Beekeeping is a fantastic hobby that can get expensive real quick if you don’t have any idea what you’re getting into. That’s why it’s important to set a proper expectation with a budget so you’re ready for anything. Compared to other agricultural practices, beekeeping is actually quite cheap! And after a time, you will be able to make a profit by selling honey and other bee products and services. Your projected expenses and future profit making will all be discussed in detail in this article.
General cost of beekeeping? A beehive with proper housing, starter bees, and basic equipment can cost around $400. It is advisable for beginners to get at least two hives, so beekeeping is essentially an $800 initial investment. Other expenses include additional tools and accessories, maintenance costs, and production devices but this is highly variable depending on the sophistication you’re after.
Buying Basic Equipment
The very first expense out of your budget would go towards buying equipment and bees. As in some hobbies like fishing or mountaineering, beekeeping is hardest on the pocket when starting out because you’ll have to purchase the bulk of your material at the very beginning. However, like these hobbies too, your initial investment will last for years, and you probably won’t need to invest as big an amount at any time in the future unless you decide to buy more bee colonies.
In this section, we will discuss the very basic equipment needed for a starter hive, how to lessen that expense even further, your hive type options, additional useful equipment, and other things that you may have to purchase for your bees’ health and profit production in the future.
Bee colonies will need a man-made, structured hive to live in. For the most basic and likely the cheapest, the Langstroth hive is your number one best bet. It’s the most popular and the most commonly used hive that is highly suggested for beginners. We will be discussing your housing choices further down, but for the rest of this article, we will assume that you are using a Langstroth hive.
A Langstroth hive can be purchased as a kit or as individual parts to be assembled. The cheapest and simplest kit can go as low as $150, and the more costly version can go up to $400 and usually already has two or three honey supers. Here are the different parts of a Langstroth hive and their approximate individual price range. Although, keep in mind that price can vary depending on the wood material used, your location, beekeeping store, brand, etc.
- Hive Stand at $100–$140 each
- Bottom board at $50–$60 each
- Entrance Reducer at $4–$6 each
- Deep hive body at $10–$15 each
- Queen excluder at $10–$15 each
- Shallow or medium honey supers at $15–$50 each
- Frames at $15–$50 each
- Foundation for up to $2 per piece
- Inner cover at $15–$20 each
- Outer cover at $30–$50 each
- Feeder at $10–$15 each
Ways to Save on Housing
Building Your Own Hive ($100)
If you have basic carpentry skills, you can already build your own hive as they really are quite simple to make. All you would need are general carpentry tools and some scrap wood. Even if you have to buy the wood, your expense will still be really low at around $100.
Buying a Used Hive
This is another option that would save you a few dollars. However, be very careful if you opt to buy a used hive. Unless you completely trust the person you are buying the hive from, and you know for a fact that the equipment is safe, then give this one a skip. The previous colony might have died from a disease that has left remnants in the hive and could later be passed on to your bees. The hive can also contain a build-up of chemicals that may not be good for your bees’ health. The advice here really is don’t do it. If you have a problem later on you’ll always be wondering if the hive history has caused the problem and will hinder your efforts to identify and correct problems quickly.
Hive Choices: All About the Hive
The Langstroth Hive ($150–$300)
The best thing about the Langstroth hive is that bees build the honeycombs in the hive’s built in frames. This will make it rather easy for you to lift the frames, do an inspection, then replace, remove or transfer them. The frames and the sides are also equally and uniformly spaced apart. This way, bees would not accidentally build between the comb frames and accidentally stick them together.
Another upside to choosing a Langstroth comb is that it’s so popular that its dimensions have been standardized. This means you can just walk into a beekeeping supply shop and choose the right replacement part, gadget or accessory without worrying about the fit.
You then have to give careful consideration to how many frames should be in your hive and to its hive body size. An 8 and 10 frame hive are both readily available. There are shallow, medium and deep hive bodies. Choosing among these options can vary due to preference and experience. As a newbie, an 8 frame, medium hive body is ideal. This way, the hive would hold more honey than a shallow one with lesser frames, but would still be significantly lighter than a deep hive body with 10 frames. Your back will thank you for it.
The Flow Hive ($700–$800)
This is a fairly new invention that will simplify the honey harvesting process and save you a considerable amount of labor. If you want to save time but have no need to save the money, the Flow hive is for you. The hive’s secret is in its specialized frames that will allow you to collect honey without needing to smoke the bees, remove supers, slice caps off of the combs, or use a honey extractor.
