Beekeeping Start-Up Costs (2014)


Bare minimum hive with no honey supers.

The following is a rough cost estimate and guide for setting up a bare minimum honey bee hive on the island of Newfoundland in 2012 2014. (It’ll cost somewhere between $570 and $720.) It’s better to start with more than one hive, but if you need to go cheap, this is the way to do it. We order all our beekeeping supplies from Beemaid in Manitoba. Their prices are so low that even with the expense of shipping half way across Canada, it’s still cheaper than ordering from any suppliers we’ve found in Atlantic Canada. (Update: Prices have changed since 2014. Country Fields may be cheaper.) The cost savings for beekeepers able to make their own wood components are even greater. (Check out our How-To page for information on building certain hive components.) But assuming you have to start from scratch and order all the necessary beekeeping equipment and hive pieces in one order, the cheapest and simplest option is to go with a single Langstroth hive with conventional frames and no honey supers.

Necessary items not listed below are nails, screws and tools needed for assembling the hives; Mason jars or large pickling jars for inverted jar feeding; 40-80kg of granulated sugar for mixing sugar syrup and candy; paint for the hives; and the R5 hard insulation and Type 15 or 30 asphalt felt used for wintering the hive. (Again, see our How-To page for more info on all that.) Those extra items will come to about $100.

Then add $200 for a nuc box (i.e., the bees) from the couple of suppliers of nucs on the island. (You can contact me for the email address.)

Okay then, here’s the one-shot hypothetical order for anyone interested in starting up a single Langstroth hive in Newfoundland in 2012 2014. It’s everything you’ll need for your first summer, fall and winter of beekeeping. (Note that the prices listed for each item are from 2012. The updated 2014 prices are slightly higher, but I don’t have time to update all those images. The updated 2014 totals are accurate, though.)

Hive components:

Bottom Board. (See the How-To page for info on building your own.)

Deep Supers (x2):

Frames (Deep) (x20):

Foundation (Deep) (x20). You can save $22 by going foundationless. But it’s not something I recommend for beginners in Newfoundland at this point in time.

UPDATE: Go with black foundation if possible instead of the white foundation shown here. It’s easier to spot young brood on black foundation. Learning how to spot young brood is important.

Inner Cover. (See the How-To page for info on building your own.)

Top Cover. These things weigh a tonne. They’re expensive to ship. It’s more economical to build your own after a certain point.

Frame Rests (x4). These aren’t necessary, but it’s easier to remove sticky frames when they’re resting on metal frame rests instead of wood.

Frame Feeder. (See the How-To page for more info on using frame feeders.) Also known as division board feeders, thinner single-frame-sized feeders are available that some may find easier to use.

Entrance Reducer. I use blocks of wood for entrance reducers, but I did like having a real entrance reducer when I started up my first hives.

Queen Excluder. You won’t need an excluder until the second summer, and even then you might not want to use it, but it’s nice to have around just in case.

Hive equipment:
Hive Tool. Various types of hive tools are available, but this one is good enough to get started.

Frame Gripper. You don’t necessarily need a frame gripper. We often use our hands to pull out frames. But a frame gripper definitely comes in handy at times. I wouldn’t skip this one.

Smoker. You can spray your bees with a fine mist of water and sugar instead of using a smoker. It’s less disruptive to the bees and it often works better than smoke. But the bees don’t always play nice, especially in the fall, and that’s when you’ll be glad to have a smoker close by. You might also want to order the higher quality Dadant smoker instead at about the same price.

Bee Brush. We avoid our bee brush because it usually makes the bees angry. (Our brushing technique could probably use a little work.) We might use it to brush off a couple of bees here and there, but for a large number of bees on the frame, a quick downward shake of the frame usually knocks most of them off more gently.

Protective clothing:
Bee jacket. The traditional bee hat and veil with a denim shirt works. So does the full-body bee suit (and it’s only about $10 more than the jacket). But on hot summer days (or beekeeping weather), you will cook in a full sized bee suit. I strip down to minimal clothing when I put them on. The bee jacket can get hot, too, but it’s much less of a hassle to put on and take off. Bee suits made from a wicking mesh material are available (I have one and I love it), but they’re not cheap.

Gloves. Some people don’t use gloves. Some people don’t use veils either. I’m not one of those people. Rubber gloves provide a cheap alternative that works well most of the time.

Bee food:
Pollen Supplement (x2). You will need pollen supplement to make pollen patties that will be used to feed the baby bees in your nuc hive all summer long (only for the first summer). A little anise extract doesn’t hurt either. You will also probably add pollen to the hives in February to get the queen laying early for the spring. (See the How-To page for more info.)

