One of the most fascinating, interesting, and useful skills you can take up is beekeeping.
Lots of folks engage in the practice for the honey, either for themselves or to sell, but others do it specifically with the purpose of breeding bees or renting out their bees as a pollination service.
There’s a surprising amount you can do with bees, and even the largest commercial operation got started somewhere with just a hive or two…
But have you ever really wondered how much it costs to get started in beekeeping? And what are the costs associated with keeping a healthy and sustainable operation running?
The good news is that most people can afford to start keeping bees… if they are serious about it.
Keep reading and I’ll give you a detailed step-by-step breakdown of the costs and investments you’ll need to make.
Table of Contents:
How Much Should You Expect to Spend Getting Started?
Assuming you are starting from scratch, expect to spend anywhere from $300 to $1,000 to get started beekeeping properly. This includes cost of the bees, hive, tools, protective gear, education and more, but it assumes you already have suitable land to place your bees to allow them to get to the food sources they need.
We’ll go through all of this step by step below…
Do You Need Land?
It’s easy to overlook the land when you’re getting down to the nuts and bolts of beekeeping.
But, the most essential question is whether or not you have access to land where you can safely place your hives and expect them to be productive.
Obviously, a thorough discussion on the costs of land is it beyond the confines of this article, and I am assuming that you either own your own parcel, or have legal access to someone else’s, and an agreement in place where you can set up and tend to your bees.
If at all possible, this land should be close by, and easy for you to access since you’ll need to interact with your hives on a regular basis and also inspect them.
How much land do you need for your bees? Well, you only need a few square feet to actually place a hive, but a good rule of thumb is to have at least an acre of land, and preferably two or more.
The bees will fly as far as they need to to get food, of course, but this much land generally allows you a sufficient standoff between the hives and your home- and also your neighbors!
The Bees May Cost Money, of Course!
Now, with those prerequisites out of the way, it’s time to get down to the actual business of beekeeping. First things first: the cost of the bees themselves!
If you need to order them from a fellow beekeeper or a specialty breeder, expect to spend between $100 and $200 for a nucleus colony, what you’ll see referred to as a “nuc” online and elsewhere.
A nucleus colony consists of a queen, plenty of workers and some drones as well as a chunk of comb with honey and developing eggs and young.
The amount of bees you get in a nuc is highly variable depending on the provider and other factors: it might be anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 bees (appx. 3 to 6 frames’ worth).
In any case, it should be enough to establish a hive of your very own: It’s very literally a self-contained little colony, hence the name.
Handled properly, it is a great way to get a hive off to a good start.
If you can find one, which looks like a huge clump of bees balled up out in the wild, and capture it they will usually happily set up residence in your hive box.
Your bees will need a place to live and work, that’s why you need a hive box. There are all sorts of beehive designs out there, but the most popular, including among professionals, is the Langstroth hive.
A complete hive will usually run you anywhere from $150 to $300, and potentially much more, depending on the design, complexity, materials, options, and craftsmanship.
A hive will always consist of a bottom board, a hive body, frames for the bees to build and store on, a foundation that the frames rest upon, an inner cover and a hive top.
Another option is to DIY your own hive. If you are crafty and have a few woodworking tools, free plans are widely available online for all sorts of hive designs.
These hives can run you as little as $20 in materials to make, or even be free if you have wood and other parts on hand.
You can get started with a single hive, but most new beekeepers start with at least two and sometimes three, and that means you’ll need that many hives.
Know that it is easy to get seduced by amazingly intricate hives, and although the pleasure of ownership of these marvelous creations is indeed worthwhile, if you love bees and have the money, you certainly don’t need fancy hives to get started.
Any beekeeper that’s worth their salt, or rather worth their honey, needs a few good tools to do the job. There are just three that you absolutely have to have: a hive tool, a bee brush, and a smoker.
The cleverly named hive tool is like a little pry bar that will help you gain access to your hive boxes once the bees have diligently sealed them shut with propolis, and also pry out frames covered in the same.
A bee brush is a special brush that will help you gently push aside bees that are hanging around on frames so you can investigate what is underneath them.
And then, of course, you’ll need a smoker. A smoker helps you generate and distribute smoke which will distract and calm the bees while you work.
Some of these are more defensive than others and need more or less smoke in order to pacify, but this is an indispensable tool.