Here’s how it works: a tool, the Flow Key is inserted into a slot on top of the frame. When the key is turned, channels open in the comb to allow the honey to drain into the floor of the super, straight into a pipe that flows directly to your waiting container outside of the hive. It’s very simple, and what’s more, the bees will remain undisturbed throughout the whole process.
The downside, however, is that the cost of one flow hive is almost equal to the cost of 4 Langstroth hives. However, you can also consider the amount you’ll be saving from not needing to buy expensive honey harvesting equipment as well as the saved time and labor. It’s really down to preference and how involved you want to be.
The Kenyan Top Bar Hive ($120–$300)
The Kenyan top bar hive is a great choice if you want to give your bees the most natural environment possible, and plan to keep beekeeping as a hobby, with no intention of creating a huge scale honey production business in the near future. For this, the Langstroth hive is still the best option.
Top bar hives are long horizontal boxes with sloped sides, so the top is wider than the bottom. Instead of frames, there are only bars on top where the bees build the comb naturally downward. They can cost up to $300.
The top bar hive is the most convenient hive for people with weak backs, in wheelchairs or the elderly. This is because there would be no need to bend and lift heavy bee boxes, like what we do with the Langstroth hive.
If you decide to build a top bar hive on your own, it can cost about $120. Knotty pine is best to use for a top bar hive and their fairly inexpensive to boot. If you can find some scrap wood to use, then the cost would even be much lower.
Other Hive Types
Aside from these beginner-friendly hives, you can also experiment with other hive types in the future. There’s the Warren hive, the Five Frame Nuc hive, the Observation hive and even hives made solely of plastic. The plastic is designed to aid cleaning as pests cannot nest in the cracks of the wood.
Smoke can calm bees down, so a smoker is usually needed during honey extraction. A manual smoker costs about $15–$30. For convenience, a battery-powered version can be purchased at around $130–$150. Tinder for the smoker is at $10 per pack and is usually made from pine needles, etc.
Hive tool ($5–$10)
The beehive tool is indispensable when unsticking and lifting frames up, and scraping off wax. You can pick one up for just $5–$10.
Bee suit ($60–$80)
Beginners are better off with a high-quality beekeeper suit for good protection when interacting with their bees. Some may say that a bee suit is not necessary if you make sure to have thick clothes on and your bees are not aggressive. However, they will still be irritated especially when you’re taking their honey.
It’s best to prioritize safety especially if you’re a novice.
It’s just as important to protect your hands when handling bees. Sometimes, you can even skip the suit because you have thick clothes on but don’t leave your hands unprotected.
If you don’t have a full bee suit, then you may be able to get away with just gloves, thick clothes and a veil to protect your face and neck.
Useful Beekeeping Tools
You don’t have to buy them on the get go but having these items will make your beekeeping life easier. Just pick them up when you can.
Frame lifter ($5–$10)
This tool is used in gripping and transferring frames. It can be purchased for $5 or so. You can get the hive tool and frame lifter online as a set for about $12.
Bee brush ($3–$10)
A brush is helpful when you need to gently get bees off of the comb or frame. It isn’t used for brushing their hair!
Honey Extractor ($100–$400)
You won’t need to purchase a honey extractor immediately but you may need it eventually. This is a mid-range cost so plan for it early on.
Start-Up Hive Kits ($200–$400)
Some sellers offer a startup kits that you can assemble. They have the bare minimum you need in order to start beekeeping. If you opt for one of these, they should include the wooden components, honey supers, frames with foundation, nails and other hardware for assembly, protection gear, smoker, a hive tool, and feeder.
Pests and diseases are not completely avoidable, so it’s good to be prepared for this eventuality. I personally would not advocate the use of strong commercially industrialised chemicals so do check by brand if you need any special protective equipment. Basic low-strength options are available online or in your local farm store.
Beetle Traps ($2–$5)
The traps are filled with food grade oil like vegetable oil and placed between frames. The beetle then falls inside the trap, unable to crawl back out. Disposable beetle traps are around $2 dollars apiece while reusable ones are at $3–$5 each. Again, this is about how hands-on you want to be.
This miticide is usually placed in the brood chamber to kill varroa mites that are fatal to broods.