After taxes and the awful shipping costs to Newfoundland, the grand total of the order comes to $419.76:

You may want to double up on the hive tools and the protective clothing if you’re not the solitary type. You might also decide to do without certain items, or you might make some of the hive components yourself, but I’d say $400 is about right for the bare minimum hive components, protective clothing, bee food and hive tools. Plus $200 for the bees and at least another $100 for sugar, nails and other miscellaneous items, and your grand total comes to $719.76.

Knocking that total down isn’t too hard if you can build some of your own hive components. But chances are you’ll end up spending more money than you anticipated anyway. So I’d say $700 is realistic, and about $400 for every additional full hive probably isn’t too far off either (assuming you have to buy a nuc every time). If you eventually expand past, say, four hives, you can split your hives up on your own and save the $200 cost of a nuc per hive. But that’s down the road if you go that far.

Now if you really want to go cheap and remove non-essential items — leather gloves (use dish washing gloves instead); queen excluder; frame rests; bee brush; entrance reducer — and you have the ability to make all your hive components (everything except frames), the total before the cost of the bees and miscellaneous items comes to $268.76:

It’s not too hard to make bottom boards, inner covers and outer covers, but building deep supers can be a little tricky and expensive if you don’t already have the proper tools (e.g., table saw with dado blade), so here’s a total that excludes all the hive components except for the deeps and the frames: $316.63:

So depending on what you can build yourself, the costs will range anywhere from $568.76 to $719.76 for the first hive. If you’re lucky enough to get free bees from a local beekeeper (a savings of at least $200 per hive), even better.

For a more detailed guided tour of beekeeping and how to get started, again, check out the How-To page and my YouTube videos; or read about us building our first hive and work your way through subsequent posts up to today. It covers a lot of ground.

And finally, I’d like to discourage as many casual beekeepers as I can by saying don’t get into beekeeping unless you’re in love with it, not just the idea of it, but actually doing it. If you decide to keep bees in an artificial habitat — a wooden hive box — then it’s your responsibility to keep them alive and healthy, too, and that won’t happen by letting nature take its course and leaving the bees to fend for themselves. If you don’t care about the bees — if you haven’t spoken to or met with at least one experienced beekeeper and researched everything you can about bees and beekeeping beforehand — then maybe beekeeping isn’t for you. I know how beekeeping can seem all wonderful and harmonious with the natural world, but that’s a deceptive image. It is wonderful (and nightmarish at times), but it’s also a responsibility that requires commitment, especially in a place like Newfoundland where the bees need extra care to do well.

P.S.: The second year of beekeeping in Newfoundland (after your first winter and spring) — when you finally get to harvest some honey — requires more hive components and some additional equipment. I’ll get to later.

15 thoughts on “Beekeeping Start-Up Costs (2014)

  1. Wow. A nuc is much cheaper here in Florida, less than $100 with a marked queen. Its definitely a cost savings to not have to buy insulation. Im not running internal feeders either, or using a frame grip or gloves. I can drive to pick up my nucs so thats a savings there too. Many things can be made and you can cut your own boxes but when I priced it out, I buy from Dadant here in the US, having them cut the boxes is only $10 or so more than buying the lumber and doing it myself. The cost isnt worth the time.

    • Hence, the difference between beekeeping in Newfoundland and… pretty much the rest of the world.

      On the other hand, we don’t have Varroa mites in Newfoundland. No medications, no chemicals in our hives, nothing.

      Pros and cons.

  2. So you like your frame gripper? I’ve debated about getting one. I was told when I started (just last spring) that I wouldn’t need one, so didn’t get one then. But it takes me so long to do my inspections (or anything, really, in the hive), and if the frame gripper shaves some time off of my in-hive work, then it would be worth it.

    • I hear you. I still take too long to do most of my full hive inspections. That’s part of the reason why I’m leaning towards low-impact beekeeping, only inspecting when I absolutely have to.

      The frame gripper can help speed things up once you get used to it. I find it’s also good for loosening frames that are stuck down with propolis. Sometimes there’s no wiggle room and the frame gripper allows you to unstick the frame by carefully pulling straight up.

      I don’t use it all the time, but there are situations where it definitely helps to have it.

  3. I’m hoping over the next couple of years to release a few swarms to start some feral colonies here in Newfounland where I live. I just need the right bees to allow overwintering due to our short summers.

    I would love to be able someday to catch a feral swarm here in NL.

    As for the frame grippers, not necessary but useful. Especially when the bees are boiling out over the hive so you don’t squish to many.

  4. Wow! Lots of great information. After reading your warning I think I am going to put off beekeeping for another couple of years. Maybe when we can teach the kids to stay away from the bees!! Great to know there is a source for information on keeping bees in NL. It seems like there is nothing easy about homesteading here! Keep up the good work!

    • Maureen, I don’t think you’d have much trouble keeping bees where you live and keeping them away from kids (judging from what I could see on your website). Put the hives in an out-of-the-way spot where they’ll get some sunlight throughout the day, and most of the time you probably won’t even notice the bees are there. The hives are more of an issue where I live because we have a tiny backyard and our neighbours are bit too close for comfort at times. But it looks like you have plenty space to give the bees all the room they’d need without bothering anyone.

