I spent a fair amount of time this winter reading and learning about beekeeping, and finally, the wait is over. My honey bees are here!
Getting everything set up was a bit of work and not neccessarily inexpensive. I do believe that beekeeping can be a profitable hobby, but I’ll have to wait and see if that holds true for me. My initial goals are just getting my bees ready for their first winter and possibly harvesting a bit of honey for my own use later this summer.
If, like I was a few months ago, you’re wondering just what you need to do and how much it will cost to get your own bee hive(s) up and running, read on.
First question: how many hives do you want? Most people recommend starting with more than one, because if one colony is struggling, you can always move worker bees, brood, and food stores between hives. Carefully consider how much you want to take on in the first year, and don’t forget to check local bylaws for any limits. I wanted to start small, so I opted for a conservative two hives.
The most popular way to buy bees is to get a small growing colony called a “nucleus.” A nucleus includes a laying queen, worker bees (females) and drones (males), brood in various stages of development, and some food stores. All of this is contained in a box with five frames. (Most boxes, or “supers” hold ten frames, but we’ll get to that later). Look for a local supplier if you can, so your bees will be well-adapted to your climate. Locate your nearest bee club and ask where they generally get their nucs. If you have to go further afield, many suppliers will ship you a nuc with live bees through Canada Post!
I bought my nucs from a nearby supplier on advice of my local bee club. They were $225 each, which is a pretty standard cost. Fortunately they came in very sturdy wooden boxes, so driving home with several thousand bees in my car wasn’t too nerve-racking!
Cost for 2 nucleus colonies = $450
Tools and Clothing
I decided to start with cheap stuff I found on Amazon, knowing that I could always upgrade later if needed. So far, no regrets. I bought a beginner’s kit including a jacket and attached veil, a pair of beekeeping gloves, a hive tool, and a bee brush for $20, and a Aspectek smoker for $19. There are lots of other little tools and accessories out there, but so far this is all I need to safely open and work in the hives.
Cost for basic clothing and tools = $39
I’m using Langstroth hives, which are the most common type in North America, and the easiest for beginners to learn with. A beehive is made up of a bottom, one or more supers (aka hive bodies) containing 10 frames each, and a telescoping lid. This website has a good visual explanation.
You can buy full hives or components online. Better yet would be to build your own. I had my supers, bases, and lids made locally, and they even came assembled and painted. All parts were $20 each, which is very reasonable.
I went with plastic frames. Again, as a beginner, I wanted to keep things very simple. I ordered these from Hiveworld, a beekeeping company in Alberta. I bought two internal frame feeders as well, for supplemental feeding as needed.
- 4 supers = $80
- 2 telescoping lids = $40
- 2 bottoms = $40
- 40 frames* = $150 ($3.75 each)
- 2 Entrance reducers = $10 (Smaller entrances are easier for bees to defend.)
- 2 2 gallon internal frame feeders = $22
*Technically, I only needed to buy 30 to start, since the nucs come with 5 frames apiece. Just in case you go with a package instead of a nuc, I’ll leave it at 40.
Cost for two bee hives with two brood chambers each = $342
Grand Total for Starting Two Bee Colonies = $831
Please note this price does not include taxes or shipping. Buying handmade and local can eliminate both, and Hiveworld offers free shipping to several provinces.
Now you have bee hives set up and ready to go. Please note that I’ve only talked about set-up. On-going costs will include the following:
- Protection from bears. If you live in bear country, you will have to protect your bees by either enclosing your hive area with an electric fence, or putting them on a raised platform. I have an electric fence (I received a free charger from a friend and already had posts and an extension cord so costs were very minimal for me).
- Medical expenses. Yes, just like a pet or livestock, bees can have health problems requiring prevention and treatment. The main concern with bees is mites, and my understanding is you will have to deal with them unless you live in Australia.
- Colony expansion. As the colony grows, you will need to add more supers and frames in order to store all that honey and to prevent swarming!
- Honey extraction. Extraction equipment can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars. I intend to go a more minimalist route, if possible.
- Food. Namely white sugar. If you’re taking the bees’ food stores (honey) away, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to give something back.
Details of all of the above will show up in future posts, as I experience them:)
There you have it. I estimated $1000 to set up two hives and managed to come in under budget. So not necessarily a cheap hobby to get started with. Honey, however, is always in demand, and extra pollination services are a bonus for any garden.
I can’t wait to see where this goes. Please share if you’re already a fellow beekeeper and have any advice, or are thinking about getting started with bees!