So, you wanna start beekeeping? But first, you need bees. And then you need a house in which they can live. And then you need tools to help you work the bees without getting stung. And then you need equipment to extract the honey from the hives. And then…
The list seems to go on and on until you are left wondering if you should even bother keeping bees at all. What is the real cost of beekeeping?
Is it possible to start beekeeping without spending a massive amount of money?
Yes and no…
You may be able to get started for about $200 if you build your own hive, snag a wild swarm of bees and buy the cheapest bee suit and the bare minimum amount of equipment.
Otherwise, you could spend up to $1,500 if you’re starting with 2 hives as is recommended by many beekeeping associations.
The goods news is there are many ways to cut costs, which I will share later in this post. But before I do so, I have one last warning – bees die.
I lost a hive when the lid on my sugar-water feeder leaked. Then I lost another newly-split hive because the bees would not accept their new queen despite trying twice with two different queens. They just wouldn’t accept either of them…even after ensuring there was plenty of brood.
Since honeybees are tropical/semitropical insects, it is also very easy to lose a hive over the long, cold winter. In the fact, the average annual winter loss in the United States is 38.7%! (This is another reason beginners should invest in more than one hive).
And just like with any other living thing, your bees can get sick. Bees face so many challenges in our polluted world. They have to fight off poisonous pesticides sprayed onto their food sources and they often lack proper nutrition due to field after field of monocrops. “It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of colonies die from viruses, poor nutrition, and/or pesticides,” according to the book The Backyard Beekeeper, 4th Edition.
Now, I hope I haven’t discouraged you from beekeeping. I just wanted to be upfront about the cost of beekeeping, prepare you for the challenges you’ll face, and hopefully prevent you from beating yourself up if you do lose a hive. It happens to the very best beekeepers.
So, let’s move on to the numbers, shall we?
The Cost of Beekeeping in Canada
As with all things, there is more than one way to get started in beekeeping. I’m going to assume you are a small, backyard beekeeper like me. In this case, you obviously won’t be starting out with a hundred hives. So, let’s look at the cost of one hive.
The cost of bees
If you think you can catch a wild swarm (a large number of bees that leave a hive together to form a new colony elsewhere), your bees could be free. You may be really lucky and snag another local beekeeper’s bees if they happen to swarm in the spring. You can read about my experience catching a swarm here.
But I would recommend beginners purchase a nucleus colony (nuc) versus a package of bees or trying to catch a wild swarm.
A nuc is a small starter colony containing a laying queen and worker bees, as well as open and sealed brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae of honeybees), honey, and pollen. It usually contains four to six frames.
A nuc is the most expensive option of the three (nuc, package, or swarm), but the colony will have a higher chance of establishing itself the first season and surviving through winter compared to packaged bees. And a nuc is definitely easier than trying to catch a wild swarm especially if you’ve never even handled bees before.
Total cost of bees: $0 (catching a swarm) to $200 (purchasing a nuc)
The cost of a beehive
The costs in this category will fluctuate depending on which type of hive you decide to build/purchase. Here are my six secrets to choosing the best beehive for beginners.
A typical hive including a stand, frames, 3 boxes, roof, inner cover, screened bottom board and a couple of entrance reducers will set you back about $300 if you buy everything.
My hive is slightly more expensive at $377. I recommend you read my post about my beehive setup for an explanation of the hive parts and why I chose this type of hive. Here is the breakdown of the cost of the hive I use:
- 3 medium boxes ($25.35 each)
- Pre-assembled frames ($3.50 each)
- quilt box ($22.00)
- roof ($54.95)
- screened bottom board ($39.50)
- slatted rack ($24.95)
- hive stand (16.95)
- 2 entrance reducers ($4.75 each)
Total cost of beehives: $80 (if you build your own) to $327.90 (without tax)
BUYER BEWARE: You may be tempted to save money by buying used hives. But unless you know the beekeeper, are comfortable with their beekeeping practices, and can be sure the equipment is not contaminated with disease, this is not recommended. For example, American foulbrood (AFB), which has no cure, is the most serious and damaging brood disease of honey bees. It is caused by a spore-forming bacteria and it can contaminate beekeeping equipment. In order to prevent the spread to additional colonies, the equipment has to be destroyed.