      We plan to set up a couple hives on a friend’s property in the city this year. (We have a large field on our property behind our house, and it’s frustrating that we can’t use it because of local vandals.) Our friend has grandchildren that visit on a regular basis, and he even mows his lawn once a week, but we don’t anticipate any problems because the hives will be set up near an edge of his yard far from any area where people normally walk or do anything. Even when he mows his lawn, he’ll be about 20 feet away from the bees, and it should be fine.

  5. I’ve ordered the equipment that I’ll need to start two hives this year from Bee Maid Honey from your list but they were good enough to let me know that the foundation I ordered won’t fit the frames I ordered, I hadn’t ordered the permadent foundation which you and they recommended. The only thing is they only have black which is normally used for brood rearing. However they think that this won’t be a problem for the bees as they can’t see it anyway and it’s easier to see the brood in it when inspecting. Do you have any thoughts on this? I’ve ordered 2 nucs from Nfld Bee Company so fingers crossed that they will be able to supply them. I wanted to get the hives set up well before the bees come so I can become familiar with the equipment. I’m trying to decide where to locate the hives in the garden and you said in your post that 20 feet from any activities would be o.k? The optimum place in my garden would be right at the edge of the vegetable garden which probably wouldn’t be wise? But it’s the one spot that gets the earliest morning sun. Decisions,decisions!

    • The only thing is they only have black which is normally used for brood rearing. However they think that this won’t be a problem for the bees as they can’t see it anyway and it’s easier to see the brood in it when inspecting.

      Black foundation makes it easier to see the brood, the little grubs curled up inside the cells, but it doesn’t make any difference to the bees. I have plenty of white foundation in the brood chamber. It’s not a problem.

      As for placing the hives, as long as they get some sun and the bees’ flight path doesn’t intersect with a human walkway, it should be okay.

  6. I’m looking into making my own supers, kind of like this guy does:

    I don’t have a table saw yet, and I don’t know how to make the jig he’s using in the video, but I know someone who can probably make one for me.

    After shipping and taxes, each hive body (or deep super) from Beemaid costs us about $23. Sometimes slightly more or slightly less, depending on the size of the order. But $23 is probably average.

    I have to buy at least 10 deeps this year, and paying so much for shipping is getting old fast.

    I’ve found two people who are willing to make supers for me for practically nothing (I’m going to pay them in honey). I think I can get the lumber I need for less than $6 per hive body. Even if the costs maxed out at $10 per deep, the savings will be significant.

    If I only wanted two or three hives (enough to keep most hobbyists happy), I’d just bite the bullet and pay full price and move on. But I plan to expand my number of hives every year for the next few years. If I keep shipping in my wooden ware from Manitoba (or even New Brunswick, which wouldn’t be any cheaper), the costs are going to add up fast.

    I don’t know what I can do just yet. First I need to know I can get the lumber at a half decent price. After that I’ll probably get someone to show me how to make the supers. Once I know I can make them myself, I’ll probably invest in a simple table saw.

    If I can find a way to make supers myself (and other wooden ware), it’ll be a game changer for us — and I think it would be more satisfying to know that I built the hives myself. I’ll still have to order frames, but frames don’t way a thing compared to top covers, bottom boards, hive top feeders and supers.

  7. I placed our order today for supplies we’ll need to expand from 4 to 8 hives this year. I can’t tell you how much I loathe the shipping costs. Here’s the breakdown:

    Products: $238.40
    HST: $30.99
    Shipping $87.93
    HST: $11.43
    Total $368.75

    I’m not a wealthy man. Those numbers hurt.

    If I wasn’t building our own supers, bottom boards, inner coves, top covers and hive top feeders this year, the shipping costs would be drive me mad. More mad than I already am. Beekeepers who can drive to a beekeeping supply store have it so easy, don’t even talk to me about your troubles. Try beekeeping in Newfoundland. Argh!

    I have to turn this into a business or some kind by next year. Just so I can break even.

  8. Phillip,

    If you ever buy a table spend will and get a good one. I learned the hard ways with a simple cheapo. It could not hold tolerance. Then I bought a good one that I still use today.
    I just finished building two KTBHs 48 inches long and they cost me a total of $125.00. All of the top bars I made by a series of saw cuts to include the VEE for comb building. If I counted my time $35.00 per hour they would be priceless. I am a retired industrial electrician with a lot of free time so that cost dosen’t count.
    My wife and I live just outside of Buffalo, NY.. Bees are the highest cost for me. I did order two packages due in mid May. I also built a swarm trap maybe I will get lucky and will have to build some more TBHs. Then again I can use the trap as a split while I build another TBH.


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