Nov. 4, 2021

Small-Scale Pollination Contracts (046)

Small-Scale Pollination Contracts  (046)

At some point, whether by design or accident, many beekeepers consider expanding into pollination for hire with their bees. What does that mean and what does it take? What should be considered before undertaking a small-scale pollination job? In this...

At some point, whether by design or accident, many beekeepers consider expanding into pollination for hire with their bees. What does that mean and what does it take? What should be considered before undertaking a small-scale pollination job?

In this episode, Kim and Jim discuss their experiences and offer their observations.

First, start thinking about what you’ll need next spring NOW, so you’re ready next spring! If you wait until the first dandelion, you will be late to the game!

If you are starting from scratch, talk to other beekeepers, talk to growers, talk to anybody who has done this before. Make your contacts now and remember, when exploring pollination opportunities, you are probably competing with another beekeeper.

The most important two things to research? Know what your costs will be, and know what your time is worth. Start there.

Remember this is mostly night work, do you have a day job? Do you have a good friend you can convince to help you? And what about insurance? And can you do this with your truck, or somebody else’s, or do you have a trailer you can leave at the orchard with your hives on it.

Contracts are critical. Scope out the property. Know where you will place the bees. Know the crop better than the grower so you already anticipate their needs and schedule.

You can make good money pollinating a crop, but only if you know what you are getting into.


We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2021 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 46 – Small-Scale Pollination Contracts


Kim Flottum: Jim, I know you used to pollinate, what was it, apples or something a few years ago? Are you still doing that anymore?

Jim Tew: Kim, years ago, I did have small-scale pollination contracts, apples and some berries, pumpkins in the fall. No, I haven't done that in years, Kim. A lot of things have changed during those years.

Kim: You're right, a lot of things have changed. Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: And I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: Today we're going to talk about small-scale pollination and what you need to be thinking about now so you're ready next spring. I've got to tell you, people don't think of pollinating in October but they think about pollinating in April, and it's too late to start thinking then.

Jim: I'll have to agree with you 100%.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in an engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. So sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: It seems impractical to be thinking about spring now, but it's not that far away, Kim. Spring is just a few months away from us there in late October, early November already because you've got a lot to do between now and then.

Kim: One of the first things you might want to think about doing is, well, the assumption here is that there's a crop somewhere down the road that you're able to go pollinate. There's an orchard of some kind or a vegetable grower, or a fruit grower that needs bees. This is the time of year to go talk to that grower and see, A, does he need pollination, did he have some this year, was he satisfied with what he got, is he going to need to expand next year?

Make your contact now so that you've got something to talk about between now and next spring and he can come back with questions and you can come back with questions.

Jim: That's exactly right. Kim, since we're doing this conversation only, let me tell you that when you'd make that trip, you're probably talking against some other beekeeper who's been providing that pollination service. At that moment, you're selling your wares to a grower who's been buying his wares from a different beekeeper. You may run into that beekeeper at a meeting somewhere. It's all fair business, isn't it, Kim?

Kim: Well, it is. Here's the primary concept of this. There's two things to consider. One, what are your costs going to be in reality, travel, and all the things you're going to have to do, and two, what's your time worth? If you've got a good handle on both of those costs, then you can proceed. If you're going to bid on a contract for pollinating a really big apple orchard and your bid comes in lower and you're comfortable, that's okay. If it's higher, look someplace else.

Jim: Yes. You have to make money. This thing is work, Kim. It's hard work, you want equipment, you want mechanization. Even when you have all that, you've still got to work to get out at night, move these bees around, slog through weather, do what it takes. The schedule is everything.

Kim: Yes, you got a day job because you're doing this at night.

Jim: Right. You need a friend, cameo. In beekeeping, you need a friend that you just murder, you just kill them, you just work them under the ground. It takes pretty much a beekeeping lifetime to have no friends, no relevance, nobody who'll come around you because the famous last words that you'd never want to hear someone ask is, "Hey, can you help me move bees tonight?" because you're guaranteed your own stories, but you need. It really, really helps if there's someone there with you.

See, I used to do this in the old days, Kim, pre-mobile phone. You were out there in the dark on the backside of nowhere in an apple orchard with a truck and maybe a friend, and if something went wrong, you broke an arm or whatever, you're just out there in the dark, so I really wanted a friend there. Now at least we have mobile phones and you can call someone and leave your phone on and they can find you I guess.