Winter Supplies ($15-$30)
You will need to get the bees ready for winter. This is a very important step because you won’t want to open your hive in the spring only to find out that your bees did not survive the winter cold. So you’ll want them to be as ready as they will ever ‘bee’. This really is dependant on your local weather conditions and seasonality.
You can wrap the hive in insulator blankets to reduce the loss of heat. These are relatively inexpensive.
Sugar Feed, 10lbs ($5)
Extra food can help the bee colony get through winter.
Beehive insulation pads ($150–$300)
Having an insulation pad or sheet will provide an extra layer of protection by helping in retaining heat in the hive.
Moisture Board ($150–$300)
These boards will absorb moisture in the hive and take it outside to keep the bees dry and warm.
Buying Honey Bees
Where to Get Bees
You will need to pick a reputable bee seller who will provide you with healthy, productive honey bees. Do some research on the internet and in your community. Ask around and interview some beekeepers who have this experience locally to you.
When purchasing bees, ask the breeder to show you a copy of their certificate of health issued by the apiary inspector in their state.
In the US, most bee breeders are located in the southern states but take heart because they usually ship to almost anywhere in the United States.
Not All Bees are Created Equal
There are a number of bee breeds that may be available to choose from. As a beginner, it’s advisable that you start with Italian, Carniolan, or Russian bees. They are gentle, productive bees that are known to adapt well to varied climates.
How to Get Bees
A Package is a screened box full of bees, with the queen in her own tiny screened box. The bees must be transferred to your prepared hive. Packages are usually sold at 2lbs, 3lbs or 4lbs. A 3-lb bee package is the most common and will have 3 lbs of bees and one mated queen in it. A package of bees can cost between $80 to $150 depending on factors like size, genetics, etc.
Nucs are an easy option as long as you have a Langstroth hive. The nuc or nucleus has bees just like a package except that they come in a small box already arranged like a small hive, with combs that are already drawn, honey stored and a brood of young bees in all stages being taken care of.
The queen is roaming freely in this mini colony and is essentially established and going about its business.
You may prefer purchasing a nuc over a package because an established colony can give you a massive jumpstart. All you need to do is grow the small nucleus family into a thriving hive.
Just like packages, costs can vary widely. Nucs can start from $150 to $230. Once purchased, the nuc can be left in its small box for a time, then transferred to your prepared hive.
Purchasing an established colony from another beekeeper may sound easier because you already got yourself a ready-made colony, however, it’s actually the opposite. It comes down to a novice beekeeper having none of the experience to handle a bee colony of this volume. Beginners are advised to start with a package or nuc, then work their way to a sizeable colony.
Capturing a wild swarm (free)
Capturing a wild swarm is practically free. However, this is very tricky and so, inadvisable for beginners. Aside from understandable inexperience with bees, you can’t be sure of the genetics, temperament, and health of a wild swarm too. Basically, DON’T DO IT!
Getting Two or More Hives
Two hives are better than one. It is advised that beginners start with at least two hives to compare and contrast as time goes by. If you go the middle route with your equipment and bees — not too cheap, not too expensive — then a hive will probably end up costing you around $400 at the beginning. That’s an $800 investment for two hives.
Honey: The 3-Year Plan
The First Year
The first few months of beekeeping is when you focus on helping your hive thrive. You do regular inspections, monitor your queen, check on your brood and on the second month, you’ve added room for honey. After a few months, your bees have grown, you may even have built them a garden of flowering plants and it’s nearly time to harvest your first honey.
On the first year of beekeeping, a fledgling Langstroth hive will not yet produce much honey as it has not yet reached its maximum population and has not had a full season of foraging yet. But there will probably be enough for your family to eat but too few to give out to the neighbors.
The Second Year
The second year is when you break even. You will most likely produce more honey, enough to give to the neighbors and to sell. If both colonies are strong and healthy, you’ll be able to harvest up to 10 gallons each, giving you 20 gallons of honey on your second year. You may want to keep 5 gallons for yourself, your family and your neighbors but that still leaves 15 gallons you can sell. A quarter of organic, natural and unprocessed honey costs around $20 so you’ll get around $80 per gallon, less if you go wholesale. This means that 15 gallons of honey can go from $1,000– $1,200! Just enough to cover your initial investment and other expenses.
