Updated on September 11th, 2022
Every beekeeper should be working on a budget. However, some beekeepers are more cost-conscious than others.
Depending on some choices you make, it can cost over $700 to get through your first year of beekeeping. That does not include the cost of honey harvesting equipment you may eventually purchase.
Also, as you grow your apiary, you will continue to incur some additional costs for more hives, tools, hive management, and more. Beekeeping can become very expensive.
However, there are ways to manage your beekeeping costs, especially once you’ve gained some experience and are more comfortable managing the colonies. The trade-off for some cost-cutting options is an increased investment of time.
Money-saving ideas for beekeepers on a budget include:
- Consider cheaper alternatives to Langstroth hives
- Check prices on beginner beekeeping kits for savings
- Assemble hive components yourself
- Try foundationless frames
- Split colonies and catch swarms for more bees
- Buy used extractors or share with other beekeepers
- Make your own feeders and hive stands
- Purchase in bulk where you can
- Keep your bees alive with proper management
- Shop around and only buy what you need
- Look for free shipping or local pickup when buying
- Offset some costs by selling hive products.
This article discusses these money saving tips in more detail
Our recommendations for how to start beekeeping are designed to make your beginning beekeeping experience as simple as possible at a reasonable cost. You have the time and skills to implement some of the suggestions here, you may be able to start beekeeping for less money.
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Alternatives To Langstroth Hives
We recommend that beginning beekeepers start with Langstroth hives. It is the most widely used hive in North America and its components are widely available.
However, Langstroth hives are comprised of a series of vertical boxes with removable frames. Each frame typically holds a sheet of foundation for the bees to build wax on.
Each of these components costs money and as your apiary grows, so does your total cost.
In fairness, well-maintained Langstroth components will last for years.
Top Bar Hives
While we recommend Langstroth hives for a variety of reasons, a lower-cost option is the top bar hive. Top bar hives can cost less than a Langstroth hive with all its components.
Top bar hives are simple in design and can be made with inexpensive materials. These hives have their pros and cons. However, if costs are an overriding issue, building a top bar hive is an option to consider. Here are some plans available online:
See our article about Langstroth hives and some of the alternatives.
Beginner Beekeeping Kits
Bee suppliers offer various kits for beginning beekeepers to get started.
These kits range from the bare minimum single box Langstroth hives and up. The largest kits include 4 hive boxes, plus basic beekeeping tools and protective gear.
Shop around and you may find that a complete kit is less expensive than buying each item individually.
See our article Beekeeping Starter Kits (Best Kits By Budget) for a list of various options from suppliers we know and recommend.
Hive components are one of your most significant cost items but provide some budget-saving options besides buying kits.
You can buy unassembled hives and put them together yourself if you have space to work. It’s straightforward and requires little skill.
All you need are:
- Unassembled parts
- 7d nails
- Exterior wood glue
- Speed square
The sides of the hive usually have finger joint construction for increased strength. We use nails and glue to assemble our hives. You can also use screws and a drill.
A speed square is an inexpensive tool. Use it to quickly check that your body is “square” meaning that each corner forms a 90 angle which assures that the boxes will stack evenly.
You can buy unassembled hive boxes made with different grades of wood. For added cost savings, buy budget grade. The first time we assembled hives, we got the middle quality. Ever since then, it’s been only budget grade, and we’ve never had a problem.
If you have mad carpentry skills and tools, you can build hives from scratch. I think this is a daunting undertaking. But if you’ve got what it takes, go for it.
See our article about how to assemble a Langstroth beehive box for more information.
Like the hive bodies, you can assemble frames to save some money. What you need depends on what tools are available and how you choose to assemble them.
If you don’t have a lot of room and tools, a hammer and nails will do the trick. We use a pneumatic (air) stapler to assemble frames.
Just like with hive bodies, you want your frames square so they align correctly in the box.
To speed the assembly process if you’re doing a lot of frames, a framing jig is a good idea. You can buy one (like this one on supplier Mann Lake’s website) or, keeping with the DIY theme, build one (like this one on Beesource.com).
Using recent prices on Mann Lake’s website, here’s an example of savings achieved by assembling some components yourself:
|Fully assembled 8-frame super||$47.95|
|Unassembled 8-frame super (per box based on the purchase of 5)||$10.95|
|8 unassembled frames||$13.95|
|Plastic foundation for 8 frames||$11.96|
|Miscellaneous (nails, glue, etc.)||$ 1.00|
|Total cost of unassembled 8-frame super||$37.86|
This is a savings of about 21%.
We use all 8 frame supers now. Our largest colony recently required 7 boxes for brood and honey harvesting. That’s over $70 in savings from assembling things ourselves.
You can see how this adds up as your bee yard grows.
