Is Beekeeping An Expensive Hobby? 19 Important Factors To Consider


hive-boxes

Not knowing the start up costs and ongoing expenses as a beginning beekeeper is the most common complaint from experienced beekeepers. Don’t get me wrong, beekeepers love working with bees, but its better to know the costs involved if you want to do it right.

Is beekeeping an expensive hobby? Getting setup and started as a new beekeeper can be expensive but not as much as most hobbies. Realistically, it will cost $1100 to $1200 to begin beekeeping your first season. With this amount you can purchase two hives, honeybees, and the proper equipment to best ensure success as a new beekeeper.

There is a lot to consider when deciding to enter the wonderful world of beekeeping. It’s a wonderful and rewarding hobby, but it does have a steep learning curve and can be expensive.

But if you do a little planning and set aside enough money, beekeeping can become one of most rewarding experiences of your life. I’ll explain in more detail a few of the most important factors you should consider, and plan for, to become a successful beekeeper.

How Much Does It Cost To Start Raising Bees As a Hobby

Beekeeping Equipment

Most new beekeepers, and people interested in becoming a beekeeper, underestimate not only the start-up costs but also the ongoing expenses of beekeeping. Here is an overview of what you will need and plan for as a new beekeeper:

Initial equipment investment – the bee boxes (hives) to house your bees. You can choose between a wide variety. But it’s not just the complete hive you’ll need, you’ll also need frame feeders (to feed your new bees), mouse guards, robbing screens, queen excluders (for when you harvest honey) and extra frames to name just a few.

Purchasing your bees – you will need to buy your bees from someone. Most people purchase their bees online, but I suggest buying them as close to where you live as possible to reduce shipping time and stress on your bees.

The two most common ways to buy honeybees are either package bees, or nucleus (nucs). They both have their pros and cons. Also, you may need to buy replacement queens down the road.

Operating Equipment – you will need equipment to help you manage your bees. The most common initial equipment is a bee suit, bee smoker, smoker fuel, hive tool, gloves, boots, bee brush, hive wraps (depending on your climate), and storage space.

Honey collection and storage – you probably won’t need this your first season, but its best to be prepared and plan for these additional costs. You’re going to harvest honey at some point so you will need a honey extractor, a filter for the honey, jars for storage and maybe even labels. This equipment can get quite expensive, and again you need to store it somewhere.

Treatments, supplemental feeding and ongoing maintenance – these are expenses you will need to budget and plan for in your first season. You will need to treat your bees for mites at least 1 week after transferring them to your new hive.

You’ll also need to feed your bees syrup and pollen supplement since they are a weak colony and will need assistance to start. These costs will vary depending on the type of mite treatment and how you feed your bees.

Education & Beekeeping Associations – it’s a good idea to purchase a couple good introduction to beekeeping books. There’s a few good free online beekeeping courses available as well as paid. It’s a good idea to purchase a membership with your local beekeeping association. These memberships are usually affordable and well worth the investment.

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It will cost you between $1100 to $1200 US for initial start-up costs to get started in beekeeping. This is the cost to setup two hives for your first season. It is recommended that you start with two hives because both hives will progress at different rates and experience different issues. This way you can easily rescue a failing hive with help from the other one.

This price is not for a beginner kit either, this is for the individual items. All these products are available online and you’ll get better quality products if you order everything separately. The difference in price isn’t much, and the beginner kits don’t include equipment your going to need. The price range would get you the following:

