Over the last 18 months, the world has seen skyrocketing prices as a direct result of inflation. Consumers are being struck with a drastic increase in prices on many goods, from food and gas to raw materials and shipping.
Many industries and professions are feeling the ill effects of inflation – even lumber prices have risen exponentially. The price of beekeeping is no exception.
For people interested in becoming beekeepers, being unsure of the costs can be overwhelming and even discouraging, especially during these economic times. In this article, the cost to start beekeeping as well as the cost of all the necessary tools and equipment will be covered.
Creating a Budget
Beekeeping can be costly, even without the current state of the global economy. One beehive can cost over $700. The hive itself will also require a wide variety of components and materials, the price of which can average at around $270. The required gear can cost around $200, a price that is further affected by other factors such as tax and shipping.
These average prices are based on a survey of multiple websites and businesses and may vary. Please note that these average prices do not include shipping, taxes, or any other potential additional costs. To secure the best possible deal, it is best to shop around and compare prices between different retailers and websites. Though beekeeping may appear pricey, it is an investment into supplies that will last for many years, providing a long-term payoff.
There are a number of variables that will affect the overall cost of the beekeeping supplies. These varying factors include:
- The number of individual beekeepers
- Beehive configurations
- Threats from insect and animal pests
- Bee packages or nucs
- The number of bee colonies
- Placement of the hives
These variables must be taken into consideration when putting together a beekeeping budget. There are also many different choices and decisions to be made along the way.
The price of protective gear is affected by the number of beekeepers who will be involved. Each beekeeper will require a protective suit and gloves as well as a veil to protect the face. Many more experienced keepers can be seen without any protective gear, but it is recommended that beginners invest in a full set of protective gear.
The style of the gear will also affect costs. For the purpose of this article, approximate prices are based on what is considered more economical, but there are always more expensive products available.
As stated, prices may vary, but an average set of protective gear can go for anywhere from $90-$200 per beekeeper.
There are two different types of protective attire – full-body beekeeping suits and beekeeping jackets. There are also two different material designs for these pieces – canvas and ventilated. Suits that are ventilated are better than canvas ones in areas with warmer climates.
My suits, jackets and gloves have all been purchased from Buzz Beekeeping Supplies. The quality is great and the protective gear lasts for years.
Should non-beekeepers be taking a closer look at the hives, whether for fun or for educational purposes, it is best to make sure there is full-body protective gear available for them as well.
Although multiple people may be involved in the beekeeping, it is commonplace for only one person to be interacting with the bees at a time. As a result, only one set of tools is necessary and the tools themselves are relatively inexpensive.
There are several tools a beginner beekeeper needs to get started. These include a hive tool (avg. $8), a bee brush (avg. $5), and a smoker (avg. $30). Though one set of tools is sufficient in the beginning, the affordable prices mean that additional sets will not have a heavy impact on the budget. In the event that a tool is broken or lost, their affordable pricing makes them easy to replace.
For beginners interested in the art of beekeeping, a Langstroth hive configuration is the best recommendation. This hive configuration consists of boxes stacked vertically on top of each other and is common in the United States. These boxes can be purchased pre-assembled, in which case they may be painted decoratively, or the parts can be purchased individually.
In a Langstroth hive configuration, each box contains the necessary foundations and frames on which the bees will build their honeycombs. They are categorized by width relative to the number of internal frames they hold as well as their depths. Shallow and medium boxes are referred to as honey supers whereas deeper ones are referred to as brood boxes.
Langstroth hives come in three different configurations. The following hardware is for a common 10-frame hive:
- Board for the bottom base
- 2 brood boxes
- 2 honey supers
- Protective covers
- 10 frames per box
Hive boxes are sold under several different labels:
Cheaper boxes purchased from reputable companies are perfectly adequate for creating hives. On average, the total cost of a hive and all of its necessary hardware can range anywhere from $260-$275. Prices will vary depending on the type of configuration and the number of boxes and frames.
Unassembled hives and components may be less expensive and more affordable, but pre-assembled kits and hives are recommended to beginners due to their easy setup.
Many beginner beekeepers start with only a single colony. In the event that everything goes smoothly, it may not be necessary to ever purchase another one. However, it is best to be prepared for anything to go wrong that may ultimately require the colony to be replaced.
Should it be within the budget, many recommend that a beginner starts off with two colonies to increase the odds of having them again in the second year.
Bees can be purchased in two different forms:
- Packages: small boxes that contain a caged queen with an adapting colony
- Nucleus colony, or “Bee nuc”: more advanced than packages, these contain a cage queen along with honeycombs and a colony that has already been adapted
Purchase nucs that are local and that have been successfully overwintered. This will increase the odds of the colony surviving and can also improve the hive’s gene pool. Bee nucs are more expensive. Packages, on the other hand, are more affordable. While a bee nuc may sell for around $165 – $185, a package will cost considerably less. Pricing also varies depending on the supplier, whether or not the bees have been successfully overwintered, availability, season, and if the bees are being picked up or delivered.
