For many, beekeeping starts out of interest, rather than a forced acquisition. This is a good thing! Interest leads to investigations, typically online, and that’s where the questions start…
How much does it cost?
What type of setup should I choose?
Where do I begin?
…and many more…
I’ll try to address the first question in this post, with reference to the experience I’ve gained using 10-frame Langstroth equipment in Canada. Prices listed are in loonies and listed as being either necessary or optional. Are you ready?
A beginner beekeeper course is always a good idea. For some people who enjoy the learning experience, they may be comfortable jumping right into it even before getting any bees. Other people may want to have bees for a season, and then take a course so they have at least some foundation of terminology and practice. Cost: ~$0–$250 This site provides a seasonal beekeeping guide for beginners that provides monthly instruction on what to do and keep you on track.
Beekeeping for Dummies is an awesome starter kit on your bedside table if you want to learn the basics. Cost: Time
Lots of online reading, listening and viewing. Youtube is filled with aspiring master beekeepers and amateurs alike, everyone wanting to show you their 15 minutes of fame while they manage their bees. Note that different climates require different techniques and strategies for managing hives. It’s actually better to form part of a local group where you can learn from field days and fellow beekeepers! Cost: Lots of time
A standard Langstroth hive could grow from one box at the start of a season to a two-boxer, or perhaps a three-boxer if the stars align. Boxes alone won’t do; you’ll also need a bottom board, an inner and outer cover. A decent coat(s) of paint to preserve your investment is also a good idea. Cost: ~$250–$500+ (possibly dependent on lumber prices)
Assuming you purchased a 5-frame nuc, you’re going to need at least 25 more frames to fill your possible 3-box insect tower. Sure, some frames have different sizes than others, but they’re about the same price for either. Cost: ~$100
Bees spend a lot of time making your hive their home and tend to seal every seam with sticky propolis. You’re going to need a hive tool to pry these apart, as well as manipulate the frames. Cost: ~$10
Getting stung is best avoided, because not only does it hurt, it’s fatal to the bees (and some humans too). What better way to avoid this than to get a bee suit. Generally people go for a full suit, taking them back to the days when they wore onesies, but other options are also available. Of course, this would include a pair of gloves. Cost: ~$150
There are typically two choices to get bees:
A bee package This is a purchase of bees only, together with a queen. You can get them locally, but they could also come from a different area (country, or continent even). These are usually available early in the season (around May). Cost: ~$200–$250
A nuc (short for nucleus) This is a set of (usually) 5 frames having a combination of food (honey/pollen) and brood, together with bees and a queen. These will be local and is usually available later in the season (around June/July). Cost: ~$150–$250
You’re going to have to treat your hive at some point in order to keep the Varroa mite population under control. Don’t assume everyone else has mites and you don’t, or that your first year will go treatment free… the harsh reality is that a beekeeper is also a mite-keeper. So, get yourself some oxalic acid (also called wood bleach) to start with, as well as a vapourizer. Cost: ~$100
Regardless of your choice of bees above, it’s always good to feed the colony upon arrival at their new location. This stimulates colony growth and puts a smile on the bees’ faces. Seriously, look! For this you’ll need sugar… usually more than what you have in your pantry for the odd Sunday morning sweet crumpets you have with tea. Maybe you buy some pollen patties and some feeding supplements. Cost: ~$50
Bees also need water. Have a small, rock-filled, tray filled with water close to the hive for the ladies (and gents) to have an occasional beverage. Don’t go overboard here… Cost: $0
Hive stand Why just put it on the ground, or one some bricks. Make it stand tall and proud! Cost: ~$20–$50
Slatted rack These awesome additions remove bees from the bottom board when the cluster hangs low and helps insulate the hive by providing dead air around the entrance. Cost: ~$30
Smoker This is an occasional nice-to-have item, but not for everyone nor every time you open a hive. Cost: ~$50
Lots of other goodies like a screened cover when you’re manipulating the hive during wasp season so you can cover exposed boxes (similar to a manipulation cloth); a frame lifter to avoid your gloves from getting so sticky you have to replace them; a frame rest so you don’t have to place the frames on the ground in order to move frames within the box; … Cost: Priceless
Adding up the cost
Let’s add up an estimate of the cost involved with a start-up:
In summary, you should bargain on about $1,000 to start this adventure with your bounty of six-legged flyers. A thousand bucks! Yowzer! That’s a pretty tall order for something that is usually accompanied by a steep learning curve. For some who consider getting bees as a hobby, dropping 500 toonies on an unknown endeavour makes it somewhat prohibitive. Therefore, consider the choice carefully and make the most out of this rewarding experience.
Here are some things to look forward to in year two:
Jars to bottle your honey (and carry your treasures).
Honey extractor (for liquid gold).
Uncapping fork (what’s that?!).
Honey bucket and gate (for drizzling liquid gold directly on your warm waffles!).