How Much Does It Cost To Start Beekeeping?
(2021)

Money and the cost to start beekeeping

Updated on July 9th, 2021

Lumber prices have risen over 230% since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an article in Fortune, and may go higher yet. What does that have to with the cost of beekeeping? Buying hive components, often called woodenware, is a significant component of beginning beekeeping costs.

In our article on how to start beekeeping, determining a budget is a primary action step.

The minimum cost to start beekeeping with one beehive is about $725 for the first year. One set of hive components costs around $275. A bee package is approximately $150. Protective gear and basic tools cost $165 while miscellaneous costs for supplies and sales taxes are about $150.

These estimates are based on our survey of several major online beekeeping sites and do not include shipping costs or other expenses that may be unique to your situation and environment. You may be able to lower this cost by shopping around. However, your costs could also be higher depending on some choices you make.

On the plus side, many of your initial outlays are for items that will last for years.

In this article, we detail the cost components of beginning beekeeping and various choices you need to make that can impact your first year expenses.

Check out our calculator at the end of this article to estimate your starting costs based on various options you select.

Your cost to start beekeeping includes the purchase of hive components.
Screened bottom bottom board, two 10-frame deep hive boxes, one 10-frame medium box and covers.

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Variables Affect The Cost To Start Beekeeping

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?

Our calculator at the end of this article helps estimate your cost to start beekeeping depending on some choices you make.

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?

Protective Clothing

The number of beekeepers mainly affects your cost of 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.

You may see a lot of experienced beekeepers on YouTube with no protective gear. I recommend that, as a beginner, you err on the side of caution until you become more comfortable around the bees.

Protective gear consists of:

  • A full bee suit or, alternatively, a bee jacket
  • A veil to protect your face and eyes (if not incorporated into your suit)
  • Gloves

See our article Do Honey Bees Sting? Yes, They Do (What You Should Know) for more information on how to avoid bee stings.

The level of protection you choose and product design affect your costs. Our costs assumptions are based on primarily on “economy” products but you can select more expensive items such as vented suits and jackets.

Costs vary widely but we assume a minimum outlay for protective gear in the range of $90 – $120 per person included in your cost to start beekeeping.

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.

Beekeeping Tools

Basic “must-have” tools for beginning beekeepers consist of:

  • A bee smoker (about $30)
  • A hive tool ($8)
  • Bee brush ($5)

One set of tools is probably sufficient to start, even for multiple beekeepers. However, extra hive tools are a good idea as they are easy to misplace and extras will have minimal impact on your cost to start beekeeping.

Check our our recommended “must-have” and “nice-to-have” tools here.

Beehive Configuration

We recommend the Langstroth hive for beginners. Langstroth hives are the most commonly used hives in North America.

See our article Best Type Of Beehive For Beginners (And Why) for more information on Langstroth hives and some alternatives to consider.

Langstroth hives consist of vertically stacked boxes of identical length and width. Each box contains frames and foundation where honey bees build wax comb.

Langstroth boxes are categorized by width in terms of the number of frames they hold (5, 8 or 10-frame) and depth (deep, medium, or shallow). Deep boxes are often called brood boxes and mediums are called honey supers.

Our cost estimate is based on a relatively common hive arrangement for 10-frame boxes:

  • Bottom board as the base (with an entrance reducer)
  • Two deep brood boxes
  • Two honey supers
  • Inner and outer covers
  • 10 frames per box with foundation

Hive components are sold using various quality categories such as commercial, select, economy and budget. We’ve found that the lower cost, budget boxes from reputable suppliers are more than adequate.

Boxes and frames are also sold as assembled or unassembled. Assembled boxes may also be painted or unpainted.

Unassembled components are less expensive. However, as a new beekeeper looking for a complete hive, fully assembled and painted kits may be cost effective for you.

The following table is based on unassembled, budget components:

Langstroth 10-Frame Component Cost/Unit

 Component High Low Average
Bottom board $21.50 $15.75 $19.24
Deep (brood box) $19.95 $17.25 $18.64
Medium (honey super) $19.00 $12.69 $15.25
Inner cover $18.50 $11.50 $14.33
Telescope outer $36.10 $21.00 $28.99
Migratory outer $18.95 $13.00 $15.33
Frame $1.90 $1.40 $1.71
Foundation $1.95 $1.16 $1.61

Unfortunately, the lowest cost items in the table above are not all from the same supplier. Mixing and matching based on costs may not be cost effective due to shipping costs.

