How Much Does It Cost To Start Beekeeping?
(2020)

Money

It costs about $600 to start beekeeping. An adequate beginner’s kit, with the basics you need, will range $400 – 500 for one hive configuration. In addition, you’ll need to purchase bees which will run around $150 – 200.

That $600 is a starter cost in the purest sense of “starter”. It will get you up and running. Unfortunately, everything you need during your first year or two of beekeeping will not be included in those kits so your costs may run higher.

The long answer to the question “how much does it cost to start beekeeping?” is “it depends on the choices you make”.

First, we’ll outline your choices. Then, you can apply them to our calculator at the end of this article to estimate your starting costs.

Screened bottom bottom board, two 10-frame deep hive boxes, one 10-frame medium box and covers.
Screened bottom bottom board, two 10-frame deep hive boxes, one 10-frame medium box and covers.

Variables that will affect your total cost to start beekeeping include:

  • How many beekeepers are involved?
  • What kind of hive configuration do you plan to use?
  • How many colonies are you starting with?
  • What type of bee package are you going to get?
  • Where are you going to place your hives?
  • Do the hives need protection from animals?

Check out our calculator at the end of this article to estimate start-up costs based on some of the options described here.

The unit costs in the calculator reflect reasonably priced products from reputable suppliers. They are not always the cheapest or most expensive options, so your actual costs will vary. But you’ll have a good estimate to start shopping.

How Many Beekeepers?

The answer to this question mainly affects protective clothing.

We started as a couple which meant 2 jackets and 2 sets of gloves. Are you a couple? A family? I’d make sure that everyone who is going to participate actively in the beekeeping has their own gear.

At the outset, I’d assume that while several of you may be around the hives, only one of you will be working the bees at a time. In that case, one set of tools (smoker, hive tool, etc.) should be sufficient. These are relatively low cost items; adding a few extra won’t significantly impact your total cost.

If you’re thinking of giving a close up view of your bees to non-beekeepers, you should have some protective clothing for them as well. At a minimum, provide a veil.

Hive Configuration

We assume you’re going to get Langstroth hives since they are the most common (though others such as Top Bar hives are also popular).

See our article 3 Main Beehive Types (Which To Choose)

Costs will vary based on whether you opt for 10-frame or 8-frame boxes, two deep boxes with a medium honey super or all medium boxes, etc. As mentioned in a related post above, we’d recommend 8-frame all medium boxes as they are much lighter and easier to handle.

How Many Colonies And What Format?

Many newbies start with one colony. If you do everything right and nothing out of your control goes wrong, you may never need to buy another bee. Don’t bet on it.

Things happen and there is a chance you will lose a colony for some reason. Starting out with 2 colonies increases your odds of not having to start over completely in your second year.

You can get buy bees in one of 2 formats:

  • Package bees are a small box of bees weighing about 3 pounds including a caged queen. (She’s in the cage while the colony adapts to her.) Package bees are transferred en masse to your hive shortly after you receive them.
  • A bee nuc, or nucleus colony, is a small colony that’s already started. The nuc is a mini-hive often consisting of 5 frames with a queen, bees, nectar, comb, etc.  Nucs are a bit more expensive than a package as they includes the frames and require more time and effort to create. If you can, get a local nuc of bees that were overwintered. This might improve your gene pool and increase the odds of the colony surviving the next winter.

Our first colony was a nuc. It was easy to install in our hive and I recommend it for a true beginner. A package is fine once you are comfortable handling the bees and have equipment in place.

Hive Stand

You shouldn’t just place your hives on the ground. Use some type of stand. What works may vary depending on your location.

There seem to be plenty of bee yards with the hives sitting on nothing but a pallet (pallets can be gotten free). Here in the northeast however, hives on something as low as that would be buried in a heavy winter snow storm. We keep our hives at least 18 inches off the ground.

Get your beehives up off the ground at minimal cost with some lumber and cinder blocks which are more than adequate for the job.

There are low hive stands like this on Amazon that are really nothing more than a landing platform for the bees. I made my first couple myself but have started to do without. I don’t think it’s a cost you need to incur upfront. You can always add them later if you are so inclined. This is not the kind of stand we’re talking about.

You can get a fancier hive stand to elevate your hives but this gets pretty expensive as you grow your bee yard.

Whatever kind of stand you opt for, keep in mind that with a couple of brood boxes and some honey supers your total hive weight could exceed 200 pounds. Use a stand that can handle it!

Animal Protection

Another reason besides snow to get your hives a bit off the ground is intrusion by smaller animals like mice, skunks and raccoons. Those creatures can harass your bees making them more irritable or even knocking over your hives causing significant damage. Mice can climb into your hive, build a nest and grow a family (particular in winter). In addition to elevating the hives, some fencing might be helpful.

