There’s a buzz around beekeeping in Rhode Island, with hundreds of people involved and numerous small businesses selling honey and related products like lip balm and beeswax candles.
No designer neckties needed for this job, but it does require a bee suit. It’s not easy money, considering it’s an agriculture job dependent on weather and markets, and it takes a lot of time.
But with this potential business, it seems, you catch more people with honey than you do with money.
The challenges haven’t deterred 125 people now in Bee School at Rhode Island College and another 60 in Bee School at the University of Rhode Island.
There are now about 400 members of the who have, or once had, beehives.
“It probably costs about $500 to $600 to get started with a bee suit, bees, hive tools, bee boxes and frames,” said Ed Lafferty, owner of Fruit Hill Apiaries in North Providence and vice president of the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association.
For their business, Lafferty and his wife have two trucks, an extractor for the honey and a small honey house, where they extract the honey. In addition to bottling honey, his wife uses it to make lip balm and hand-lotion products. Lafferty has 800 pounds of sugar on hand to feed the bees.
Then you figure in the winter hours for repair and maintenance, 60 hours a week in warmer weather, time selling at farmer’s markets and marketing to other outlets, and honey going for about $8 a jar, said Lafferty, who has 30 hives across the state.
“Honey is work. If you’re going to make money, you’d have to have 75 to 100 hives,” he said.
The thing that keeps most people in the bee business is simple, Lafferty said: “It’s fascinating.”
One potential development for uses of Rhode Island honey is research being done by one of Lafferty’s customers, Dr. Allen Dennison, a specialist in internal medicine with a practice in Barrington.