The cost of beekeeping equipment (one-time costs)
Your one-time costs may be significantly less than what you see below. The majority of the money I spent in this category was on a full-body, bee suit. Why didn’t a buy a much cheaper veil or jacket? Simply because if I didn’t feel safe beekeeping, then I knew I wasn’t going to be keeping bees for very long. I feel completely protected in my suit. I would advise you to choose whatever option you feel safe in.
If you’re wondering what equipment you should purchase, check out my post – 7 must-have beekeeping tools.
– Smoker ($29.95)
– Bee suit ($235.75) or hat and veil combo ($27.95) or a bee jacket ($120)
– Hive tool ($12.95)
– Gloves ($32.95)
– Feeders ($15 each)
Total cost of beekeeping equipment: $118.80 to $326.60 (without tax)
Should you buy a honey extractor?
I didn’t include the price of a honey extractor in my one-time costs. I would suggest delaying this purchase. There is a good chance your bees won’t produce extra honey in your first year. And, even if they do, it likely won’t be enough to justify the cost of spending thousands of dollars on an extractor.
Instead, there are lots of tutorials on how to manually extract honey. You can also use foundationless frames and cut-out honeycomb. You basically cut the honeycomb from its frame and then into smaller pieces. Or you could ask to borrow another beekeeper’s equipment as I did.
The total cost of beekeeping:
The grand total (including a hive, bees, and supplies) is $200 (if you can catch a free swarm of bees and build your own hive) to $854.5 (without tax).
BUT WAIT! THAT’S NOT ALL!
Now, you probably won’t want to hear this, but I am going to tell you to spend even more money and buy two hives instead of one. Every beekeeping book and website I have ever read or visited has said the same thing and after beekeeping for 5 years, I agree with the experts. It is nice to have a second hive to compare to when you aren’t sure what is normal bee behavior or what the inside of a hive is supposed to look like.
So, if you do decide to purchase two hives, the total cost of beekeeping (if you buy everything) will now be between $1,100 to $1,400 (without tax).
Why you need to budget extra
Finally, with all this in mind, I want to warn you that extra expenses will creep up. For example, you will need to replace parts (frames get damaged). You may need to requeen, you may lose a hive tool in the grass and you will have to feed and at the very minimum treat your bees for those pesky Varroa Mites (tick-sized parasites that feed on bee blood).
Bee prepared and budget extra.
Yikes! That is a lot of money because…
YOUR FIRST YEAR
As mentioned above, your hive will likely not produce enough honey to share in its first year. At least not in my Canadian climate. So, you have just spent roughly $1,000 with no return. Your first year of beekeeping will be a rough one for your bank account.
YOUR SECOND YEAR
In your second year, your bees will likely produce a surplus of honey. In addition, you may be able to split your hives in two, creating nucs that you can keep if you have room in your bee yard and can afford to purchase more hives.
You can also decide to sell the extra nucs and earn a couple of hundred dollars from each. Although you will need to invest in a queen bee for each nuc (about $20 to $40 each).
So, what did I do to save money and lower the cost of beekeeping?
Beekeeping on a budget: Top 10 money-saving tips
Make your own hives
If you’re handy, try making your own hives. My dad made all my hives for me. The cost savings is huge! Instead of spending $300, you may only spend $80. I still buy pre-assembled frames as there is not much savings in making your own and it is a time-consuming job. Here are my actual start-up costs for one hive.
