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How much will it cost to start beekeeping?

Once upon a time, I thought the cost to start beekeeping was low. A few hundred dollars would get you a decent hive, basic equipment, and a package of bees. But all that has changed.

In a recent conversation on Bee-L, people reported three-pound packages of bees with a mated queen averaging from about $130 to $185 before shipping. Some of the outliers hit $200. Of course, a lot depends on where you live because shipping live bees is an expensive ordeal. If you live closer to the package origin, you can usually get a better deal.

Starting with two hives

So if you start with two hives, which is highly recommended, the bees alone will probably cost at least $250. To that, you need to add the cost of the hives, some basic equipment, and consumable supplies.

I was going to figure out what it might cost to start beekeeping today, but the price and quality of merchandise varies wildly. I finally decided that calculating a number for you might be more of a disservice than a help, so I’m going to skip that part.

Apples and oranges

For a new beekeeper, the hive kits are extremely variable and hard to compare. For example, today a basic Langstroth hive at Mann Lake—which includes a telescoping cover, inner cover, 8-frame deep brood box, and a solid bottom with reducer–is quoted at $99.50 with free shipping on orders over $100. On the Flow Hive website, the Classic Cedar kit—which includes a gabled roof, inner cover, honey super with 6 Flow frames, brood box with 8 frames, screened bottom board, and queen excluder—is $699 with $49 shipping.

A new beekeeper can go to the websites, see the photos, and read the write-ups, but I think it is really hard for someone new to know what he wants or needs. To me, neither of these set-ups are ideal for beginners, and that is the problem with kits. But my point here is that, depending on what you want, just two simple start-up hives could cost anywhere from $200 to $1500, before bees.

And don’t forget, you probably want to put this new hive on a hive stand. You can make one easily enough if you have the tools and ability, otherwise add the cost of a hive stand to your tab. And don’t forget, you will most likely need some kind of feeder for each hive, especially to get the packages started in the spring.

Tools and equipment

Basic tools are the same. You can pay anything you want for bee suits, smokers, hive tools, and a bee brush. And again, it’s hard to know what makes you comfortable until you start doing it. Are you good with just blue jeans and a veil? Maybe a bee jacket would work. Or do you sometimes feel the need for a full suit? Only you can figure out the answer.

Many beekeepers also prefer to treat mites with a vaporizer, which can run from about $80 to $200 depending on type and features. And with that you will need a 12-volt battery if you don’t already have one, a respirator, and gloves.

Consumables

The consumable supplies aren’t so expensive, but you may need mite treatments, sugar, smoker fuel, and maybe a pollen supplement. The need for all of these things is variable, of course, and depends on your individual situation, but if you are budgeting for beekeeping, keep all of these possibilities in mind.

If it turns out you actually get a crop of honey, what next? If you are going to extract it, are you going to buy, rent, or borrow an extractor? Each option has plusses and minuses. And then you may want to filter the honey and put it in something like jars. If you are going to sell it, you may want labels. And on and on.

Other estimates

Back in September, an article in Countryside Network estimated the cost to start beekeeping at $500 for the first hive, and $300 for each additional one. Another site, PreparingYourFamily.com estimated $700 to $1000 for two hives, and a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel came up with $700 for one and $1200 for two. You should read these if you are just starting, but I think all three leave out some of the things you will want to include in your plans.

Be prepared

The take-home message here is to plan accordingly. Like many endeavors, you may want to figure your costs and then double them, just to be on the safe side. I hate to see beekeepers run out of money before they do the things necessary to keep their bees healthy. Caring for bees isn’t much different than raising children or pets because unexpected expenses are bound to crop up. Knowing that extra expenses may arise goes a long way to being financially prepared.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

The cost to start beekeeping: In addition to bees and a hive, you may want a smoker, brush, hive tool, gloves, and a protective suit.
In addition to bees and a hive, you may want a smoker, brush, hive tool, gloves, and a protective suit. Pixabay photo.

