Every so often I read that 80% of all new beekeepers quit within the first two years. I don’t know who came up with this number, nor do I know how accurate it is. But let’s assume for a moment that it is close to the truth. The question that comes to mind is, “Why?” Why do so many new beekeepers quit so soon?
In my opinion, there are several compelling reasons:
- A colony has a life expectancy of about two years if not treated for mites. I’ve seen many beekeepers lose their hives to mites and then give up. Sometimes they don’t even realize that mites were the problem.
- Similarly, a beekeeper may give up when he doesn’t harvest honey in the first year or two. This happens frequently and is discouraging.
- Beekeeping is more difficult than people realize. I think this is especially true of people who remember their parents or grandparents keeping bees effortlessly. But beekeeping has become a lot more difficult, especially since the 1980’s introduction of Varroa mites.
- Beekeeping is more expensive than they imagined. The basic kit and the first package of bees are manageable. But when you start adding in special equipment, sugar and other feeds, replacement queens and packages, medications or alternative mite controls, honey extracting equipment, storage space, over-wintering needs, and other extras, the dollars add up.
- The time commitment is greater than expected. I agree with those who say that the total time commitment is not large, but what must be done must be done on time. Scheduling bee management around jobs and family can be tricky.
- The learning curve is steep. Today, a successful beekeeper needs a little knowledge in a lot of areas. Some basic biology, entomology, botany, chemistry, and physics stirred together with a little carpentry and engineering are very helpful. For most of us this is a lot of learning and it seems never to end. At least for me, the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.
- Making a profit is nearly impossible, especially for the hobby beekeeper. Those going into it with the idea of making a little extra money will be disappointed because expenses are high and honey is cheap. Most hobbyists will be upside down for years.
- For many beekeepers, the neighbors are an annoying issue. Too many complaints (or threats) can send a new beekeeper packing.
Having said that, would I discourage would-be beekeepers? Absolutely not. I think even those folks who try, then quit learn so much that the experience is life-changing . . . or at least attitude changing.
Yesterday I was walking in the woods with my puppy and husband. On a deeply forested section of trail, we came across three women equestrians. We stepped aside and held the pup, allowing them to pass. They all talked nervously about the bees they had just seen. “Be careful!” they warned us. “Bees up ahead! Hundreds of them! Watch yourselves!”
I thought about that for a long time. A short stint of beekeeping—even just a few months—would have set those folks to rights. I know, I know . . . horses can be spooked by bees. True, but horses can also detect your fear, making the whole situation worse. Knowing more about the world around us is always an advantage . . . no matter how hard the struggle. Learning about bees is no exception.