Based on average costs, one complete hive would cost in the range of $260 -$275.

There may be a slight difference between the cost of 8-frame and 10-frame components but the overall impact is not significant to total costs.

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. We highly recommend starting out with 2 colonies to increase your odds of not having to start over completely in your second year if it’s within your budget. However, we realize this significantly impact your cost to start beekeeping so make sure you can afford it.

You can get buy bees in two main 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 more expensive than packages as they includes the frames and require more time and effort to create. If available and affordable, 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.
Installing A New Bee Package
Bee packages
Installing Our First Nuc
Installing our first nuc

Bee packages are the least expensive option and overwintered nucs are most expensive. Here’s our survey of recent prices from online sellers. Costs and availability vary widely depending on the supplier and time of year.

Here’s our survey of how much honey bees cost from online sellers:

Cost of Bees

FormatHighLowAverage
Bee package $200.00 $125.00 $150.00
Spring nuc $220.00 $180.00 $194.00
Overwintered nuc $250.00 $210.00 $228.00

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

Varroa Mite Treatments

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.

We’ve estimated the annual cost of treating for varroa (and potentially other pests such as small hive beetles) at $25 per hive. This is an annual expense and should be compared against the cost of replacing a lost colony.

This cost could be quite a bit higher in your first year if you opt to treat with vaporized oxalic acid. A good vaporizer can run from around $150 up to nearly $500. In addition, vaporizer safety requires that you wear a face mask designed to avoid vapor inhalation.

See our articles Varroa Mites: A Complete Treatment Guide and also What Is Treatment-Free Beekeeping? (A Controversial Topic) for additional information about dealing with varroa mites.

Miscellaneous Costs

Our startup cost estimate includes $75 for miscellaneous expenses. This is a rough estimate for various, somewhat universal items such as:

  • Paint for beehives
  • Sugar and pollen patties for feeding
  • Books for your beekeeping education

There are other miscellaneous costs that can vary widely depending on your region and circumstances.

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. Getting your bees through winter is an important part of beekeeping.

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 as shown here at Nod Apiary Products. 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

If you live in a relatively warm climate, the cost of winterization may be relatively minimal. In colder climates, the cost to winterize may add about $50 – $75 to your costs depending on what you do. Talk to beekeepers in your area for advice.

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, like the ones below, to elevate your hives but this gets pretty expensive as you grow your bee yard. Stands like this are really a matter of personal choice.

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 and lashing straps are relatively inexpensive and 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. Free stones on top of the hives may do the trick.

Bears

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.

Electric fences provide strong psychological barriers to bears. Bears 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. A small electric fence will cost in the range of $200 – $300. Balance that against the cost of losing your bees and damage to your equipment.

See our article on How To Protect Beehives From Bears (Set Up An Electric Fence) for complete information on how electric fences work, how to set one up and cost estimates.

Other Items

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.

Honey Extracting Equipment

We do not recommend harvesting honey in your first year. Your primary goal is to grow your colonies and get them through their first winter. Leave the honey for the bees.

For that reason, we did not include the cost of honey harvesting equipment in our first year cost estimates. 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.

If you do find that your first year bees are exceptionally productive, you can extract a few frames of honey without expensive equipment. Just scrape the into a container (like a large pot), crush the wax and honey, then strain off the liquid honey for jars.

Time Costs

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 keep your apiary healthy and growing. Once you put your bees to bed for winter, you will have months to relax.

How To Save Money On Beekeeping

So-called “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. For example, as of the time of this update, Mann Lake is knocking 12% off the cost of a 10-frame kit in our basic configuration. The components are assembled and painted.

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

  • 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.
  • Make your own robbing screens to protect your colonies during nectar dearth.

See our article What Is Summer Nectar Dearth? (What To Do For Your Bees) for more information about robbing issues.

Buying locally can save on shipping costs.

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

See our article Beekeeping On A Budget (Money Saving Tips) for a complete discussion on saving money.

Conclusion

The cost to start beekeeping depends on many factors. Saying that $725 is an estimate of what it will cost one beekeeper to get one new hive through the first year.

In addition to ongoing costs, there will be unexpected costs. It is not unusual to lose colonies over winter. Replacing bees is expensive.

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. Also, as you gain experience and knowledge, you will find ways to lower expenses without hurting your apiary.

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

This article is part of a series on How To Start Beekeeping, a step-by-step guide through your first year of beekeeping.

Check out the next articles in the series about what type of honey bees to buy and where to get honey bees.

Cost Estimator

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