Updated on December 1st, 2021
Most people know that beekeepers harvest honey from bees kept in boxes. However, to get that honey, beekeepers need to do quite a few things. So, what does a beekeeper do?
Beekeepers manage honey bees housed in hives as a hobby or commercially. Keeping bees healthy, beekeepers harvest bee products such as honey and beeswax, among other things, for their use or for sale. Seasonal needs and the objectives and scope of a beekeeping operation determine specific beekeeping tasks.
Honey bees function quite well without interference from a beekeeper. Bees build wax comb, raise brood, forage for nectar and pollen, make honey, and defend their turf. A beekeeper provides shelter, assists the bees when needed, and can manipulate the colonies to expand the apiary.
This article discusses the job of beekeeping and how it may vary at times.
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It’s the holiday season! Check out our gift ideas for a beekeeper you know… or for yourself! In addition to standard beekeeping supplies, we’ve included some unique items you may not have considered.
What Is A Beekeeper Called?
Beekeepers are also called apiarists or apiculturists. Beehives are kept in an apiary.
These “bee” related words derive primarily from the Latin apis meaning “bee.” Honey bees are Apis millifera or honey-bearing bees. An apiarium is a “beehouse” or apiary, also called a beeyard (or bee yard).
The word apiculture is partly derived from the Latin cultura for “growing” (similar to “agriculture”). Thus, beekeeping is considered a form of agriculture or farming.
As agricultural workers, beekeepers are considered “essential workers” in some jurisdictions (such as New Zealand) as determined during the Covid-19 pandemic.
See our article Is Beekeeping Agriculture? for further explanation of how beekeeping is considered a farming activity.
Beekeepers Are Called Hobbyists, Sideliners Or Commercial Beekeepers
Beekeepers are often categorized as follows:
- Commercial beekeepers manage hundreds of hives as a full-time business,
- Hobbyists (also called backyard beekeepers) having fewer than 25 beehives, and
- Sideliners in between the other two and running part-time beekeeping businesses.
The U. S. Department of Agriculture estimates about 90% of US beekeepers are hobbyists.
Beekeepers in all these categories have the primary task of managing and caring for their bee colonies. With healthy colonies, beekeepers decide what hive products to harvest for either personal use (hobby beekeeper) or sale.
What Is The Job Of A Beekeeper?
A beekeeper’s primary job is to maintain the health and security of bee colonies to assure their productivity.
- Regularly inspects hives to assess the condition and health of honey bee colonies, particularly the queen, and remediate any problems,
- Acquires, assembles, and maintains hives, supplies, and equipment,
- Harvests and processes hive products such as honey,
- Manages the growth of the apiary,
- Maintains books and records,
- May participate in community or industry activities,
- Complies with any reporting requirements,
- Sells products or provides beekeeping services (such as pollination), if commercially oriented, and
- May engage in scientific research or teach.
In large commercial operations, beekeeping duties may be divided among individuals.
For example, recently, I saw a job posting for a beekeeper where the primary responsibilities were to oversee honey processing and various other administrative tasks. The job description required beekeeping knowledge but did not seem to include a lot of work in the hives.
See this article for more information on how beekeepers manage their colonies.
I reviewed recent online job postings for beekeepers. Here is a sampling of tasks from the job descriptions (these are from multiple postings so some items may overlap):
- maintain beekeeping operations, budget, and equipment
- project inventory needs; order supplies
- oversee all aspects of processing and packaging honey, with attention to sanitary standards
- pursue learning and research within the current community of beekeepers: attending conferences, reading journals, etc.
- collect data pertaining to each colony and produce an annual report on trends over time
- manage hive splits and the creation of new hives, including queen pick-ups, queen banks, queen-rearing, planning brood drops, and record keeping
- provide hands-on beekeeping training
- participate in the development and implementation of Integrated Pest Management strategies
- organize, clean, and maintain equipment, supplies, and warehouse space throughout the season
- register all hives for the city/district (including yard hives)
- find and cage queens, install queen cells
- assembles bee hives
- transport bee boxes
- uncap harvested honeycombs and extract honey
- extract and package beeswax
- help manage existing forage yards
- carpentry skills are preferred
- able to do heavy lifting, 50 – 100lbs regularly
What Does A Beekeeper Do Daily?
Beekeeping tasks and their frequency vary widely based on the time of year and the condition of the colonies.
As a backyard beekeeper, my most common daily task is strolling out to the beeyard, making sure the electric fence is active (to keep out bears), and observing the bees’ activity even during peak honey season.
In a large commercial operation with hundreds of colonies, a beekeeper may need to inspect hives daily to cover all the hives over time.
Hive inspections occur throughout the year. Every inspection involves assessing the health and condition of the colony.
However, the frequency, objectives, and depth of inspections vary. For example, winter inspections are generally limited to making sure entrances are clear of snow, hives are not damaged, occasionally checking if bees need supplemental feeding.
