What are the real costs involved in becoming a beekeeper? Up until recently, I didn’t know the answer to this, but I’m beginning to find out… the hard way.

Fist holding a money bag

Image provided by r8r and licensed under Creative Commons.

Real costs of keeping bees

On the surface, the concept of keeping bees seems like it should be fairly straight forward with few major costs involved. I’m here to tell you that is not the case. Beekeeping can be quite expensive, especially for a beginner. Before you run away and find a cheaper hobby though, let me explain (and offer suggestions).

As with most things in life, beekeeping is not free. You cannot start beekeeping without a few basic tools, beehive components and of course the bees themselves, all of which likely cost money.

Here are some real numbers from my own experience to give you insight into the costs of beekeeping in 2012.

  • Woodenware for a single (large) hive: $360 CAD
    This includes 6 deep supers/boxes, 60 frames, bottom board, inner cover, telescoping cover, entrance reducer, as well as nails and metal frame rests.
  • Smoker, bee shirts with veils and hive tool: $135 CAD
    I think that I actually got a good deal on this stuff, because you could easily spend this amount on a single bee suit.
  • Single nuc of bees: $175 CAD
    This seems to be the going rate for a nuc of bees in Ontario right now. There are cheaper ways of obtaining your bees, but spending money on a nuc for my first year as a beekeeper seemed like the way to go.

I’ve already spent almost $700 to get a single hive up and running. Many people will recommend starting out with 2 hives in your first year too, but I simply cannot afford that right now.

So how can you possibly afford to take up beekeeping? Here are some tips and ideas:

Lessen the blow

Plan ahead and spread out costs. Your first year as a beekeeper will start sometime in the spring, so use this information to your advantage to plan ahead and gather your supplies well in advance. If you buy everything all at once, you’re left with a single, hefty bill to pay. On the other hand, if you start today and budget about $60/month for your beekeeping, then in a year, you should have more than enough money to get up and running.

Shop around. There aren’t too many beekeeping stores around and if you’re lucky enough to have one in your hometown, how can you be sure that you’re getting a good deal? What are some other options? There are a few places to buy equipment online, and depending on what you’re ordering, the prices may be better than local shops, even after shipping. I’ve ordered from BeeMaid before and their prices are reasonable unless you have a very heavy shipment, in which case they become prohibitively expensive. Also keep your eyes open for equipment on sites like eBay and Kijiji. Buying second-hand veils, clothing and tools like smokers is fine but avoid buying any used hive bodies and woodenware because they may harbour disease that will kill your colony. It’s not worth the risk buying used hive components.

Do it yourself. There are ways that you can reduce some of the costs involved by doing things yourself. It’s possible to set up a swarm lure to capture a swarm of honeybees that have split from their hive. This method of obtaining your bees is obviously quite cheap, but it’s also not guaranteed and may be more trouble than it’s worth, especially if you’re just starting out as a beekeeper. The other DIY approach that some people take is to make your own hive bodies and supers. There are lots of plans on the internet for creating your own hives and if you’re any good working with wood and have time on your hands, this might be a great way to say some money.

Register a business. If you are thinking about getting into the business of selling honey, then you should be registering a business for yourself. But don’t wait until you’re setting up your booth at the market before registering your business. If you set up your business before buying all your equipment, then these are valid business expenses which are deducted from any profits you make on your honey later in the year. This way, at least you’re not taxed on that income and a bit of money ends up back in your pocket.

Participate in other ways. If you have considered all the above tips and you still think beekeeping is too expensive for you, then participate in other ways. Plant a big garden with lots of flowering plants that bloom throughout the season, visit or help at an existing apiary and spread the word about the awesomeness about bees to others around you.

The diamond in the rough of all these expenses is that for the most part, you only have to pay them during your first year as a beekeeper. Of course there will be a few smaller costs along the way, but your first year is likely going to be the most expensive. If you have any other money-saving tips, please leave a comment below.