Based on surveying a variety of online retailers, here are the potential costs of the different forms:
- Pickup package: $120-$195
- Delivered package: $150-$295
- Springtime nuc: $165-$195
- Overwintered nuc: $225-$250
For beginners, nucs are easier to assemble in a hive. As a beekeeper grows more experienced, packages become a better, more affordable option.
Another price to take into consideration is the cost of pest treatment. Beetles, mites, and moths can pose a threat to a hive. Different treatments may also require additional tools and equipment. On average, treating a hive for insect pests can cost less than $30 a year. This is a price that should be taken into account when budgeting the cost to start beekeeping.
One common item that replaces the bottom board is a hive beetle trap. It’s essentially a screened bottom board that allows you to fill will vegetable oil to drown hive beetles. They run around $100, including shipping. While you may think this expensive, consider the time and cost of replacing a colony of bees.
For beginners, $75 is a good amount to set aside for miscellaneous needs. There are several more potential costs worth noting:
- Sugar and feed to maintain the bees during the winter months
- Paint for painting the hives
- Books and other educational resources
These costs can further vary depending on things such as circumstance and region.
Beehives should not be placed directly on the ground; instead, they should be supported atop some sort of stand. Not only is it easier on the back, but discourages ants from attacking the hive.
Plenty of beekeepers use simple wooden pallets, which can be acquired for free. Cinder blocks and lumber also work well as stands for the hives. Two cinder blocks for 1 hive costs less than $5 (including tax) at Home Depot. This is the option I’ve used for over 15 years.
Plastic bee stands can be bought online with prices ranging from $80-$100. Regardless of the type of stand, keep in mind that a single hive can weigh upwards of two hundred pounds.
Small animals such as raccoons, mice, and skunks can pose a threat to hives, therefore it is important that the hives do not sit directly on the ground below. These animals can agitate the hive as well as cause damage to it, including potentially knocking the hive over.
In addition to keeping the hives elevated, fencing or netting can provide an extra layer of protection for the bees. Straps can hold the hives steady and in place, greatly reducing the odds of them being knocked over.
Bears can pose a massive threat to a beekeeper’s colonies. Not only do they enjoy consuming the honey the bees produce, but also the bees themselves. Having an electric fence installed is an effective way to protect hives from bears. Regular fences are easy for bears to climb over or burrow under.
An electric fence kit can cost several hundred dollars. Although electric fencing is expensive, it is a one-time investment that costs less than it would to replace any damaged hives or deceased colonies.
In the first year of beekeeping, it is not recommended to harvest honey. The first year should be focused on growing the colonies and keeping them alive through the winter. The price of extraction equipment varies depending on what type of tool it is, as there are many different methods of extraction.
A premium American-made honey extractor will cost around $250 for a manual one and around $800 for an electric model. I used a manual extractor for the first two years and then bit the bullet and bought an electric model.
A lesson learned. I bought an imported electric honey extractor and returned it shortly thereafter. Then I ordered an American-made model and have been happy ever since.
Many bee clubs will lend or rent out a honey extractor. This is recommended for the first few years.
Though financial cost is the foremost thought for beginner beekeepers, there is also the cost of time. Beekeeping is a time-consuming skill. There will be time spent learning, assembling, and constructing the hives, caring for and inspecting them, and handling any problems that arise in the process. It is crucial to set aside enough time to genuinely care for the bees and ensure a productive harvest.
Come winter when the bees are put to rest, there is plenty of time for the beekeeper to rest as well.
Saving Money Beekeeping
Plenty of beekeeping starter kits are available on the market. They include all the necessary supplies and may be more affordable than buying supplies individually, but the quality of these kits may be low. Despite this, kits are a great option for beginners.
Take note that startup beekeeping kits can be deceiving. One kit will be enough early on, but as the bee colony grows more and more supplies will be needed in order to keep up.
Keeping an eye out for companies offering specials and discounts on their beekeeping products is also a helpful way to save.
Additionally, with the help of basic home improvement tools and some minor woodworking skills, many facets of beekeeping can be DIY projects:
- Making feeders out of wood and old jars
- Using scrap wood
- DIY feeding boards and tools for overwintering
- Shopping local
- DIY hive screens
Used hives are another money-saving option but can cause problems. When buying used hives, ensure that they are coming from a reputable source with disease-free bees. Used hives should always be thoroughly cleaned before use.
Beekeeping is rewarding both as a skill and profession, but it is also an investment, the costs of which depend on many different factors. In total, an average estimate of the price to start out beekeeping is around $760, but as previously stated varied factors will have an impact on the outcome.
In addition to initial costs and the ongoing costs to maintain the hives, there will also be unexpected costs from time to time. It is very common for bees to be lost during the winter months and they are expensive to replace.
When it comes to beekeeping, it is best to stay informed on the financial costs as well as the potential for things that could go wrong. The more that is expected, the better prepared a new beekeeper can be. Having a budget plan makes for ideal spending when starting out, and with time and experience, beginner beekeepers will eventually learn the different ways to lower costs and save money later on.