See our article How To Inspect A Beehive to learn more about how a beekeeper goes into a hive.
Spring beehive managementtasks focus on cleaning up after winter, getting the colonies ready for the honey season, and managing the bee population.
Beekeepers focus on honey production and assisting bees through nectar dearth when food sources may be scarce. See Managing Beehives In Summer for more details.
A beekeeper’s fall tasks get bees and their hives ready for winter.
So, what do beekeepers do in the winter?
Beehives should not be opened in temperatures below 50°F (10°C). Bees cannot fly in such temperatures and are working hard to stay warm.
Hives should only be opened briefly on warmer winter days to see if supplement sugar feeding is necessary.
Winter is a good time to assemble and repair equipment and prepare for the coming season. Keep entrances free of snow so bees can get out on warmer days.
Where Do Beekeepers Work?
As agricultural workers, beekeepers spend a significant amount of time outdoors managing apiaries.
Work not requiring immediate attention to the bees, such as assembling equipment and record-keeping, is best performed outside an apiary. Some of this work can be indoors or outdoors depending on the weather and beekeeper’s facilities.
Processing of honey and some other products should be performed indoors under sanitary conditions. Honey, especially, attracts too many bees and other insects to be processed outdoors.
Commercial beekeepers may travel to other locations to provide crop pollination or bee removal from someone’s property.
How Do You Become A Beekeeper? | Beekeeper Education Requirements
Hobbyists learn beekeeping from various sources, including books, classes, online videos, mentors, beekeeping associations, and, most of all, hands-on experience.
Most beekeeping jobs are available to experienced individuals that can demonstrate adequate knowledge and skills without meeting specific educational requirements. The Economic Research Institute (“ERI”) states, “On average, a High School Degree is the highest level of education for a Beekeeper.”1
In addition, some companies may provide training or apprenticeships. Alvéole, for example, provides beekeeping services, and some of their job postings require employees to attend multi-day training programs.
However, if you wish to make a career out of beekeeping, formal training may be helpful.
Some organizations and universities offer Master Beekeeping designations. Earning such a designation, individuals need to pass oral and written exams plus field tests. Some places you can find Master Beekeeping programs are:
- Cornell University’s Master Beekeeping Certificate Program has a prerequisite of three years minimum experience. It is a 15-month program, and the enrollment is $895.
- The Eastern Apicultural Society offers a program to EAS members with a minimum of 5 years as a serious beekeeper in some aspect of apiary management.” A self-study course, EAS has an initial examination fee of $100 plus $25 for retaking any failed test.
- Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension has a five-year minimum beekeeper training and certification program provided by the Texas Apiary Inspection Service and Texas Beekeepers Association. Requirements include one full year of owning at least one colony. It appears the only cost is the minimum registration fee of $35 to join the Association.
- The University of Montana’s Online Beekeeping Certificate program “consists of three university-level courses.” Apprentice enrollment is $325.
- Note: costs are from online sources as of 11/24/2021. Check sites for current information.
These programs often have significant amounts of self-study and may blend in-person with online training. Beekeepers advance through various levels such as apprentice and journeyman before attaining master certification.
Master Beekeeping programs offer the opportunity for intense, detailed study of beekeeping.
While not a requirement for many jobs, a Master Beekeeper Certification tells potential employers that you are an extremely knowledgeable beekeeper. If you want to teach beekeeping classes, they may add to your credibility with likely students.
Beekeeping-related university and research jobs may have specific education requirements, such as degrees in relevant fields like entomology (the study of insects). For example, a recent job posting we saw for an educator at a major university required a master’s degree or higher plus seven years of experience.
What Can Beekeepers Make? | Beekeeper Salary
Do beekeepers make good money? That is for you do decide but here is some information to consider.
ERI says, “The average pay for a Beekeeper is $48,253 a year and $23 an hour in the United States. The average salary range for a Beekeeper is between $35,786 and $58,661.”
Salaries for beekeepers can vary for many reasons:
- Salaries vary based on the cost of living in different parts of the country
- Some positions require more experience and carry greater responsibility
- Beekeeping jobs may be part-time or short-term due to seasonal needs
Beekeepers can earn money from their own hives rather than by a salaried job. Money-making opportunities for beekeepers include:
- Sale of hive products, including
- Bee pollen
- Royal jelly
- Bee venom
- Sale of bee packages and nucs
- Queen-rearing and the sale of queens
- Teaching classes
- Pollination services for crops
- Bee removal services.
Note: bee removal services may require opening walls or other structural elements. Be sure you know what you are doing before taking on such assignments. For any commercial activities, be sure to comply with any legal requirements. Get good legal advice and explore insurance needs.
Beekeeping is an agricultural undertaking. A beekeeper’s primary job is the care and maintenance of honey bees.
Specific beekeeping tasks change with the seasons. Familiarize yourself with those seasonal needs.
Beekeeping can be rewarding whether pursued as a hobby, a part-time income generator, or a full-time career.