Comments

Bruce Rodriguez
Reply

The more packages cost, the better, in my opinion. Hopefully, high prices will encourage people to catch local swarms rather keep bringing southern bees up North. I’ve always thought bees were worth much more anyway.

Jim Becker
Reply

How do you catch a swarm Bruce? I live near Mpls,MN.

ET Ash
Reply

Normally I do not tell folks how to do things but what follows is pretty much how I do things..

Bees
Buy bees from as close to home as possible. Shipping is hard on whatever bees you might wish to buy. As to price you get pretty much what you pay for. Cheap bees are normally just that and us smaller guys have to demand a larger price but typically we pay more attention to quality than quantity. If you desire to raise bees chemical-free then find someone who has had some extended success raising bees chemical-free < this does not absolve you of checking for mites and potentially treating but it does allow you to hedge your bet. Two is a good number to start and 3 is a prime number< see next entry and do the math!

Equipment
Avoid the kits since these will contain a lot of items you do not need or at the best will not need for several years. Here it requires 4 to 5 boxes per hives and 40 to 50 frames. If you review the supply catalogues the first thing you may notice is there is a large price discount to buy boxes by the 10's and frames by the hundred. Standardize you choice of boxes and frames. Deeps are a good choice for 8 frame equipment and mediums a good choice for 10 frame stuff. If you are the least bit handy build your tops and bottoms. this can easily save you about $30 bucks per hive < and if you look around a bit you may find a scrap bit of plywood here or there that you can obtain for free.

Extraction equipment
Join a club < typically I suggest this first. There is often a lot of information to be gain by joining and most clubs (all the ones here) have extraction equipment you can borrow for free (typically requires a deposit to insure they come back clean). Starting out even the smallest 2 frame extractor will work and then all it requires is 1 strong arm.

Gene in Central Texas…

Rusty
Reply

Thanks Gene. Good advice.

Jeff Hall
Reply

Don’t forget the sugar. Went through 500lbs my first season. With 2 hives and several caught swarms. People thought I was a moonshiner.

Matt Bearup
Reply

Don’t forget the mason, leafcutter & resin bees, the gateway drug of the beekeeping world! $50 will get you a real fancy set up and get your foot in the beekeeping door without all the stress and steepish learning curve of keeping honey bees without a mentor.

Roger
Reply

Thank you for a balanced assessment. As always it a good thing to find your post in the inbox!

Phillip
Reply

Where I live, on the island on Newfoundland, nucs alone are $300. Only recently has a supplier on the island begun to make his own hive components, so that cuts down some of the costs. But a standard unassembled deep elsewhere in Canada runs about $14. In Newfoundland, it’s still $22. A smoker costs $80, not $50 or less that most Canadian beekeepers pay. I calculated the cost of starting up standard 2-deep Langstroth hive in 2012 and it was well over $700 for new beekeepers who had to ship in hive tools, smokers, veils, etc. Add at least another $400 for a second hive.

The start-up costs of beekeeping prevents many younger people from getting into it. I give away as much bees and brood as I can for new beekeepers to get started, and then I encourage them to do that same once they know what they’re doing, because otherwise, I don’t think most people who don’t have a handsome disposable income can afford it. When I walk into a gathering of beekeepers and see mostly grey haired heads, I feel discouraged. It’s a bummer, man. No offense of all my balding or grey-haired friends.

Gary
Reply

Yes, it amazes me how expensive this ‘hobby’ has become. (Back in the late 60s, a 3-pound package from Sears-Roebuck cost $9.95 INCLUDING shipping!)

My own figures are ‘about’ $450 per colony, with a bare minimum of supers (2 per) and if you want to take advantage of a heavy honey flow (think ‘Black Locust’ (4-5 days average, 7-8 if the weather holds)) you need at least 6 supers per colony (preferably with drawn combs) or else you will be pulling in the evenings, extracting half the night, piling back on in the early morning twilight.