  • Two 10 frame hives (pine wood) – assembled and painted with 10 frames of foundation and wax applied. There is only a $20 difference between deeps and mediums.
  • Two telescoping covers – both assembled and painted and two basic inner covers
  • Two bottom boards – both assembled and painted with entrance reducers.
  • Two basic hive stands – you could always use pallets or concrete blocks instead and save yourself $35.00
  • Two basic board feeders – need to be able to feed your new bees. But for an extra $45 you can get two top feeders instead.
  • Full bee suit – a fully ventilated bee suit. You can save $50-$60 if you choose to just buy a bee jacket with veil.
  • Bee smoker and gloves
  • Smoker fuel – a couple packages of commercial fuel, but its better to gather your own fuel and you’ll save $20 to $40.
  • Hive tool and bee brush
  • Boots – basic pair of comfortable boots. You may already have these so you can save a bit there.
  • Packaged Bees or Nucleus – if you buy two 3 lb packages of bees, you’ll save around $100 over buying two NUC packages. But the extra $100 might be worth the extra woodenware you’ll get and can use next year for splits. This would save you buying extra frames and bee boxes next year, and there are medium NUC’s available for purchase now. This price may vary a bit depending on your location, but I’ve estimated on the high side.
  • Mite Treatment – to do a basic mite treatment with something like Apivar strips this is very affordable. It also saves you buying a vaporizer.
  • Pollen supplement and feed – the above cost would cover buying 10 patties and making your own sugar syrup. I priced in approximately $60 for this and will depend on how well your bees are doing.
  • Education and Associations – I factored in purchasing a couple of beekeeping books and registering for your local bee association. This would cost around $100 to $120 for books and registration and will depend on your area. This may cost a bit more if you take a local beekeeping class as well.

The above price will get you up and running but it’s best to budget double what you think it will cost. So, in this case budget for around $2000 your first season.  There is several things that aren’t included in the above costs such as:

  • Winter hive wraps – depending on your climate
  • Queen excluders – you probably will not need these until your second season when you attempt your first honey harvest
  • Replacement queens or packages – one or both of your hives could die, or maybe you’ll have to replace a queen.
  • More supplemental feeding – your bees may require supplemental feeding the whole first season to become established.
  • Miscellaneous equipment – mouse guards, robbing screens, or maybe you just want better quality feeders.
  • Planning Ahead – extra costs to get your bees prepared for the winter, and planning for next years costs (especially if you want to harvest honey).
  • Storage Space or Shed – all the extra woodenware and equipment will have to be stored somewhere.
  • Beekeeping insurance – this is something that most new beekeepers never consider.

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from beekeeping, but rather encourage new beekeepers to have realistic expectations in regard to the potential costs and ongoing expenses they may face.

Beekeeping is a wonderful and very fulfilling hobby and I would hate for anyone to give up because they were faced with expenses or difficulties they did not plan for.

A healthy and thriving colony will grow exponentially and your costs will grow depending how large you wish to grow your apiary. You can’t plan for everything, but you can give yourself a little breathing room in your budget just in case.

Other than the overall cost there is several other factors you should consider before becoming a beekeeper. Let’s dive a little deeper into the equipment you choose, the bees you buy, and even where to locate your hives.

19 Considerations To Understand Before Becoming a Beekeeper

What-Need-To-Know

1. How Should I Buy My Bees – Packaged Bees Or Nucleus Colony?

Nucleus Bee Colony (Nucs) – are fully a functioning hive with everything the bees need to establish a strong colony. It includes comb, brood, beebread, all the types of bees including a queen laying eggs. The queen has already been accepted by the colony and the hive will be more stable because of this. A typical nuc contains 5 frames and are available in both deep’s and mediums (depending on your region). This option is more expensive then purchasing a package of bees.

Package of Bees – these are available both online and locally. A package of bees typically comes with 3 lbs of bees and a young queen (in a queen cage, usually marked) ready to be placed in the hive. Since the queen has not yet been accepted, or locked in, with the colony it will take time for the bees to accept her. There are specific methods of doing this.

The package normally comes with a can of sugar syrup to help feed the bees. They will also require supplemental feeding until the colony accepts the queen and becomes established. It is not uncommon to receive quite a few dead bees; some will die during shipping because they are stressed and are not working.

