 4: Identify the potential site for beekeeping/ apiary placement
Based on the feasibility assessment (Step 3), select a site that has plenty of bee flora within the foraging range of bees, free of bee predators and enemies for placing bee colonies. If the selected site does not have bee flora during all months of the year, identify areas that have enough bee flora so that the bee colonies can migrate during slack seasons or feed the colonies sugar and pollen supplements. Migration of bee colonies is especially important when keeping with Apis mellifera bees.  

Step 5: Receive adequate knowledge and training to develop skills in beekeeping 
The general bee management training includes sessions on seasonal bee management; bee pests and diseases, and their diagnosis and control; bee forage management and pollination; harvesting, processing, and value addition of honey and bee products; and the establishment of enterprise development and marketing etc. 

The beekeeping enterprise development and management training has sessions on product development, and value addition—processing, packaging, branding and labeling, certification, advertising and marketing, accounting and book keeping, and business plan development, and enterprise linkages with public and private institutions for strengthening the honey enterprise.

If the objective is to develop bee colonies for sale, then it is necessary to get training on queen rearing and colony multiplication. Similarly, if the objective is to manage bees for pollination, it is important to get training accordingly.

Identify institutions/ resource persons providing support in beekeeping 

Identify institutions/ resource persons providing support in beekeeping in your area and participate in bee management and bee enterprise development training/s. There are different training packages.

Step 6: Visit successful bee enterprises in your area to learn from their experiences

Step 7: Procure key beekeeping equipment
This includes beehives, bee veils, swarm bags, queen gates, hive tools, feeders, and smokers. Some materials such as feeders, smokers, and swarm bags can be made at home using local material. Learn to make these. The training resource persons can tell you how to make these pieces of equipment at home. It is better to buy beehives from a skilled carpenter as the beehives have specific dimensions. A small mistake in hive dimension, particularly bee space, can result in bees making uneven and joint combs which makes honey harvesting a problem. 

Step 8: Establish an apiary  
Buy bee colonies to start beekeeping. There are some beekeepers who sell Apis cerana colonies and there are others who sell Apis mellifera colonies. Find them and buy the colonies you need. The best time to get bee colonies is during the reproductive/ swarming season of bees when there are plenty of bee flora around and bees are preparing to swarm. This is the time to start beekeeping. It varies from February in the lower hills to March–April in the mid-hills and in May-June in high mountain areas. 

You can also catch bee swarms during the active swarming season. Or you can transfer bee colonies from your log- or wall- hives. The trainer also can tell you how to transfer a bee colony although we do not encourage this. It is always better to maintain bee colonies (as mother colonies) in these traditional beehives. These colonies release swarms in the bees’ reproduction/swarming season which can be hived in improved hives. 

Step 9:  Carry out regular colony inspection and management
Regularly inspect colonies to know the status of colony development, disease condition, presence of queen, brood—eggs, larvae and pupae, and amount of food—pollen and nectar stores. This will help you decide what seasonal colony management practices need to be undertaken. You can inspect the colonies through two methods: 1) from outside, without opening the hives and 2) from inside, by opening the hives.

Colony inspection from outside

Colony inspection from outside is carried out in order to get an idea of the colony status without opening the hive. Inspection from outside can provide the following information about a bee colony:

  • A larger number of incoming and outgoing bees, and a larger number of pollen carrying foragers at the hive entrance signal the colony is healthy and strong
  • Larvae, pupae, and newly emerged bees scattered at or in front of the entrance signal the colony is diseased
  • Bee excreta and black patches seen around the entrance signal the colony is abnormal or diseased
  • Plenty of dead bees with the proboscis out scattered at or in front of the entrance signal the colony is poisoned
  • Crawling bees that are unable to fly signal bee disease
  • A large number of bees in flight and fighting with each other and/or dead is a signal of robbing
  • Clustering bees at the hive entrance and a much smaller number of bees flying to forage may signal absconding or swarming.
  • A large number of drones and erratic bee movement may signal laying workers or a queenless colony.

If the above symptoms are seen, it is important to inspect the colony by opening the hive and take appropriate management steps to solve the problem immediately.

Colony inspection from inside through opening the hive

As part of good hive management practice, a colony is inspected from the inside after it is inspected from the outside to reconfirm its status, its abnormalities, and its strengths. Such an inspection should be done per the set objectives, starting from the collection of necessary materials. The following observations shall be made while performing an inspection of a colony from the inside:

  • Condition of queen 
  • Colony strength–number of adult bees, and amount of brood–eggs, larvae, and pupae
  • Presence of bee diseases and pests in the colony
  • Symptoms of swarming and absconding 
  • Need for supplementing comb foundation sheets
  • Storage of food (honey and pollen)
  • Cleanliness and hygiene
  • Need of scrapping/removing unnecessary/deformed/extra combs built by the bees.

Perform any management practices required to maintain colony health. Manage bee colonies as taught in the training.

Step 10: Honey harvesting
During the honey flow season when there are plenty of flowers in bloom i.e. spring, harvest honey using a honey extractor.   

Step 11: Honey packaging, labeling, and selling
Pack honey in clean glass, stainless steel, or food grade bottles, label the bottles and sell directly to your consumer or through a shop owner/middle man. The label should have the following details:

Brand name: 
Date of harvesting:
Geographic origin of honey:
Plant source of honey:
Bee source of honey:
Shelf life: 
Weight:

Beekeeping is an activity that can be taken up as part time or full time by men, women, and the youth of any caste and/or religion. All it requires is to have confidence in oneself, and commit to the hard work and management necessary for running a successful beekeeping enterprise.

  • Clarity on the objective 
  • Knowledge about beekeeping
  • Availability of bee flora
  • Appropriate site for apiary establishment
  • Appropriate time for starting beekeeping and availability of bee colonies
  • Selection of bee species for beekeeping 
  • Beekeeping equipment

Inspect colonies regularly to know the status of colony development, disease condition, presence of queen, brood -- eggs, larvae and pupae, and amount of food -- pollen and nectar stores. 

Pack honey in clean glass, stainless steel, or food grade bottles, label the bottles and sell directly to your consumer or through a shop owner/middle man.