How to make money from honey (without being a beekeeper)

Here’s how to profit from bees without becoming a beekeeper.

Walk Japan

Words and Photos: Karen Knight

There is a honey rush on, mostly thanks to an explosion in the returns from manuka honey because of its remarkable antibacterial properties. The result is overseas markets are clamouring for our honey and we are struggling to keep up.

There is an explosion in the number of beekeepers too. In in the last year or so, beekeeper numbers grew by 70,000, many of them hobbyists and semi-commercial set-ups. Should you be one too? Bees on your block would be lovely, right? It’s important to understand that beekeeping is a complex undertaking. Looking after bees well is complicated, expensive and time-consuming. There is a lot to learn, including all the legal requirements that come with bees. There’s no guarantee of success either. Your bees may still die, or just not prosper.

There is an easier way to have bees than to become a beekeeper. Commercial beekeepers always need places for their hives, and there is considerable competition for good apiary sites. If you have a good site, you can make money from honey but you won’t need to do any of the work. This is a basic guide on what to expect when you host the hives of a commercial beekeeper.

There’s nothing nicer on a hot summer’s day than the warm buzz of bees, and they are very helpful to a landowner. If you have pip or stone fruit trees, or a large vegetable garden full of cucurbits and other vegetables that produce flowers, then fruit, having hives of eager bees nearby will increase your yields.

Bees also pollinate clover, and clover is an excellent nitrogen-fixing plant. By pollinating clover you get the significant value of the fertiliser effect of nitrogen, without having to pay for or spread the fertiliser. There’s an increase in the quality of your pasture, and an increase in the health of your grazing animals.

Do you have a patch of scrubby manuka bush? You can use bees to make some money off that too.

A lot of beekeeper ‘pay’ for the use of your land with jars of honey in kind, often at the end of or during the season. A kilogram of a simple ‘clover’ honey is $25, so see what the beekeeper is prepared to offer. To give you an example, NZ Lifestyle Block editor Nadene Hall hosts 10 hives on an unused corner of her north Waikato block and in return receives 12kg of different types of honey in 1kg pots.

However, if you are running a commercial proposition, you can expect proper compensation. This can be in a few forms, depending on what your site is like and what the beekeeper is using your site for.

In a good year you do well, in a poor year less well. If you have manuka, you would expect between 5-30 per cent, depending on the quality of the manuka in the area and the quality of the honey (ie, the strength of the manuka honey).

These may be good options if the beekeeper is using your property as a nursery site for raising bees or as an over-wintering site, rather than for honey production.

There is another option sometimes offered by beekeepers, which is a one-off payment at the beginning called a gate fee. That’s fine if you get one of the other options as well, but on its own it benefits the beekeeper, not you.

• The beekeeper will regularly visit, every two weeks or so in summer, less frequently in winter.
• They will drive a 4WD vehicle, likely a ute or truck, and often bring in a big trailer that they will need to drive right up to the hives, so access is important.
• You can expect a commercial operation to place a minimum of 20 hives, maybe up to 50 hives on one farm. Each hive will grow to up to 5-6 boxes by the end of the season. That’s quite a lot of bees: each one-box colony contains around 25,000 bees, so that’s 500,000 (20 hives) up to 1.25 million bees (50 hives).
• At the end of the season, beekeepers often take away most of the boxes, perhaps leaving small 1-2 box hives. Some beekeepers put their hives on other sites for over-wintering.

Karen Knight is an avid bee blogger and manuka expert, who helps lifestyle blockers make more money from their land. Download her free pictorial, step-by-step Guide to Growing Manuka Trees from Seeds at

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.

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