These bees are grumpier and will be highly agitated when you first transfer them to a new hive. Once they accept a queen and are working your bees will calm down quite a bit. Buying packaged bees is the most popular option for new beekeepers since its cheaper than buying nucs.

There is some good reasons to start with packaged bees because it is very good learning experience. You will get to observe how the bees build a hive from scratch and you will have to be more hands on in the beginning. You can also use any type of bee box since it will be a small colony to begin with.

Whether you purchase a nuc or 3lb package of bees they will require a constant feeding of sugar syrup. I would recommend you also feed your colonies pollen supplement (patties) as well. This is especially important for package of bees since they have no comb made yet and will expel a lot of energy building comb, brood, and food stores.

I would recommend buying your bees from as close to your location as possible. This will reduce the amount of shipping time and stress placed on your bees. You can even order online and pickup in person.

You will need to apply some form of mite treatment to your new colonies whether you buy Nucs or Package of bees. It is recommended to apply mite treatment around 1 week after your bees have been placed into their new hive. It is not uncommon for purchased bees to be infested with mites or parasites.

2. What Kind Of Beehive Should I Get As a Beginner? It is recommended to start with a Langstroth hive as a beginner beekeeper. The Langstroth hive is a very standardized approach with widespread use. It is more cost effective and you will have no issues locating equipment now and well into the future.

You will need to decide on either 10 frame boxes or 8 frame equipment, but 10 frames is more common. In fact, a lot of beekeepers now use 9 frames in a 10 frame box to give their bees a bit more room.

Your next decision will be to use deep boxes, medium or super boxes, or shallow boxes. It’s generally recommended to start with medium or supers since they aren’t as heavy as deeps and a bit more manageable as a beginner. Personally, I like to start with 10 frame deeps, but most new beekeepers will start with 10 frame supers.

You’ll also need a top cover, inner cover, bottom board with entrance reducer, frames with foundation and some form of hive stand.

It is recommended to always start with new equipment since as a beginner you don’t have enough experience to be purchasing used equipment. Also, there may be local laws and regulations regarding the selling and/or disposal of used beekeeping equipment that your unaware of.

Top Bar and Warre hives have become more popular but are more expensive and don’t have the same widespread availability. There are cedar flow hive kits, but these are very expensive way to start beekeeping. But if it is in the budget, some new beekeepers do go that route.

3. What Is The Best Wood For Beehives? The best wood for beehives is a good select grade premium pine. Pine lumber is easy to work with, it’s available everywhere in North America & Europe, and it’s the most affordable. Your pine bee boxes will last decades if properly treated and looked after.

Of all the different woods used for bee boxes, Pine is most popular among hobbyists and large commercial operations. Pine lumber is readily available in all areas across North America and Europe. No matter your circumstances you’ll always be able to locate high quality Pine bee boxes.

If you’re on a tight budget, economy or commercial grade Pine is an inexpensive option for all new beekeepers and professionals alike. If you have a higher budget, you can purchase select or premium grade Pine woodenware.

Economy and commercial grade Pine will have minor cosmetic imperfections such as knots and the grain won’t be as straight. Whereas select or premium grade Pine will be defect free (knot free) and have a nicer looking straight grain.

It is important to paint or treat your Pine beehives. Pine, if left untreated, will rot very quickly when exposed to the elements and the boxes will begin to rot within 6 months to 1 year.

4. What Is The Best Paint For Beehives? Should I Bother? The best paint for beehives is a water-based latex paint, rated for exterior use with low levels of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). The VOC’s should be under 100 but ideally you want 50 or lower. This will protect your beehive against the elements while ensuring the safety of your bees.

Painting your hives is one of the most inexpensive costs for beekeeping. One quart of paint will cover approximately 15 medium bee boxes with 2 coats of paint. Depending on the type of paint you buy it will cost from $12 to $20 per quart. On average, it will cost you approximately $1 per medium box to paint.