One beehive – $78.23
One nuc – $144.73
My one-time costs (smoker, full-body bee suit, gloves, hive tool, feeders) – $326
You don’t have to invest in dozens of beehives. Start with two and get a feel for beekeeping and whether it will be something you enjoy before investing tonnes of money into it.
Don’t invest in an extractor right away
The first year I started beekeeping, our bees didn’t produce enough excess honey to extract anything. The second year, our two hives each produced a box of honey. Still not enough to warrant the cost of an extractor. A friend was kind enough to let us borrow a hand-crank machine, which did the trick.
There are lots of tutorials on how to manually extract honey. You can also use foundationless frames and cut-out honeycomb. You basically cut the honeycomb from its frame and then into smaller pieces. Or you could ask to borrow another beekeeper’s equipment as I did.
Buy a used extractor
I began my beekeeping adventures with a borrowed, hand crank extractor, and let me tell you…that got pretty unexciting very quickly. It was a sticky, messy job. And with my bee yard expanding every year, I knew I needed a better machine.
In the end, I decided to purchase a 20-frame radial extractor with a bottler. A radial machine extracts honey from both sides of your frames at once so you don’t have to turn them. Yes, I am a bit lazy and you may be thinking: what a waste of money! But trust me, once you’ve tried extracting honey the old-fashioned way, you’ll want to invest in this piece of equipment too.
A new machine would have cost us over $6,000 plus shipping. We scored this used machine on Kijiji for $2,000 from a woman who had only used it twice. It is basically a brand new extractor. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a place prepared to house said machine so it has been sitting in our living room all winter. A honey house is still on the project list. Sigh.
Split your hives
If your bees make it through winter in great numbers, you can split them in the spring! You can either keep them to grow your bee business or sell your newly established nucs for roughly $200 apiece. You will, of course, need to invest in a queen (roughly $20 to $40).
Buy only what you need
Don’t be lured into purchasing 10,000 extra beekeeping “essentials”. Know the items you will really need and use. Check out my list of essential equipment here.
DIY Beehive Insulation
Last year, we saved money on insulating our hives by using free maple leaves to keep our bees toasty warm throughout the winter. Check out my post here.
Make money from your bees
Many commercial beekeepers make a profit by selling not only honey but other bee products: propolis, royal jelly, wax, pollen, and even venom, or by renting out their bee colonies for crop pollination. Still, others specialize in the breeding and sale of queens and replacement stock. Eventually, you could also offer beekeeping classes or educational tours.
Hint: If you’re looking to make money from your bees, there is likely more profit in selling bees, queens, and nucleus colonies, as opposed to selling honey.
Read, read, and then read some more
Learn as much as you can about bees and beekeeping. You can save yourself hundreds of dollars by learning from other people’s mistakes. So read the beekeeping catalogs, several of which are free, as well as the many great beekeeping books available at your library.
Out of all the beekeeping books I’ve read, Kim Flottom’s are my favourites. No, not because we share the same first name. Because he is not only incredibly knowledgeable, but he includes the wisdom of many, many other beekeepers making his books a real treasure trove of information. Check out his many titles starting with “The Backyard Beekeeper” if you are a beginner. I also own “The Beekeeper’s Journal” and I just bought “In Business with Bees“.
But don’t just read…
Join your local beekeeping association/club and find a bee buddy
What are you going to do when your hive swarms (this can happen in your first year as it did to me)? Are you going to be able to identify a queen bee from a drone bee? Who are you are going to call to walk you through your first hive inspection? This is where your local beekeeping association and mentor step in. They will help you become successful!
You can learn so much more from beekeepers who have been keeping bees much longer than I have and who have hundreds of more colonies. Offer to help them in the bee yard in exchange for some mentoring. Just like any other farming endeavor, the knowledge, experience, and assistance of an experienced beekeeper will save you from making many mistakes.
So, now that you know the cost of beekeeping, will you still take up the craft? Let me know what you think and if you found this helpful.
PIN IT FOR LATER – THE REAL COST OF BEEKEEPING
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