Kim: The other side of having a friend out there is what if something happens to your friend, is this the grower's fault? Is this your fault? Is he on his own? I don't know the answer to that and before you pick up your first hive, you better know the answer to that.

Jim: Yes, and you've got to be there, Kim. It's in the dark and the dew fell and it's wet, and you're surrounded by several hundred thousand bees. Yes, it's a good place for something to go wrong, for a fall, for a stumble, or whatever.

Kim: Well, of course. Before all of this happens, you've got a contract with that grower. Now is a good time to start looking at contracts. Someone mentioned some contract resources when we're done here, but there's some things to think about on that contract. I'll just mention a few. I know you've done contracts, so you probably got a few to add. The first thing I want to know, can I get in there in the middle of the night anytime I want because I got a day job. If I'm going to go check bees, I've got to be able to get in there at ten o'clock at night.

Jim: That's exactly right, that you have to have access on your schedule to your bees for treating for supering, trolling, swarming, checking for queens, mite checks, whatever. You've still got to manage those bees while they're on that temporary location.

Kim: One of the things about managing bees and driving through an orchard at night is there are irrigation pipes out there that you didn't know were going to be there. Ever run into an irrigation pipe with a truck?

Jim: No.

Kim: It ain't pretty. [chuckles]

Jim: No, I haven't done that, but I don't want to do it either. I think I missed that one, Kim, but I'm glad I did. I've seen it. I've seen those things out there. I know what you're talking about.

Kim: One of the things that you really got to think about is you're doing this for money, you're not doing this because you're a nice guy or a tender-hearted beekeeper, so when do you get paid? It's common half when you move them in, half when you move them out, but not every grower thinks like that.

Jim: Yes. Money is everything in this, Kim. You said you're not doing it because you're a good guy. I know beekeepers, I know sometimes you do it because you're a good guy. You've got a friend who's got a few apple trees or a half-acre of pumpkins or something and you go to church with them or whatever, and yes, you do it, but most of us need to do it for real money because we're driving real trucks and burning real gas, and using our real-time. We need to be paid for that.

When do you get paid and how do you get paid and how long should you wait, not till the crop is sold, Kim. I had that happen one time, but I want my money when I move the bees out. No matter what, your crop has to be sold.

Kim: That's good. Yes, not until the crop's sold because it might not sell. The other thing you want to think about is how much notice will that grower give you when you got to move out because he's got to spray, oh, about three o'clock tomorrow afternoon. Can you get there and get those bees out of there between six o'clock at night when you get home from work and tomorrow afternoon at three o'clock when he turns his sprayer on?

That leads to know the crop better than the grower. If you know everything there is to know about growing apples or pumpkins or squash or whatever it is you're pollinating, you'll know the answer to that before, you won't even have to ask them because you'll know the answer to that, you'll know when they're going to click boom and then you'll know all of the things you need to know because you know as much as the grower.


Sponsor: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at

Jim: You know, Kim, I'm listening to you, I'm listening to me, and we're painting a direct picture. I don't mean for the picture to be dark, I mean for the picture to be real. Pollination is one of the primary things that honey bees do on a commercial scale to provide food for us, and we all see it so whimsically, "Yes, our bees pollinate crops."

Well, here's what really happens. This is what we're talking about, Kim. This is what really happens behind the scenes. It really is work. It really is laborious and it really does require money. I don't mean for that to be black and dark, I mean for that to be real. You have to do whatever it takes to get those bees out when that guy calls because he's got to sell that crop to ultimately pay his bills, and part of those bills was your bees. When he calls and tells you that he needs them out, you can't say, "I'll get there just as soon as I can. Stand by." No, you're on your way with you and your worn-out tired friend who wonders what he ever did to be involved with this caper. Again you just put them in there a few weeks ago, now it's time to move them already? Yes, you got to move them out tonight. I know you had something else planned but we got to get those bees out tonight.