Here’s a couple common & affordable exterior paints that satisfy all recommendations: Low Oder – Low VOC’s, Paint + Primer & Water Based.

  1. Valspar SeasonFlex Ultra – $12-14 per quart depending on sheen and available at Lowes.
  2. BEHR Premium Plus – $14-$16 per quart depending on sheen and available at Home Depot.

If you prefer to use a wood stain, here is an option with low VOC’s but it is more expensive than the paints listed above:

  • PolyWhey® Exterior Penetrating Wood Stain – $20 per quart and available at Vermont Natural Coatings

5. Treating Your Bees For Varroa Mites & Other Pests – do not underestimate this problem. An untreated hive will not last 2 years and will likely die in your first season, especially over the winter. Mites are a major issue with beekeeping, and you will need to treat them.

Most beekeepers will do an initial treatment in the spring and there is variety of treatments available. Using treatment strips has become more popular due to the easy of use and cost compared to having to use a vaporizer.

You need to be aware of any local issue’s beekeepers may have such as tracheal mites, varroa mites, hive beetles, moths, and even bears and skunks. It is always best to speak with local beekeepers to know what is commonly found in your area.

6. Other Environmental Conditions – many problems your bees will face will be outside the hive and out of your control. Crappy weather conditions, blooming times, pesticide use by local farmers, general pollutants, how the land is being used, various predators such as bears and skunks, and mice will all affect your beekeeping success.

Even if you do everything perfectly you can still end up with dead outs and completely lose your colonies.

7. How Much Time Does Beekeeping Take? Beekeeping is a time-consuming hobby; bees are like livestock they require your attention and management. As a new beekeeper you will want to be realistic and expect to spend 1-2 hours per week on your bees. Your slower at first, especially if you have 2-3 hives, it will take you longer to inspect them and to find the queen.

The spring, summer and fall are your busiest months for beekeeping. Your bees will need to be checked on a weekly basis, and even more often during heavy nectar/honey flows.

In the spring you’ll be getting your bees ready for the nectar flow and they may need emergency feeding and supplemental feeding to stimulate brood production. You’ll also have to apply any treatments for mites and continue to watch over them to keep your colony from swarming.

The amount of time required doesn’t factor in how long it took you prepare your beekeeping equipment for the first time or getting used to operating and lighting the bee smoker.

You have to use tools, build woodenware, make repairs, put on queen excluders, add and remove honey supers, well you get the idea. It can be a very time-consuming hobby. Once you become a beekeeper your now on the bee’s schedule and not yours.

To become a good and experienced beekeeper will take you countless hours but it’s a very rewarding way to spend your time.

8. Beekeeping Education and Training – beekeeping has a steep learning curve and a true beekeeper never stops learning and will never stop being surprised. There are many excellent books on beekeeping, there is free online training, paid online training and even college degrees in beekeeping.

It is recommended to join your local bee associations and speak with beekeepers in your area to get a realistic view on beekeeping in your region. It is also a good idea to take a local beekeeping course to get a proper practical introduction to beekeeping. Some new beekeepers will also help other more experienced beekeepers to gain some insight and experience.

There are magazines like the American Bee Journal and Bee culture that you can subscribe to which will keep you informed with up to date information and studies.

As you gain experience you will develop an understanding for your local environment including weather patterns, blooming times, droughts and even pesticide use. You learn how to feed, how to split, and how to prepare your bees for winter. It is never-ending learning but also a never-ending rewarding experience.

9. Beekeeping Safety – becoming a beekeeper will affect yourself, family and children, not to mention your pets, especially if your going to have pets on your property.

You may have to take precautions regarding where your bees are going to be located and you may require fencing. You’re also going to want to verify if you, anyone in your family and even your neighbors are allergic to bees.

10. Are you afraid of being stung – as a beekeeper you will get stung. You can wear all the protective clothing, but bees can still sting you through a full bee suit. You also tend to not get stung when you expect it. You’ll get stung taking off your suit, putting away equipment and of course when your inspecting hives.

