A Home-Based Business Opportunity That Started with Beekeeping

| 4/26/2013 2:00:00 PM

I didn't expect to catch “bee fever” when I first started beekeeping. The initial idea had been to aid in the pollination of our vegetable garden and to increase our family's self-sufficiency, but after my first summer as a beekeeper I was hooked. I had to have more. Soon my life became all about bees. There was no local beekeeping group, so I established the Somerset Beekeepers, a chapter of the Maine State Beekeepers Association, and was promptly elected president of the group. Apparently, when you take the initiative to start something like that, people automatically assume you've got what it takes to lead. Being a master gardener and beekeeper was a good marriage for me; I went to surrounding communities talking to the public about pollinators, their benefits, why they are at risk and what we can do to help them.

As I expanded my apiary to cover the expenses of equipment, I sold a few jars of honey under the name of “Runamuk” (inspired by our rowdy boys) Runamuk Apiaryand quickly realized the demand for local honey — for raw honey like mine. I'd always wanted a homestead of my own, but since I am a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, our family is limited to a single paycheck and a tight budget. That, in addition to the fact that we rent a home on one acre in town, held us back. But I began to see the possibilities that beekeeping and gardening were opening up to me. I became determined to earn an income of my own, with a home-based business as I continued to homeschool my boys, in order to fulfill my dream of home ownership and homesteading bliss.

We plunged in head first, offering a community-supported agriculture program (CSA) out of our backyard, selling seedlings and honey roadside, and continuing with Runamuk's message of pollinator conservation. My husband and I participated in the Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation short course offered by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), and certified our micro farm as “bee-friendly” with the Partners for Sustainable Pollination. That first year as serious farmers I learned a valuable lesson — Mother Nature does not care one whit how carefully you craft your business plan, and anyone who is serious about any aspect of farming must learn to roll with the punches that She delivers.

I expanded the Runamuk apiary from two to six hives by making splits from the parent colonies, situating four of them on an organic farm nearby. Spring came on early and hot — good for bees, but also good for parasitic mites like Varroa. Then there came a long rainy spell in June, which confined the bees to the hives where they ate surplus stores; in such close quarters the pests multiply rapidly, and it proved a challenge to build up the hives to an adequate level before Maine's long, cold winter arrived.

Plunging into a CSA program meant we had to expand our gardens, but in order to break up a new plot with the tiller we first had to wait for the backyard to dry after the muddy season. This meant that some crops were planted late. Some crops were washed out in the long, rainy spell. And then there were the weeds brought to the surface by our rushed tilling job.

Looking back, it would have been better to prepare the bed the year before a new garden was to be planted, to kill off the newly exposed weed seeds. But hindsight is 20-20, and as it was I spent a lot of time trying to keep up with the weeds in order to save my crops.

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