Beejesus! You Can Make a Living Off of Beekeeping
Katie and Adam Kokx would have never thought that they'd get into the "beesiness" of beekeeping, but now that they are, they couldn't be happier!
Katie and Adam Kokx would’ve laughed at you if you had told them 10 years ago that they would someday be running a beekeeping business. But after an endless series of financial and family challenges, that’s exactly what happened. The best part? They couldn’t be happier!
Beekeeping Is Tough Work
It’s a good thing that Katie and Adam don’t enjoy being cooped up indoors all day. No matter the season, they need to keep a close eye on their bees.
Every 10 days, weather permitting, they open each beehive to make sure that everything is buzzing along just fine. It’s a big task. This year, they’re planning to expand with up to 500 hives. They want to double that number within another few years.
Throughout the season, the bees need to be treated for diseases and pests (yes – even bees get sick). Katie and Adam are constantly monitoring the environment to make sure that their bees have enough food and water. They also have to ensure that any pests or pesticides stay far away from their hives. In short, they are as busy as their bees.
The Business of Bees
The “beesiness” provides them with two income streams. Pollination contracts with farmers make up about 30 percent of their yearly income. Sale of hive products (honey, beeswax, honey combs, bee pollen, and candles) bring in the other 70 percent.
The bees are a well-traveled lot. Each year, they start out the growing season in Michigan’s cherry and apple orchards. Throughout the summer, they move their bees around to blueberry, squash, cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin, alfalfa, and various types of wildflower fields, depending on what’s flowering. Come fall, they load all their hives up on a flatbed semi-trailer (with bees inside and everything) and drive south to Georgia, where they overwinter their bees.
While all of this pollination business is going on, they also need to keep up with the production of hive products to sell in local stores. The bees produce different flavors and types of honey after pollinating different flowers. These need to be processed separately.
A Rough Start
When they first decided to turn their hobby into a business, they had very little money. So they brought in a business partner. Unfortunately, as some partnerships do, the relationship turned very sour and expensive, to say the least.
The next problem was convincing the bank that they had a legitimate agricultural business. The bank wasn’t buying it. Eventually they had to turn to longtime family friends in the community to give them personal loans to buy the much-needed equipment. Even so, it was hard to find people willing to help them.
“We had little emotional or financial support from anyone in the beginning of this venture. All but one aunt and both grandfathers of mine thought we were insanely crazy to pursue the idea of working for ourselves,” Katie said via email.
Finally, they had to convince the farmers themselves that they could be trusted. Most of the farmers in their area were much older, and they distrusted the couple of young “kids” who came along trying to play with bees. The other farmers didn’t take them seriously at first, but over time, Katie and Adam proved themselves.
“The farmers now see us as one of their own, and treat us as such after four years of working with them,” Katie said.
They are very happy with the turnaround.
Things are buzzing along nicely on the cash flow front. The business income has tripled over the last three years. This will be the first year that both of them will be fully self-employed in their business.
They’re looking to expand their hives into new areas. This is important, so that they can begin producing new types and flavors of honey from crops like buckwheat, oranges, and alfalfa. In fact, business is doing so well right now that they have a waiting list of local stores who want to sell their products.
If you want to make a beeline to their business and learn more, check out their website at Lake Effect Apiaries.