11. Beekeeping And Your Neighbors – its not just your family that will be affected by your newfound hobby but also your neighbors. Your neighbors may be less excited about your choice of hobby. You will likely need to educate and speak with them ahead of time.

The affect your beekeeping will have on the neighbours will depend on your location and how much land you have. It will be quite different circumstances if you have a lot of rural property compared to a more urban environment.

Your neighbors maybe allergic to bee stings, have gardens that your bees will love to forage or even a pool that your bees will love to drink. Your neighbours could react very negatively to you having beehives on your property and ongoing complaints discourages new beekeepers.

12. What is the best location for your beehives?  The best location for your hives is where your colony will have lots of sun, no direct wind, a clear flight path, not in public view, the site has good drainage and is well protected against predators and theft.

Beginner beekeepers are nervous about setting up a new beehive in a more urban area and for good reasons (stated above). But they are becoming more popular in shared urban gardens and even rooftop gardens. But that brings us to the next consideration of complying with local laws.

13. Is it legal to have a beehive? Most regions require you to register your beehives and often to be registered before you can even purchase bees. There are usually restrictions on the number of colonies your allowed in locations depending on land size. It is normally measured as number of colonies per acre of land.

If your going to sell honey you will need to familiarize yourself with the legal requirements before you can sell your honey. There will be specific laws pertaining to what size of containers, unpasteurized or pasteurized honey, and what kind of labeling is required to name just a few.

14. Do I need beekeeper insurance coverage? This topic is pretty much never talked about by most beekeepers but is an important aspect of the hobby. You will likely want some form of liability insurance if you have several hives. You will definitely want some form of insurance if your going to be selling your honey and honey related products.

You may also wish to have insurance against theft of your hives, or even famer insurance against the loss of your hives. This is just another factor to consider as you delve into the world of beekeeping.

15. Beekeeping is physically demanding work – spending time pulling supers from your hives during a honey flow can be backbreaking work. Your doing this work in the summer with a bee suit on so you’ll be sweating, hot, uncomfortable, and prone to dehydration.

It doesn’t just end with the harvesting, you will be continually lifting and inspecting hives, uncapping frames, extracting and bottling honey, and lots and lots of cleaning. Beekeeping is great but it can be very physically demanding.

16. How long does it take before I can harvest honey? If its your first year of beekeeping with a new colony you won’t likely be able to harvest much honey if any at all. A new honeybee colony needs a full season to build up a large enough population to gather surplus honey.

There is something very satisfying about harvesting your own honey. You get to reap the rewards of your labors, while having a positive affect on your environment.

An average harvest will get you 25-30 lbs of honey depending on the size of your hives. A good harvest will get you 60-70 lbs, or even closer to 100lbs on a deep honey box. Of course, just like anything in beekeeping buying the equipment to harvest your honey can get expensive.

17. Harvesting Beeswax – your beeswax can be used to make candles, lip balm, wood polish, wax printing and its even used for treatment of cracked hooves on animals. You’ll need to think about what your going to do with your excess beeswax.

18. Can I Make Money Beekeeping? Making a profit is nearly impossible, especially as a hobby beekeeper. Expenses are high and honey is cheap, you will be losing money for the first few years.

19. Catching Swarms – this is not something you’ll likely be doing as a beginner. I wanted to include this because some beekeepers feel that this is one of the best methods for getting bees. But as you gain more experience you may wish to put out bee boxes to attract and catch swarms.

Beekeepers will use baited hives and put them out in the spring to attract bees early in the season. You do need to consider a swarm’s health and temperament. It’s a good idea to keep them away from your other bees until you confirm the swarm’s health as they get re-established.

Matthew Barr

My goal is to show that anyone can take up beekeeping and it can be a very rewarding hobby. I strive to share my experiences and answer any questions you may have.

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