By Josh Vaisman – Keeping bees isn’t free and so I’m often asked, “What is the cost of beekeeping? If I’m looking to start a honey bee farm, what is the expected initial investment?” Let’s find out together!
Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed the honor of teaching fresh-eyed beginning beekeepers as they embark on the fulfilling adventure of caring for honey bees. Beginning beekeepers (aka Beeks) tend to be excited and nervous, curious and tentative, and I’ve been touched by how genuine their concern is for our buzzing buddies. With people like this committing to their wellbeing, the future for honey bees looks bright!
What Do We Need? What Does It Cost?
Of course, we can’t keep bees if we don’t actually HAVE bees! Acquiring bees isn’t quite as simple as a trip to the pet store, but it isn’t too complicated either. There are FOUR common ways to get some bees. I’ll list them and the range of typical costs below:
- Bee Package: Every year, late winter to early spring, large-scale beekeeping operations (primarily in California and Georgia) create packaged bees to sell to beekeepers around the country. These packages consist of (typically) 3 pounds of bees in a box with a young, mated queen hanging in a smaller box inside. Packages tend to become available in or around April and are sold in a variety of ways; local pick-up direct from the provider, local pick-up from the bee club who obtains several packages for their members to buy or purchased online and shipped to the beekeeper. This is the most common method of obtaining bees as a beginning beekeeper.
COST: $100 – $135
- Nucleus Hive: A nucleus hive (or Nuc) is essentially a mini-colony of bees. They typically come in a box with five frames of bees, brood, pollen, nectar/honey, and a fertile, laying queen bee. These tend to be available in or around April unless they are obtained from a local, established beekeeper in which case they may not be available until May or June.
COST: $125 – $175
- Split or Full Hive: A split is made when several frames from an existing, thriving colony are taken and put into a new hive box. The old queen is included, the bees are allowed to make a new queen, or a new mated queen is introduced. Sometimes beekeepers will sell an entire hive setup including an existing colony.
COST: $150 – $350
- Swarm: Of course, you could always catch a wild swarm of bees! Of course, you have to FIND them first.
2) The Hive
We tend to think of a beehive as a bunch of stacked boxes but it’s a bit more complicated than that. The most common hive setup, known as the Langstroth hive, consists of a bottom board, two deep boxes including frames and foundation, an inner cover, an outer cover, an entrance reducer, and some sort of stand. You’ll also want to have some honey supers around in case you get a good nectar flow and these will need frames and foundation as well. I typically recommend beginning beekeepers buy one medium super their first year in Colorado. Lastly, every beginning beekeeper should have some sort of feeding device for their new colony in case they need to receive supplemental sugar-water.
COST: $150 – $300
You can find some great beginning kits sold by Dadant, including the entire hive at https://www.dadant.com/catalog/beginners-kits.
3) Accessory Equipment
Unless you’re planning on being a Bee-Haver instead of Bee-Keeper you’ll need some accessory equipment to help you care for your bees. There’s a great article here listing 11 Essential Beekeeping Supplies you can check out. At the very least, you’ll want to have protective equipment (such as a veil, suit, and gloves), a hive tool, a bee brush, and possibly a smoker. Beyond that, there are myriad ancillary tools and gadgets to help enhance your beekeeping experience. You can find many of them at places like Dadant or Miller Bee Supply.
COST: $100 – $300
4) Mite Treatments(s)
I firmly believe EVERY beekeeper is eventually a mite-keeper. Even in your first year. I strongly encourage you to learn all about the varroa mite, options for mite control, and settle on a system of mite control that works for you. This may (should) include some sort of active mite treatment as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan.
COST: $20 – $200
Total Expected Initial Investment
What I’ve listed above is what I consider to be the basic essentials to start. You’ll notice the cost of beekeeping equipment varies as there are copious options for many different supplies. For example, do you want your hive woodenware to come painted or “raw”? Would you like a simple veil or a full body bee suit? Will you buy a smoker? What type of mite control will you buy and use?
In the end, when someone just wants to know the average start-up costs for a beginning beekeeper who is buying bees (in lieu of catching a swarm) I tell them to expect to pay approximately $500 for the first hive and roughly $300 for each additional hive.
Where Do We Get Our Supplies?
I’m a huge proponent of Buy Local. In Colorado, we have some excellent local options for buying bees and bee supplies. Most of the regional bee clubs procure large amounts of packages and nucs each spring to sell to their and we have some mid-to-large scale beekeepers around the state who sell packages and nucs from their bees (some of which were actually over-wintered locally and bred from local genetics). We are also fortunate to have a few well-stocked beekeeping supply stores throughout the state, some of which sell woodenware made in Colorado. If you have these options in your area I encourage you to take advantage of them.
For some of us, the online shopping experience is the way to go. If that’s the case for you, here is a list of some great suppliers:
Are There Any Cost Saving Options For a Frugal Beginning Beekeeper?
Yes there are! We already discussed one above — catch a swarm! Catching a swarm has a couple of benefits; the bees are FREE, which greatly reduces your total cost of beekeeping, and you’re getting bees who came from a local colony strong enough to send off a swarm. Some bee clubs maintain a “swarm hotline.” These hotlines consist of a phone number the public can call when they spot a swarm in their area. The bee club member takes the call, gathers the information, and consults a list of beekeepers in the area willing to catch the said swarm. If your club maintains such a hotline find out how to get your name on that list!
You could also look into buying used beekeeping equipment. For a variety of reasons, local beekeepers may be selling (or giving away) some or all of their used equipment at a discounted rate. A word of caution about this approach — some diseases transfer with equipment, especially woodenware. If you acquire used equipment do all you can to be certain it isn’t bringing a nasty bug along with it.
What other items would you add to the cost of beekeeping?