The 1896 photograph of Mr and Mrs Woodley in their home-apiary shows about 100 hives in a relatively confined space by today’s standards. Mr Woodley made his living by what he describes as a ‘bee-farmer’. A ‘bee-farmer’ in today’s sense would be a commercial beekeeper that is a beekeeper who makes a living through bee-produce and bee livestock, such as Queen-rearing. But in the 19 century, I believe there was also a subtly nuance between a beekeeper and bee-farmer; a bee-keeper would primarily use movable box hives and more often than not had a respectable status. Conversely, a beekeeper could be synonymous with a lowly farm labourer who kept bees in skeps. I will now let Mr Woodley explain how he made his living as a bee-farmer aka beekeeper.
Making a Living From Beekeeping – “Don’t put all your eggs into a bee-hive”.
Is [it] possible to get a fair living by bee-keeping alone in this country? And our Editors wisely (in my opinion) advise him not to try it. That bee-keeping is a profitable “hobby” is proved year after year by many B.J. [British Bee Journal] readers, but those who depend entirely on bees — well, who are they? Though my knowledge (and vision too) is admittedly limited in this respect, I do not know one. The man who does well with his bees must be careful and painstaking; he must also be adapted to the work and not afraid of it.
We have had “Poultry-farming”, County Council lectures, and classes in our district, and at the last lecture it was asked if the Professor thought it possible to make a fair living by poultry-farming? His reply was he “could not advise any one to try it; but as an adjunct to other means it was, if conducted carefully, profitable”. Yet, if one is to believe the advertisements in our newspapers, 20s. weekly in spare time from “incubators” can easily be made. Thus a poultry farm combined with an apiary, or an apiary and some other calling which does not take up all the six days, would work well together — say, assistant-overseer, land-measuring, school attendance officer, road surveyor, shoemaker, &c. [NBTW 20 DECEMBER 1900]
The question “Will bee-keeping cease to yield enough profit to enable a man to make a living by keeping, say, 200 hives?” is, I think, more to the point than that it “compares favourably with the rabbit-hutch, poultry-pen, or pigeon- loft”. To the man with a good income from some trade or profession the price he can realise for his sections or jars of honey is a minor matter. After his apiary is once established he is at no further expense, except for sections, foundation, and the jars required, the surplus honey secured being clear profit. But to the man who depends on his bee-farm for a living it will make a vast difference if the price of honey is continually on the down grade. In other words, it means a lessened income year by year. [NBTW 28 MARCH 1907]
There is also another source of income which the few bee-farmers are feeling the loss of. I refer to queen-rearing ..[Beekeepers] certainly have to possess a smattering of the subject in order to pass the exams, and in the higher classes may be called upon to go somewhat further in their knowledge on the subject to get their parchment. The result will eventually be that prices of queens will rule low in the future. Thus the bee-farmer will have to use his best endeavours amongst such keen competition to win the means of living as a bee-keeper pure and simple. [NBTW 28 MARCH 1907]
Then “locality” is one of the greatest factors in the output of the apiary; and this raises another thought: Do not go and “plank down” a large apiary near to another equally large, and fancy that you will do as well as the “other fellow”. Probably the already established apiary fairly covers the ground — so far as regards the ”over-stocking” question — and another located near would simply mean dividing the spoils. Thus the other fellow (whose brains you no doubt wish to ransack) would find that his output was considerably reduced owing to your bee and his bee wishing to sip the nectar from the same flower at the same time. Of course, in time he would naturally grumble, not that his priority of location gave him any prior right to the honey in the neighbouring woods and fields, but half a crop would neither please him nor prove remunerative to yourself. The number of stocks a district can carry profitably is a difficult point to decide, but it is not during the honey-harvest that this matter is of the greatest importance. The spring-time must be taken into consideration, when forage is scarce and flowers are few; this is when the foundation of success is laid, and yet even then, when the month of June is cold, wet, and sunless (as was the best part of June, 1900), “the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley”. Therefore, I, too, say, in effect, with our Editors, “Don’t put all your eggs into a bee-hive”. [NBTW 20 DECEMBER 1900]
PS See the facebook page.