The Third Year
The third year is where the gold mine is. By this time, you would have hit your stride and already know a lot about beekeeping from experience alone. If all your bees have survived the winter and successfully split, you may have doubled (or even tripled) the number of your hives by splitting good, strong colonies. If you started with two hives, by this time, you may have 4 (or even 8!) hives with each one now producing 10–20 gallons of honey. If you sell each quarter of honey for the same price, $20, you again get $80 per gallon.
An enthusiastic estimate will have you earning $1,600 for each very healthy and strong colony. With 8 hives, producing 20 gallons of honey each, at $80 per gallon, that’s around $12,800 for the whole harvest. Minus $300 for the new frames and boxes of your new hives, you’d have earned $12,500, provided that you’re able to sell them all.
You’ll probably want some of that honey for your family and you may not have split some of your hives, so we’re looking at around $3,000–$5,000. That’s not bad at all.
Realistic Honey Harvest
Things won’t always work to your favor and actual yield can depend on the weather. Very experienced beekeepers can have better results while novice keepers may struggle a bit. Bees may not survive the winter or they can swarm and abandon your hive. There’s the possibility of losing bees because of inexperience, an unbelievably bad winter or just unfortunate luck.
To truly get a big profit, estimates say that you’ll need upwards of 100 hives. But 100 hives means a large scale operation that brings the pitfalls of a bigger business along with it too.
What you should look forward to, instead, is that with proper care, agreeable weather and extraordinary luck, you can earn up to $10,000! Not to mention the fun you will have with caring for your bees, then finally extracting honey and making a profit.
Other Ways to Earn Money With Beekeeping
Even if you don’t get as much yield with honey as expected, there are still other various ways to earn money from bees. This section lists most of these ways, with each one becoming more profitable than the last, but also more challenging.
When extracting honey from Langstroth hives, you’ll be slicing off the capping on each frame and this will represent most of your wax harvest. For every 100 lbs of honey extracted, you’ll be able to harvest a pound or two of wax.
Chemical-free beeswax is sometimes used in cosmetic and personal care products like soaps and lotions. So if you don’t use any harsh chemicals with your bees and their apiary or foraging field is also mostly chemical free, then this can be an option for you.
The more common use for beeswax, though, is making candles. You can get different molds of various styles and sizes to create an assortment of candles. Since this candlemaking is time-consuming and laborious, you can also just sell the wax itself.
The price of wax can depend on your location. A good ballpark price is more or less $8 for an ounce of beeswax block. A 5 lb block would get you about $35, give or take. In the country where you may not be able to sell a lot, the price would probably be lower too. In the city, if you join a farmer’s market or just make a deal with a health food store, you can most likely make more sales for better prices.
You can collect bee pollen from the hive with what’s called a ‘bee pollen trap’. You set the trap at the entrance of the hive and as passing bees go through the trap, the pollen is torn from their legs to fall into a container below, where you can then collect the pollen.
Bee pollen is crucial to bees as the colony will not grow without their nutrition source. So if you do decide to go this route, go easy on them. Don’t leave the trap indefinitely. Try leaving it on the hive for a few days, then remove it for a few days, in an on and off cycle.
Bee pollen is known to offer various health benefits. They vary in prices but a pound of pure bee pollen granules will most likely earn you $10–$20.
Places that require pollination services are usually fruit orchards, farms, and even garden centers. The hives are relocated to do the pollinating and this usually lasts for a week or two. To give you a rough idea, the price of this service is paid by the hive and depends on the location and the kind of crop to be pollinated. It can go as high as $100 per hive. Almond farms in California even pay significantly more than that.
However, for this service, you’ll need a pretty large operation. You probably won’t reach this volume for years yet, unless you decide to invest thousands into a bigger beekeeping business.
Raising queens is labor-intensive but you can raise hundreds of queen bees at a time. Yet, that’s actually the easier part. The real challenge is in getting them mated. Say, you set up a number queens for mating, only about 50%–80% would be mated. But then again, queens sell for about $30–$50 each. So if you raise a hundred queens, 70% of them get mated and you were able to sell them at the highest price, you’ll potentially be earning $3,500.
You may remember that one option of acquiring bees is to buy nucs. Over time and with more experience, you can be the one to sell nucs yourself. They sell for as low as $150 or up to more than $200.
There you have it, now that you have an idea of the costs of beekeeping, you’ll be able to continue with this project with eyes wide open.
If you are interested in an Urban environment for beekeeping, see our other article for an introduction: https://schoolofbees.com/urban-beekeeping-for-beginners-an-essential-introduction/