Once again, costs can vary considerably for these things, but you should expect to spend anywhere from $80 to $150, perhaps a little more, for all three.
The most iconic accoutrement of the beekeeper is, of course, their protective beekeeping suit, usually just called a bee suit.
This consists of sting-proof trousers, shirt, gloves, and of course, that fancy veil and hat that keeps bees from lighting up your face, head and neck.
Seasoned beekeepers often get by with just a veil, but I cannot recommend it strongly enough that you, as a beginner, start out with the full setup.
It is possible to get a complete beekeeping suit for as little as $100, but they tend to be cheaply made, less protective and prone to breaking down when you wash them.
More expensive suits can easily clear $300, but they offer far greater protection and it just as importantly durability when it’s time to clean them.
Knowledge and Education
Everybody got started somewhere when beginning any new endeavor, and beekeeping is no different.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ve got to learn, and that means getting an education.
The internet is a tremendous resource for learning lots about beekeeping, and if you put in the time to figure out who’s who, and also collect enough information, it is possible to get a good start for no money at all.
Nonetheless, I highly recommend it you pick up a comprehensive guide to beekeeping in print form. A good beekeeping book will set you back anywhere from $20 to $50 dollars.
If you’re really serious, consider signing up for a class on beekeeping. These are sometimes available through agricultural departments at your local university, and also through beekeeping clubs and special interest groups in your area.
Costs can vary significantly, anywhere from $50 to $200 or more.
Something else to consider is an apprenticeship with a local beekeeper that is willing to show you the ropes.
You might be able to barter time or goods to make it worth their while, though quite a few beekeepers are extremely enthusiastic to share the craft with the next generation.
Honey Extracting Equipment
If you are serious about collecting honey from your bees, it pays to have a honey extractor.
These devices are manually cranked or electrically driven contraptions that spin honey out of the cells in a frame sort of like a centrifuge.
There are various makes and models on the market, but they all accomplish the same thing.
Depending on whether they are manual or electric, an extractor can run you anywhere from $100 to $400 or even more depending upon its capacity.
However, it is also possible to extract honey by hand, though this is highly laborious and time-consuming.
Some beekeepers even resort to building DIY extractors from plans that are freely available online.
Note that this isn’t necessarily something you have to have right away, even within the first year of beekeeping.
No matter how well you do and how prosperous your bees are, they might not produce enough honey in the first season, or even the next, for you to collect so this is a purchase you may be able to put off.
Winterization of Hives
If you want your colonies of bees to survive the winter, you’ll need to invest in winterization supplies and materials for your hives.
You’ll need mouse excluders to put over the entrances of your hives in order to keep these rodents out during cold weather (which are common squatters in beehives).
You’ll also need an upper entrance module to help your beehive stay properly ventilated.
Depending on where you have your hives placed and your typical prevailing weather conditions, you might need some hay bales or other materials to make windbreaks to give your beehives a little bit of shelter.
These costs are usually very minor, and they can range anywhere from $20 to $50 per hive depending on what you need.
Domestic bees have lots of pests and predators. One of the very worst predators of honey bees is the verroa destructor mite.
These dreadful little parasites are controlled with various mechanical and chemical means.
Chemicals are cheap, but must be applied properly and at the right times with specialized vaporizers to be effective, and enough quantities plus equipment to dose multiple hives will set you back anywhere from $20 to $100.
Mechanical control of mites and other pests is done with screener boards.
Once a full mite inside the hive falls off of a bee, it will fall down through a screen inside the hive and get stuck to a specially designed glue trap, immobilizing and eventually killing it and hopefully breaking its life cycle.
These screener assemblies will run anywhere from $50 to $150 per hive depending on size and complexity.
Bee Food and Other
And, believe it or not, your bees will need food. But don’t bees eat honey? Of course they do, and your bees will depend on some of the honey they create to help them get through the winter.
However, depending on the conditions and the success of their foraging, they might not have enough honey.
To compensate for a lack of honey, or just to give your bees supplemental food when they need it, you can create sugar water or simple sugar syrup using just sugar!
These works well in warmer weather, but in colder weather you should feed them dry sugar or candy, and there are other specialized products that serve the same purpose.
Sugar is pretty cheap, but a large and bustling hive can eat an awful lot, so you might need to buy it in bulk and it can be a small but still significant extra expense.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.