When we took our class from the local bee club and decided to become beekeepers, we had no idea what it would cost to start beekeeping. It was a big surprise.
How much does it cost to begin hobby beekeeping? The minimum equipment to start from scratch with one hive is: a complete hive with two deeps and a honey super or two, bees, protective clothing, a few beekeeper tools, sugar for feeding and medication for varroa mites for a cost of about $600. Experienced beekeepers will recommend starting with two hives, so the cost goes to $1000.
To find out the price breakdown, equipment explanations, and some suggestions based on experience, read on.
Before You Buy
All our prices and suggestions are based on using the Langstroth bee hive. It is the one most commonly used in the United States, and it is the one we use. You’ll also find variation on the prices of items, so the prices below are approximate.
Before you start buying equipment, here are a few suggestions.
First off and the most important tip is: get some education in beekeeping first, before you start. Join a bee club, take a class, make friends with beekeepers, and read books about beekeeping. The cost of starting your own apiary will seem even steeper if you lose your bees because you didn’t know what you were doing.
Shop around for equipment. There are many suppliers (Mann Lake, Dadant, Kelley Bees are three of the well-known names). Often, they will have a sale or offer free shipping on orders over $100. Go with big names because they will have uniformly good equipment.
But, despite possible cost savings, our first year we bought locally. Frank is a member of the local bee club. He explained every item he sold to us, how it worked and what to do with it. He also gives a discount to club members. Even more important, his wife has become our mentor. We can call her with any problems and she is happy to help. That was worth more than any few dollars we could have saved by ordering online.
Now, even though we continue to buy items from Frank, we also order from other suppliers and occasionally pick up something from the local hardware store.
What Can I Get For Free?
Do not get used hives to save money. You don’t want to get hive equipment that is infested or infected and then lose all your bees to disease or pests because of your used equipment. If you know the beekeeper and his bees are healthy, you may be okay. Best to start fresh and clean.
You might be able to start with a swarm of bees, but this isn’t something you can count on.
What Is A Complete Bee Hive?
Cost for one complete hive with two 10 frame deeps: $330
For purposes of starting out, a complete beehive will have:
- a screened bottom board
- a slatted rack/board
- two brood boxes with frames and foundation
- queen excluder
- one or two honey supers with frames and foundation
- an inner cover
- an outer cover
- an entrance reducer and mouse guard
- a hive stand
The bottom board serves as the base of the hive. It has a landing space for the bees and is built so there is an entrance when the next hive piece is put on. We recommend a screened bottom board for ventilation. It also allows varroa mites to fall through, out of the hive.
The slatted rack goes directly above the bottom board. It helps with ventilation, which is very important to a hive. In the winter it is a buffer between the entrance and the cluster of bees in the brood chambers. It provides an air space that helps cool the hive in summer. In a hive with a lot of bees, the slatted board gives extra space for foragers, especially when they are back in the hive at night.
A brood box is just what it says. This is where the queen will be laying eggs and the bee brood is raised.
Langstroth brood boxes come in two sizes, the deep and the western. The deep is taller and the western is shorter. This size difference makes a big difference in weight when the box is full of bees, brood, and honey. If someone had talked to us about it before we bought our first hives, we probably would have gone with the smaller boxes – the westerns.
Inside the boxes are wooden frames that the bees build their wax comb in.
With Langstroth hives you have a choice of getting boxes that hold 8 frames or that hold 10 frames. Once again it will make a difference in how much your boxes weigh. You cannot mix and match.
For starting out, it is easier to have what is known as foundation in the frames. This is either a wax sheet or a plastic sheet covered with wax that is held in place by the frame. This provides a framework for the bees to build on. The bees probably don’t care. What foundation does is make the inside of the hive uniform for us beekeepers and urges the bees to build in rows that make it easy for us to check on and to move around.
This piece of equipment goes between the brood boxes and the honey supers. It is either a plastic or metal grid that is usually too narrow for the queen but it’s wide enough for the workers to pass through. It is to prevent the queen from laying eggs in the frames that are designated as honey for human consumption.
Honey supers are generally the same size box as the western. This is where the bees will put honey that they don’t store in the brood boxes. Sometimes they contain nine frames so the comb is fatter and contains more honey.
You’ll find lots of reasons to use and not to use an inner cover. The best one we have seen for using an inner cover is this: the bees will use propolis to stick hive pieces together. With an inner cover, they generally don’t glue the outer cover to the top box, so it is easier for the beekeeper to get into the hive.
This is the top of the hive. It keeps out the weather. We use a telescoping top, but there are several types and designs.
Entrance Reducer / Mouse Guard
These are necessary during times where there is likely to be honey robbing and, in the winter, to keep mice out of the hive.
Because you can buy or make this piece of equipment, we didn’t include it in the price estimates. It keeps your hive off of the ground. We made ours out of old patio blocks and a section of an old picket fence.
Why Start With Two Hives?
Cost for two complete hives with two 10 frame deeps: $660
If you are serious about beginning beekeeping, start with two hives. Being able to compare and contrast the two colonies will increase your beekeeping experience quicker and you will be able to tell whether one hive is failing or not.
How Much Beekeeper Clothing Do I Need?
Cost for jacket with veil and gloves: $75
The basic pieces a beginner will want are a hat, a veil, a jacket or full beekeeper suit, gloves, and adequate shoes or boots. For a complete description check our article “What Do You Need To Know When Choosing A Beekeeping Suit?”
What Are Beekeeper Tools?
Cost of hive tool and smoker: $50
The necessary beekeeping tools are one or more hive tools, a smoker, and perhaps a bee brush.
The hive tool is what you will use to lift frames so you can pick them up, scrape propolis, and loosen hive boxes that have been propolized together.
A smoker is an essential tool. A cool smoke is used to calm the bees.
The bee brush can be used to move bees off a frame, out of a box, or off of your clothing.
Cost of a 3 pound package of bees and queen: $110-135
Cost of a nuc: $180
Bees are bought by the package or as nucs.
A package of bees is several thousand bees plus a queen. It is sold in pounds of bees. The standard packages are 2 and 3 pounds of bees.
A nuc (nucleus) is a small hive, containing frames with comb, some brood, worker and nurse bees, and a queen.
The Cost of Feeding and Treating for Mites
Cost of 10 treatments each of Apivar and Mite-Away: $88
Cost of 100 pounds of cane sugar for two hives: $55
When bees begin a hive, they will be building comb. You will need to feed them – a lot. Expect to be buying several 25-pound bags of cane sugar from Costco or Sam’s Club to be made into sugar syrup.
To keep your bees healthy, you will want to keep varroa mite populations down. This requires treating the hive with one or more medications one or more times during the year. This is less difficult than it sounds.
Is it legal to keep bees in a residential area?
Unless you live out in the country, you need to check local regulations. Most towns allow beehives. However, they may limit the number of hives you can have, and there may be rules on fencing and on how close to the property edge the apiary can be.
How much work is involved in beekeeping?
The answer to this depends on how attentive a beekeeper you intend to be. From spring through summer, you may check on your hives once a week. You may spend up to an hour per hive, depending on the size of the hive and what you are checking on. In winter, you need to make sure the colonies have enough food to make it through till spring.