But here’s what frustrates me more than anything else:

EXPERIENCED beekeepers acting like they don’t have a cent to their name; going on about how cheaply they made some boxes, etc (not that there’s anything wrong with recycling lumber if you have the time, tools, and know-how) but in general acting like paupers, begging for sympathy because ‘it costs so much’.

HEY!!! you knew the costs going in.

Either suck it up and do it right, or get out of it altogether.

Sam Shafer
Reply

That’s a good analogy, comparing beekeeping to raising children. While there are upfront costs, many of the expenses are spread over time. So one can gain a sense of what more is needed and watch for sale prices on those items. It was all rather overwhelming at the beginning; what items are vital and what are niceties or fluff. I’m sure we all have some gadget or other we may never use. My biggest purchase regrets are not all the hardware sitting in the basement; I still dream of filling all those boxes if I ever get this all figured out. But I do regret spending the money on those full-size suits; the jacket or veil are so much quicker and cooler in summer. Perhaps someday someone will actually come along wanting to help and they can wear a suit!

Ryan
Reply

Beekeeping is a lot of work now and many new keepers only last a year or two so used equipment is easy to find for cheap.

Being part of a group of keepers is critical now IMO as buying from commercial keepers is unsustainable and expensive. Swarms are free and you learn far more about them in the process. I also typically give away 2-3 splits to my group each season.

I feel the labor that goes into keeping hives far outweghs any of the costs.

Mary Ann
Reply

Also good to have on hand your first year is enough equipment to do hive splits. So that means nucs and/or additional boxes and frames of your configuration of choice. Unless you want to lose most of your bees. Some insist that “first year hives don’t swarm” – WRONG!

Rusty
Reply

Mary Ann,

Agreed. First-year hives don’t swarm just like they don’t have mites and don’t make much honey! Whatever.

ET Ash
Reply

Why is it that folks focus so much on the cost and totally overlook the gain? I certainly never had it in my calculator but I have gained a bunch of friends and close personal relationship of folks I would likely have never even met if I was not doing this beekeeping thing.

Lots of folks will take up beekeeping and after about two years, when they have finally overcome the steep learning curve, give up beekeeping altogether. Beekeeping is a lot of work and I often suspect this is one thing some new beekeepers were not mentally prepared for… after all all you do is just set the box out there and then go back and collect the honey! Right?

Rusty
Reply

Gene,

I agree about all the ancillary benefits, but for a lot of people, choosing to keep bees means they have to forego something else. I think it’s good to estimate your start-up costs, especially if paying the bills is already a stretch.

Keith
Reply

Ryan, I tend to agree the time is way more of an investment that the equipment.

Consider placing an ad on the corkboard at the local feed store or the local Farm and Fleet. There are many that get into beekeeping then get out soon and have the stuff to part with. Also if someone in your family is a woodworker, most everything can be built, it was hand built just 100 years ago or so. Once you set up a width to rip doing 4 or 20 does not really add much time. If there are Amish in your area they often have saw mills. White Pine is a good wood to use for hive bodies. Grade lumber is the most expensive and generally not needed. Seconds or thirds is fine for hives. Cut out or glue back in any loose knots. With 10 inch or 8 inch boards you can rip them down to 9 5/8 or 6 5/8. Or maybe start a build party Saturday at your local club. Building hive bodies is a good winter project. I still buy the frame pieces by the 100 as the cost there is better. Partner with someone from your club and split a box of 100 frames. Old freezer lids make good metal for hive covers, and it is already white.

Gray hair guy who builds his own

Keith
Reply

Hi Phillip I was going to let it go but changed my mind.

Your comment: “When I walk into a gathering of beekeepers and see mostly grey-haired heads, I feel discouraged. It’s a bummer, man. No offense of all my balding or grey-haired friends.”

I feel you are looking at it the wrong way. When I walk in and see a bunch of gray hair, I think, “Awesome. Maybe someone here has some knowledge.” What’s the bummer about it? Do you really think the 20-somethings are going to enlighten you? We gray hairs often wish someone without preconceived opinions would want some knowledge or experience.