Let’s say you start with two colonies. If each of them consists of five 10-frame boxes (after adding supers), you need 100 sheets of foundations costing $100 – $125.
If you use a small starter strip of foundation in a foundationless frame, you’ll spend a lot less. We use a strip from a wooden paint stirrer.
Foundationless beekeeping comes with its drawbacks, but if you want to save money you should consider it.
See our article about beekeeping with foundationless frames for more information.
Buying a bee package can set you back about $150. A nuc will be around $180. You can save some money buying bees locally to avoid shipping costs.
Once you’re into your second or third year of beekeeping, you can start expanding your apiary without buying new bees. Free bees! What’s better than that?!?
Split A Colony
Expand your apiary by splitting a strong colony in two.
Splits are best done very early in the spring, giving the colonies ample time to ramp up their populations.
You can split a hive in several ways.
A walk-away split is just what it sounds like.
Move everything from one hive to another: bees, stores, brood, eggs, and larvae. No need to worry about which one has the queen. Just walk away. The queenless colony will raise its own queen, which should take about four weeks.
Bees in the new location may find their way back to the original hive after foraging. To reorient the bees, I’d suggest closing up the new hive for three days and creating some obstacles at the opening (grass or maybe a robbing screen) when you open it up. These changes should get the bees used to the new spot.
If after five weeks there’s no sign of eggs or brood in one of the boxes, it means they failed to raise a new queen. In this case, I’d buy a new queen for that colony. A queen alone is still less expensive than a full package.
You can also split a hive by moving several frames of brood, bees, and stores to a new box taking care NOT to move the queen. In this case, you’ll need to buy and introduce a queen into the new hive.
The nurse bees will stay with the brood; some of the other bees may find their way back to the original hive. Once the new queen is accepted, you’ll have your new colony.
Trap A Swarm
Honey bees expand the species by swarming. In effect, the bees themselves perform a split.
If the population starts to crowd the hive, the queen will leave with a lot of the other bees. This swarm will find a new location to call home. Swarms occur naturally in beekeepers’ yards and in the wild.
The cost of catching a swarm is so low it’s like getting free bees.
Some sites suggest swarm trapping as a cost-effective way to start beekeeping. Personally, I think this is really bad and misleading advice. If you’ve never been a beekeeper, buying all your equipment and hoping to catch a swarm is not a good way to get started.
However, after you’re up and running with an apiary, catching a swarm is an excellent way to expand at little expense.
How To Catch A Swarm
If you look around the internet, you’ll see a load of suggestions on how to catch a swarm. While the specifics vary, the basic steps are the same:
- Create a swarm trap (i.e., some kind of hive body for the swarm to inhabit. Use a nuc box, a deep hive body, or any of a variety of possible containers.
- With a traditional type of hive body, put some frames in the trap. If you can, include some frames with comb.
- Swab some lemongrass oil inside the trap. The scent of the oil mimics a queen’s pheromones. You can also use a specialty product like Swarm Commander, which has other additives.
- Secure the trap to a tree in an area likely to be visited by bees. Higher is better, but 12 – 15 feet should be good enough.
- Check the hive periodically to see if some girls have moved in.
If a swarm moves in, take the trap down, take it to your bee yard and transfer the bees to a permanent hive. Free bees!
See our article What Is A Swarm Trap? for more details.
Be extremely careful taking down a trap. It’s a good idea to wear protective clothing. Lowering a box 15 feet can be awkward. Getting stung while doing it increases the odds of a mishap. Have a helper if possible.
Provide Bee Removal Services
Bee swarms can be a nuisance to many homeowners. They settle in backyards, in attics and crawl spaces, and even inside walls.
If you’re up to it, you can offer your services in bee removal. You’re catching a swarm, but it’s not in a trap.
Be prepared before you attempt this. You will need extra equipment like ladders, a vacuum to gather up some colonies, and tools to access some spots. You also need the ability to transport everything.
Bee removal is not for everyone, but if you’re up for it, you may even get paid to take away some bees.
Harvest Honey With Used Or Shared Extractors
One of the higher-cost items for beekeeping is an extractor.
Uncapped frames of honey are placed in the extractor and spun at high speed. The centrifugal force forces honey out of the comb. Honey is then drained from the extractor, strained, and collected in containers.
Extractors come in various sizes and can be manual or electric. A small 2-frame extractor can be had for less than $200. Larger, electric ones can cost thousands of dollars. The right extractor for you depends on how many frames you plan to harvest and the speed you feel is needed.
You can save on the cost of an extractor by sharing one with other beekeepers. Your local bee club may have such an arrangement.
Check Craigslist.org and other sources for used extractors.
As a beginner with just a few hives, you don’t need an extractor to harvest honey.
If you have foundationless frames, you can simply cut the comb out of the frame and place it in a container — many people like honey in this form. Browse the honey shelves in your area, and you may see honeycomb sells at a premium to jar honey.