Kim: What's going on in the bigger world of keeping bees is the fact that beekeepers in this country made more money pollinating crops last year than they did producing and selling honey. Pollination has moved to the forefront of the beekeeping business and if you've got three colonies and you're making enough honey for you and your neighbors, that's one thing. If you got a dozen or 20 colonies and you're looking at the price of honey, I don't care if you're selling it on a farm stand or what, if you're looking at the price of honey compared to what the price of and the value of pollination is pollination is going to be a good supplement if not main crop for you. If not now very soon.

Jim: Yes. I completely agree. It's like our pond has turned. That concept of pond water turning, Kim, I don't know how this whole thing work, but the bottom of the pond water flips up. What was the bottom is now the top and our world where honey used to be everything and pollination was what you did when you weren't making honey is turned. Pollination is now the thing that commercial growers want from beekeepers, not honey.

Kim: Yes. Earlier I mentioned some resources for looking at contracts and there's some good ones on the web out there. My old caveat about going to the web for information is if it ends on .gov or .org or .edu, it's probably pretty reliable. There's SARE, the ag group, SARE has a good pollination contract information. Michigan State has some good information. You remember Malcolm Sanford and Jamie Ellis down at the University of Florida. They got some really good information and Project Apis m. does a bang-up job on everything they do is about almost a book on the business of pollination and what should be in a contract. There's good information and I looked at all of them and they're all good, but they're all a little bit different. This one picked up on that, this one picked up on that, this one picked up on that and some of them missed some of these fine points. If you look at three or four of them you're going to probably get most everything you need to think about.

Jim: I like all of that, Kim. I admit it, I haven't done this in years, but you basically pick out the points that are important to you and you do that through experience and you do that through talking to other people who have their own experience and from those resources you just talked about, you make up the points that you need to have this be a successful financial venture on both sides.

Kim: I'll just add this right at the end, something to think about maybe. Maybe before you start this, volunteer to be that guy that gets the call in the middle of the night that says, "Can you help me pick up bees?" Let somebody else's work, somebody else's job, somebody else's experience mentor you in what you can do. Maybe not that spring but the year from next spring so you've got some experience under your belt.

Jim: That works and if you do it long enough, if you're that assistant long enough, I can just about guarantee you that in a fairly short time, just a few years, that contract will become yours because the person who hired you to do it is going to quickly become like me and think, "Oh, I don't want to be going again on Thursday night moving bees. I'm going to go ahead and let Kim go move those bees and he can find his own helper." There's a natural evolution in that, Kim. I think pollinator providers beget pollinator providers if that makes sense.

Kim: If you're going to be an assistant for a year, know that you're going to do some work. You'd probably get paid, but have your eyes wide open on everything that's going on so that when you start out on your own you pretty much have seen everything bad and everything good that can happen.

Jim: Yes, and start small, Kim. Start with, I don't know, 5 or 10 colonies, something that's manageable. Have a trailer with a ramp that you can roll a hand truck up into. There used to be all kind of lift gates for pickup trucks and whatever and all that cost money and all that was useful, but it had a headache. It was unique, start small and grow into it, same way you would in beekeeping. Don't just suddenly be in by 300 colonies and be in the deep end of the pool.

Kim: I think it's time we head out of here, but you just brought up one really good idea is putting 6, 8, or 10 colonies on a trailer, taking the trailer to the orchard, and leaving it there. When you're done, you come and pick up the trailer and go home. That saves a lot of time both ways.

Jim: I'd like to say before you go, it's infuriating, do not get distracted and lay your hive tool down in the dark, and don't run over your own smoker. I have reasons for saying these things. You have no idea, that hive tool was right here just a minute ago and then that pitch dark of that night on that slippery grass with those bees everywhere. You're stung up and you just wanted to ratchet strap that a little bit tighter, where did I put that hive tool?

I was kidding you in other conversations, I thought we should all paint our hive tools in some kind of fluorescent reflective paint. When you do drop it or lay it down and that flashlight circles the area you find it there. We could talk about all this again, we didn't go into nearly all of it. If this has sounded negative, listeners, that was not my intent. This is a good income-generating possibility for those of you who have growers close by probably in a reasonable drive, we didn't mean to sound negative, did we, Kim?

Kim: No, we didn't. I got to tell you it's going to get better because pollination's worth more than honey anymore. It's been fun, Jim, time to go. See you next Thursday.

Jim: I'll be looking forward to it.

Kim: All right.

Jim: Bye-bye.