I learned beekeeping from my Grandpa. When I was in college I found zero fellow beekeepers. 3 bull riders, but no beekeepers. My wild guess is the stimulation required by young minds is not satisfied by the bees. As far as the start-up costs, for most people a month’s pay will get you started. Funny how young folk can afford an iPhone and think nothing of that cost. 1 year of the phone bill and the cost of the iPhone 8 is like 400-500 frames with wire crimp foundation, I can’t afford the phone… 🙂 2nd year is your woodenware, 3rd is an extractor. It’s all about priorities I guess, good luck on your journey. When the student is willing, the teacher will appear. (most likely with gray hair, just sayin.)

Rusty
Reply

Keith,

I don’t want to get in between, but Phillip is quite an experienced, creative, and talented beekeeper—one from whom I’ve learned a lot. Just sayin.

Phillip
Reply

Hi Keith — I see where you’re coming from, but my point is that many young people see the start-up costs for beekeeping and can’t commit to it because they don’t have the disposable income to even buy all the gear, let alone the bees. (Paying for a mobile phone, a necessity for employment for many people today, is a separate topic.) It’s not going to happen when they’re saving up for a down-payment on their first house. It’s even more challenging if they have kids. The costs of beekeeping, in both time and money, is something that many people can’t commit to until later in life when they’re retired (plenty of time) and the kids are out of the house (more money to spend on themselves). That’s probably why many beekeeping clubs and associations are mostly populated by people who aren’t exactly youthful. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just giving a possible explanation for all the grey hairs.

As for the wisdom of grey hairs, I wish it was an indication of knowledge and wisdom, but it’s not. Locally, I know more than few new beekeepers with grey hairs who, after reading a couple of books about beekeeping, act like they’ve got a lifetime of beekeeping experience behind them. I’ve only been beekeeping since 2010, but I know bad advice when I hear it, and I’ve heard a lot of it from older people who’ve only been beekeeping for a year or two. A membership in a beekeeping association along with grey hair doesn’t make one immune to the know-it-all conceit that people with zero or little experience often fall into.

ET Ash
Reply

Well imho there is nothing wrong with speaking up or asking pointed question when folks make outlandish statements… I see the same thing here as does Art Thomas (a beekeeper of about my own age originally from out in Rusty’s direction). ‘Us’in old guys’ fall into two categories… 1) like myself and Art we have kept bees for a long long time but know full well we do not have everything figured out. Much like good old dogs we are willing to learn a new trick from time to time and 2) folks who Dr Conner describes as having the ‘second year beekeeping syndrome’ < a bit of book learning but short on experience. Perhaps Rusty can give us some idea how delicately attack this problem? Sadly we do not have folks with lots of experience here to teach every class in every bee school the local clubs put on. And truthfully some folks just do a lousy job when it come to presenting a topic before a crowd. The Texas Apiary Inspection Service does have a master beekeeper's program that seems to help < I should add here that this service is above and beyond their stated purpose, so the agency and employees get little or no credit for their efforts.

As to making beekeeping affordable…. The two large beekeeping schools we do here creates enough income to pay for most (if not all) the essential gear for 12 to 16 apprentice per year for each club (typical age 12 to 14). This get the young folks started with little to no direct expense but a good deal of effort and study are required. The income generated from the schools (yearly attendance from 400 to 600 people/school) now has been extended to get the young folks into their second year by paying for the queens that allows them to split their hives and expand their fledgling operation.

Phillip
Reply

I hope no one here is taking me too seriously. That’s never good. All I’m saying is that being old and grey doesn’t make someone a good beekeeper. Experience does. I know a 25-year-old beekeeper who’s been beekeeping since she was 15, and she’s got about 10 times more beekeeping wisdom (and an astounding intuitive intelligence around her bees) than a 65-year-old beekeeper I know who has his book learning but barely a year of beekeeping experience under his belt but loves to give advice to new beekeepers like he’s been at it his whole life. That’s it. It’s not a slight towards old time beekeepers who know their stuff.