Whether or not you use foundation, you can still get jar honey without an extractor. Scrape the honey off the frame (or cut it out as comb honey). Crush everything and drain it through a strainer into a food-grade container.
The crush and strain method is not efficient for an abundant harvest, but it’s hugely cost-effective for a beginner with only a few colonies.
Make Your Own Equipment
We don’t recommend buying used equipment when it comes to hive components. You may be getting more problems than you bargained for.
Other equipment, like hive tools and smokers, are fine if you clean them thoroughly before using them near your bees. But these things are relatively inexpensive new, and I don’t expect you can save much here.
You can buy all kinds of feeders. Or you can make your own.
We’ve used plastic bags full of syrup to feed. Mason jars or plastic containers that seal tightly work fine. Using a 1/16th inch bit, put holes in the top with a drill.
We also made feeder stands out of scrap wood. Like hive tools, feeders aren’t overly expensive, but you might save a few bucks here.
It is important to keep your hives off the ground. However, you do not need to spend a lot of money on a fancy hive stand.
In warmer climates where snow is not an issue, a simple wooden pallet is good enough. You can grab them for free from many retailers in your area.
For a higher stand, cinder blocks and lumber can do the job for a relatively low cost.
A good veil to protect your face and eyes shouldn’t be optional. After that, you can save money on your choice of protective clothing by shopping around.
A bee jacket is less expensive than a full suit. We’re over five years into beekeeping and still using our “economy” jackets with attached hoods. (Although in the heat of summer I keep dreaming of trying a ventilated jacket. Maybe next year.)
You’ll see a lot of beekeepers on YouTube wearing little in the way of protective clothing. While it works for some, it’s not for everyone. (it’s definitely not for me!) We recommend beginners opt on the side of caution (dollar-wise) until they learn what’s comfortable for them.
Wikihow.com has an article on how to make a beekeeping suit. (Again, not for me, but hey…give it a go if you want!)
Buy In Bulk
Buying in bulk usually gets you lower unit costs. It’s the driving force behind the success of Walmart, Costco, and others.
While you may not be ready to buy 100 unassembled hive bodies, buying as few as five can lower the cost a little. It applies to frames, foundations…just about anything you’ll need more than one of.
At feeding time, one 25-pound bag of sugar will be cheaper than five 5-pound bags.
Bulk buying also helps get free shipping from many suppliers.
Keep Your Colonies Alive
Helping your honey bees survive may be the number one way to save money. Getting new bees every spring is an expensive way to maintain and grow your apiary.
Winter losses can be enormous. To help avoid them:
- Combine weak colonies with stronger ones in the fall
- Make sure they have enough stores to get through the winter
- Supplement their food stores with sugar or fondant (make your own fondant to save money or make sugar bricks)
- Insulate or wrap the hives in colder climates
- Take steps to prevent moisture build-up in the colony
Instead of buying candy boards for winter feeding, you can make your own.
See our article How To Winterize Your Hives for more details.
Treat For Varroa Mites
Many beekeepers cite varroa mites as the number one cause of colony loss. Some people consider “treatment-free” beekeeping to be more natural. You can go that route, but it’s unlikely to be very effective against varroa.
See our article Varroa Mites: A Complete Treatment Guide for in-depth information.
Protect Your Hives From Animals
A bear can destroy your apiary in one night. They can cost you bees AND equipment.
The best protection against bears is an electric fence. Yes, that’s an additional cost. However, it will probably be cheaper in the long run than the loss of your entire bee yard.
Ratchet straps are an inexpensive way of keeping your hives from being toppled by pesky critters like raccoons.
An electric fence is your apiary’s best defense against bears. While it costs money to set up an electric fence, it may cost you even more if don’t.
Shop Around & Watch Shipping Costs
Prices can vary widely among bee suppliers. Keep an eye out for sales and special offers. Many suppliers will notify you by email about their promotions.
Pay attention to shipping costs. Some bee supplies are bulky and heavy and thus expensive to ship. Suppliers may offer free shipping if you have a minimum size order.
Living in a rural area, we make heavy use of Amazon Prime for its free delivery (covered by the subscription fee of course). Amazon has a wide range of beekeeping tools that probably would not qualify for free shipping from other suppliers without ordering a lot of other products.
Offset Some Costs By Selling Hive Products
As a beekeeper, you can harvest honey, wax, bee pollen, and propolis.
All of these products are commercially viable sales items. You can even create nucs and sell bees.
Be sure to check regulations in your area regarding the sale of any food or other products.
The costs of backyard beekeeping add up quickly as you acquire bees and all the equipment you need to get started. However, as your knowledge and comfort level increase, there are ways to save money and continue to expand your apiary.
Try some of the options listed in this article to lower your costs.