I was assigned a topic on agriculture in one of my classes at school. Having grown up near the city in suburbia, I've had limited experience to anything farming related. I've made a similar topic in the other farming forums.
My questions are what has been your experience so far with bee keeping? Do you consider this more of a hobby, or is it possible to making a living off of it? Would you recommend it? What tips would you give someone just starting out?
I hope you are going to get some interesting feedback. This blog is very quite ... you may need to find a more active forum. I've subscribed to Dadant's ABJ - an industry published magazine that has lots of interesting info, including a class room where you can ask questions and get professional advise. Just google American Beekeeper Journal.
As to your questions: Beekeeping for me is a hobby because the sales of honey do not cover the expense. I have invested close to $1000 for two hives. First year harvest close to 11 gallons - I use some for myself and some for gift - but should be able to make about $200 - $300 in honey sales. So, if you figure that you can use the equipment for 10, maybe 20 years with proper maintenance ... you do the math ... but you can certainly make a living if you make this a part-time job income, keep reinvesting to grow the number of hives to 100-300. My neighbors have almost 40 hives ... but also grow produce and raise animals. I guess to generate enough business to be a professional full-time beekeeper you probably need over 100 hives, and I estimate about $30K capital investment.
I've started last spring and have limited experience. But I'm very happy for the time I have invested. As I'm a natural beekeeper - no chemicals + bee size reduction (you can read a little about that in an other post I've made last year). I'm also interested to learn how to raise my own local queens. I believe that long term beekeeping needs to focus more on local breeding to reinforce the population strength and winter survival rates. Beekeeping is not just about honey (food), it is also essential for pollination (some crops are 100% bee pollinated) - and medicinal ... the collection of local spores / pollin mix make a strong food additive to reduce allergies.
Definately a hobby. This is the toughest period I ever remember for professional beekeepers and know several who have gone out of business in the last two years due to colony collapse. I only have a few bees (3 hives) and do not move mine from the property. The best money does not nessisarily come from honey sales, (american beekeepers are having a hard time compeating with forign imports) much of the profits come from renting the bees out to large scale orchards and farmers for polination. There are several beekeeping programs at universities around the country for professionals and short courses for hobby keepers.