As for younger people having less time or money to commit to beekeeping than older people who are more established in their lives — that’s a fairly accurate observation where I live. I personally know more retired people who get into beekeeping, and can go to town on it and put a remarkable amount of resources into the hobby, than anybody I’ve met in their 20s who wants to getting beekeeping. Beekeeping can have a profound impact on someone just starting out in life, and I find it discouraging that it’s out of reach for so many younger people, at least where I live (and where I live may be unique).

I’ll leave it at that.

Emily
Reply

I want to start selling nucs to local beekeepers as I think it will be a more enjoyable way of making back some of my beekeeping costs compared to selling honey. I won’t sell at the prices commercial beekeepers do but then I won’t be able to claim that my bees are special hygienic or dark bees either – they will just be well-looked after local bees.

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

I think that is an excellent idea. Let me know how it goes for you. I might try it myself.

Gary
Reply

“I won’t sell at the prices commercial beekeepers do”

WHY NOT?

If you have a good nuc of 4-5 frames with a laying queen, DO NOT sell your product for less that the going rate.

I’d prefer a locally-grown nuc over importing one from ‘outside’.

But since there are none to be found hereabouts, I’m going to concentrate on expanding colony numbers in 2019 so that in 2020, my focus shifts from honey to nucs.

Honey is good, but nucs return more on investment.

Emily
Reply

Gary, the commercial beekeepers live fairly near me, in the same county in England. They charge £200 per nuc (just for the bees), but they’re selling ‘black bees’, which have been carefully bred and are from genetically tested colonies. I can’t make the same claims, so it would be morally wrong to charge the same prices.

ET Ash
Reply

At least here selling nucs of bees is much more certain way of turning a buck in keeping bees than selling honey. I do both plus sell a few queens each year. IMHO Most advertised statement from the bigger guys is largely marketing hype… do not be fooled by what they say! Us smaller producers of nucs need not compete with WalMart but focus on quality over quantity. I sell my own nucs about 50% more than nucs obtained from commercial folks. I sell out every year and my customer seem to have a higher success rate than those that go for the cheapest item on the menu. A good way to get an idea of what something is worth is the concept (theory) of opportunity cost… basically what would the item be worth if used or sold in an alternative way… Here I can take a nuc and use it as a rental to anyone that is looking for property tax relief… worth about $300/hive here in Texas. Or I can raise a small honey crop of say 75# and sell this for 6 dollars a pound and gross $450. IMHO a good quality nuc with no contaminated comb is worth more than most folks might think… and good luck.

Sharon
Reply

I just read an article in Birds and Blooms magazine saying you could get started in beekeeping for about $300. This type of mis-information is not helpful. Thanks again for your reality check.

Somehow I didn’t get the last 2 blogs so I am glad I found them at the end of today’s. (Feb 1.)

Rusty
Reply

Sharon,

When I post, the new link is supposed to go out to Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, RSS, and my email service. Yesterday, the Facebook part didn’t work. On other days, other parts don’t work. Very frustrating for someone without internet intelligence (me). Sorry about that.

Rebecca
Reply

I would like to know if you have a 10 frame super but using a 9 frames with a spacer, should I use a 10 frame queen excluder?

I’m a first time beekeeper with help but I’d like other opinions as well.

Rusty
Reply

Rebecca,

If the box is a 10-frame box, you must use a 10-frame excluder. If you use a smaller one, like an 8-frame excluder, the queen will be able to walk around the edges.

Gary
Reply

If I read the original post correctly, the question is ‘Should I use a 10-frame excluder on a 10-frame box with only 9 frames in it ?’

If that is indeed the question, the answer is YES, but some will advise to only use 9 frames in the super, to keep the bee spaces between the frames aligned vertically.

Hope this helps

G

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