Ratchet straps can hold your hive together if it’s overturned; they also come in handy to tie down your covers if, like us, you live someplace with cold, blustery winters or strong windstorms.

Bears can wreak havoc with your bees. Bears not only like honey; they love the bee brood. The best way to protect your hives from bears is with an electric fence. A regular fence won’t do; bears can climb over it or burrow under it. They need to get a good zap and learn to stay away. If you need it, this is going to be an additional expense no one tells you about when you buy your beginner kit. The cost of an energizer and installation can add up.

See our article on Deter Bears From Beehives (How To Set Up An Electric Fence)

Varroa Mite Treatment

You’re going to have to deal with Varroa destructor mites, a major pest for honey bees that can destroy your colony. As you learn more, you’ll have to decide how to handle this.

There are a variety of treatments that you can use to lower your colony’s varroa population when the time comes. Items like Mite Away Quick Strips and Oxalic Acid are 2 such methods which, of course, you’ll have to buy. Some treatments also require additonal equipment. Expect to incur that cost in your first year and thereafter.

See our article on Varroa Mites: A Complete Treatment Guide

Winterization

When looking for your first beekeeping equipment, thoughts of spring and summer fill your head. In New York’s Hudson Valley, where we live, winter is a major consideration.

In areas like ours, it’s imperative to take steps to help your bees survive the winter. Some beekeepers simply wrap the hives in tar paper to cut down the wind penetrating the hive. We go further.

Just under the inner cover, we place a screened board with sugar bricks (as supplemental food supplies) and some burlap to absorb condensation. Above the inner cover we put some additional insulation. We also wrap our hives in a Bee Cozy. Of course, none of these costs are covered in many “start up” numbers you’ll see. But winter colony losses can be severe in a harsh climate, so plan on doing something to help the bees make it through.

Beehives in winter
Beehives in winter

Miscellaneous Costs

In addition to everything listed above, there will be other items that can add up over time. Want someplace to put your frames during inspection that’s easily within reach? Try a frame holder (available here on Amazon). Don’t laugh…I have one and use it for almost every hive inspection.

Need a place to keep your tools? We keep ours in an old nuc box . You can buy a toolbox specially designed to hold your smoker, etc. if you want to.

You can buy a clamp to grip and lift frames for about $10. We don’t have one, but some people apparently buy them and like them.

And let’s not forget feeding your bees, if you opt to (which you probably will). There’s the cost of sugar and/or pollen patties, entrance feeders or top feeders.

Hopefully, in your second year, you’ll be harvesting honey.There are different methods of extraction. The one you chose will determine what equipment you’ll need so the cost will vary.

Conclusion

The cost to start beekeeping depends on many factors. Saying that $600 or so will get you started is based on a very narrow definition of what “started” means.

This is not meant to discourage you. When we started we knew there would be additional costs but I don’t think we had the full picture.

Knowing what to expect, you can better budget for costs and make informed choices about where your dollars are best spent.

Use the following cost estimator to get an idea of what your first year will run.

Cost Estimator

Related Questions

How can I save money on beekeeping equipment?

Starter kits often include many of the items you need to begin beekeeping at a lower cost than buying everything ala carte. Some of the items in the kit may be on the lower end of the quality spectrum but should be fine for a beginner.

However, some kits are misleading. A starter kit that includes only one deep hive box will get you going, but you’ll be buying more boxes in short order as your colony grows. Don’t be fooled into thinking that one box is enough.

Check suppliers periodically for specials if you’re in the market for new equipment

If you have some basic tools and woodworking skills, you may enjoy some DIY projects such as:

  • Buying parts and assembling boxes and frames yourself. Just make sure you account for the extra time you’ll need so you’re ready when the bees arrive.
  • Making top feeders out of scrap wood and old mason jars.
  • Building bottom boards from scrap wood. Just make sure to measure properly for bee space.
  • Constructing homemade candy boards for winter feeding.

Buying bees from local beekeepers will save on shipping costs.

We do not recommend that new beekeepers buy used hives unless they come from a reputable beekeeper. Even then, they should be cleaned thoroughly to avoid any possible contamination to your colony.

How much time will I spend to start beekeeping?

When someone asks me about the cost of beekeeping they mean dollars and cents. There is another cost…time.

Time spent is a function of many things: how dedicated you are to learning; how much assembly work you take on; how long it takes you to do a hive inspection; what challenges come up; and so on.

It’s a hobby. If you’ve come this far, relax and enjoy it. Allot enough time to feel you’re making progress.

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