Why so many new beekeepers quit

Why do so many new beekeepers quit. Photo shows two beekeepers examining a frame of bees.

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.


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  • Even better, what they thought were bees were probably wasps. I used to think anything striped was a bee, boy was I wrong! And if they were bees, where are they? I want that hive!

    • After we passed them, I kept looking for bees but the trail soon split and I don’t know which way they had come. I didn’t see any fresh manure on the trail we took, so they had probably been on the other. At any rate, I agree: they probably saw wasps–especially since wasps have been everywhere lately and most people can’t tell them apart.

  • I wish people understood what a swarm is. And isn’t. Or what a honey bees is/isn’t for that matter. A co-worker told me her husband was “swarmed by bees” after he exposed their nest while digging a drainage trench. She also swears there’s a honey bee “hive” on the branches of one of her aspen trees. It’s too high to get a picture of, so I can’t really comment on that one. Well… I could, but I won’t.

  • I think you are right on the money Rusty. This exact question came up during our last bee club meeting and our answers were the same as yours. The only difference was it took five of us to come up with them. 🙂 As a mentor and past president of the club the two reasons I see the most are keeping the bees alive and the realization that a profit from the hobby is far down the road if it arrives at all.

  • I’m a new beekeeper and all those reasons are true. I think the biggest problem is the learning curve. It is frustrating to have to sort through all the information out there and be able find the right answers. An example is when I saw red wax and a bunch of bees that are glowing red inside. First, what disease is that? I’ve never read anything about a disease like that. But after further searching, I found the bees have been visiting someone’s hummingbird feeder with that red dye. Now I have small hive beetles and they are scaring the pants off me….frustrating! I feel like I’m running out of time to get everything ready for winter.

    • Jason,

      I agree with you and I think preparing the bees for winter is the most stressful part of beekeeping. The things you do (or don’t do) now will affect the bees for many months and, once the cold weather sets in, there’s not much you can do except hope for the best.

  • All those reasons are correct. If I had known how complicated and frustrating it is to learn beekeeping, I wouldn’t have done it. The amount of contradictory and confusing information that is in books, on the internet, and given out from people who have been doing it for many decades is totally overwhelming. (I’m not criticizing those nice folks sharing their knowledge, because without it we couldn’t learn beekeeping). I’m just saying it’s extremely complicated!!! I have only been beekeeping for a few months and if I didn’t have $900 into it, would consider throwing in the towel. Taking on the challenge of building my own hives didn’t make the situation any easier. (I used a plan from PSU that ended up not matching the hive size for pieces I ordered from a company).

    Most importantly, I wish bee clubs would be honest about what it is like to start beekeeping, instead of simply saying “anyone can do it”. Two of my fellow new beekeepers lost all of their hives last year. Be honest and let people decide for themselves if they have the time, energy, and money to take up such a daunting situation. Don’t candy coat it and leave people stuck to try to figure out how to find the money to finance the ongoing costs and try to find the time to keep up with the constant problems.

    • Susan,

      I agree. The people who say “anyone can do it” are the same ones who will recite fifteen reasons why your ideas won’t work and you should do everything “their way.” Beekeeping used to be simple before the introduction of so many parasites, predators, diseases, and environmental contaminants. Now it is anything but easy. And yes, the cost still astounds me. I have no idea how much money I have put into beekeeping and I refuse to add it up—I’d rather not know at this point.

      The other side of the coin is that I have learned so much, not only about bees, but about things like plants, climate, and environmental issues. Education costs, and the education you get from beekeeping is no exception.

      My two primary messages are always the same. First, beekeeping is local. By that I mean what is right in one climate is not right in another. Second, there is not one way to keep bees, but an infinite number of ways. If you stick with it, you will discover what works for you, and it will take you less time as you become more accustomed to working with bees.

  • I haven’t treated for 5 years and only lost 1 Italian colony. Most all our bees now are Russian descent and have no issues with varroa or SHB. Italians must be treated or they will die out, but Russian bees and ferals don’t seem to have the same inability to adapt as Italians. Pathogens, viruses, and hive pests are in every colony, even treated colonies. For this reason, the bees we keep must be able to live with all these issues as humans do. IMO, bees must be allowed to adapt to these challenges or we will all continue to face losses every year. Prophylactically treating colonies for ailments they “might” have is something that must be rethought.

  • Rusty

    I am from Pakistan and have recently retired from Govt Service. I had a strong wish to have my beekeeping business after retirement. I kept two bee hives in early nineties as hobby. (It was, however, a failure as all the bees died of unknown reason, within one year). At that time there was not any know-how about Varroa. As I observe now, much damage is done by both, Tropilaelaps as well as Varroa mite besides other diseases.

    In Pakistan beekeeping business is not mature and is practiced mainly for honey production. It is not done (or not yet considered, I think, by someone else) for any other aspect like provision of pollination service, production of royal jelly, pollen or propolis etc.

    In pursuance to my wish, I initiated business on small scale, about two months ago, and procured a set of 30 hives from a local beekeeper. It was, however, much disappointment for me after going through your article `Why so many new beekeepers quit’ and learning the fact therein that `Making profit is nearly impossible . . . . . ‘ My questions are:

    • What are the ways to run the beekeeping commercially and make profit?
    • Should I quit and seek some other venture?
    • What you suggest?

    With best wishes.
    Israr Ahmed

    • Israr Ahmed,

      When I wrote that making a profit is nearly impossible, I was talking about small, start-up beekeepers in the United States and Canada. In our economies it is extremely difficult for a person with just a few hives to turn a profit, especially in the beginning. I know nothing about the economy of Pakistan but I do know it is an entirely different situation from what you would find here. You need to seek answers to your questions from someone closer to home, or at least from someone familiar with the small business climate in Pakistan.

    • Hi Israr,

      I too have started a bee business. It is a long road that requires patience and determination in any country. I have had opportunity to speak to many people from around our world. Beekeeping has many challenges and rewards, but there are also as many disappointments. The increasingly changing world requires all beings to be able to adapt to new things, whether an infestation of a new pest or a period of time with no resources. As beekeepers, we must recognize these issues and be able to assist the bees we keep. I suggest that a passion to learn and a heart to continue is a big plus for a long term beekeeper.

      One main suggestion I have is to always make sure you are raising new colonies from your strongest colonies after your main harvest. Propagation is a tool for a beekeeper to make sure their stock never dies. I would also suggest that raising quality bees for your region will become a main source of income from a bee business.

      I wish you success and long term satisfaction as I have from my bees!!!

  • What I noticed related to such a drop in percentage of beekeepers was some, not all, newer beekeepers expect the hives to be self-sustained. Not do anything at all once they buy the bee package and expect them to just flourish well beyond the spring and summer. One hive I inspected the following year for someone died. I found the inspection board completely removed. The bees had a open bottom to their hive that entire winter. No treatments all season a new package of bees that season so they had mites for sure so they dealt with mites and other pests then winter came no protection at all for winter, open bottom a skyhawk costco hive box total disaster waiting to happen and it happened. Hive (colony) died terribly. Remember feeding bees first season as much as possible to help them for winter none of that either. Epic fail.