Beekeeping Start-Up Costs (on the island of Newfoundland)

QUICK NOTE: Gerard Smith sells all the beekeeping supplies most new beekeepers would ever need to start beekeeping in Newfoundland — and that makes it much more affordable than it was when I originally wrote this post. I’ll revise this post once Gerard sets up a website that lists everything he sells. But I think it’s fair to say that having a supplier on the island reduces the costs listed in this post by as much as 50%.

The following, originally written in 2012 and revised in 2014, has been tweaked for 2016. Not all the prices are up to date, but I think it’s still a half decent guide for anyone thinking about getting into beekeeping on the island of Newfoundland. My original order came from Beemaid in Manitoba, because at the time their prices (even after shipping) were the best I could find. That may not be the case today. The NLBKA provides a list of other suppliers on its Getting Started page. I’ve only ordered from Beemaid and Country Fields and have no complaints about either. (Update: I recently ordered from Lewis & Sons out of Manitoba and got the best deal on wooden ware and foundation I’ve ever had. I wish I’d discovered them years ago. I would have saved a fortune.) Beemaid, a few years ago, had some issues with their hive parts not fitting together easily, but they’ve since addressed that issue. Although I don’t order many heavy items from them anymore, their prices for other items, such as ventilated bee jackets, are hard to beat. Plus there’s always Amazon.ca, which I keep forgetting about.
Removed frame after adding 2-frame feeder. (August 25, 2010.)
This is my rough cost estimate and guide for setting up a bare minimum honey bee hive on the island of Newfoundland in 2014. (It’ll cost somewhere between $570 and $720.) It’s better to start with more than one hive, but this is one way to do it cheaply if necessary. I order all my 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 I’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 my How-To page for information on building certain hive components.) But assuming someone has 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; a spray bottle for misting the bees when a smoker isn’t necessary; mesh for mouse and shrew proofing hive entrances in the winter; paint for the hives; and the R5 hard insulation and Type 15 or 30 asphalt felt used for wintering the hive for those who wish to winter their bees that way. (Again, see my How-To page for more info on all that.) Those extra items will come to about $100.

Then add $200 to $250 for a nuc box (i.e., the bees) from one of the few suppliers of nucs on the island. (The NLBKA has contact information for suppliers.)

Okay then, here’s the one-shot hypothetical order for anyone interested in starting up a single Langstroth hive in Newfoundland in 2014. Note that the prices listed for each item are from 2012. The updated 2014 prices are slightly higher (and the 2016 prices are probably even higher), but I don’t have time to update all those images from my original order.

HIVE COMPONENTS

Bottom Board. I build my own board boards these days (see the How-To page for info) because they’re cheap and easy to make, but having a few “real” bottom boards starting off is nice.

Deep Supers (x2): I’ll never have the patience to build these.

Frames (Deep) (x20): These are way beyond my ability to build myself.

Foundation (Deep) (x20). Save $22 by going foundationless. If I could go back, though, I would have avoided going foundationless, at least at the start. I would also 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. These are fairly easy to build too (see the How-To page again).

Top Cover. These things weigh a tonne. They’re expensive to ship, but it’s good to have a properly built cover starting off.

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

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. I also don’t reduce my entrances in the winter. I cover them with quarter-inch mesh — which, by the way, should be added to this list. It’s absolutely essential to mouse-proof and shrew-proof hives for the winter.

Queen Excluder. I didn’t need an excluder until my second summer, and even then I didn’t use it much, but I use them every summer now.

HIVE EQUIPMENT

Hive Tool. Various types of hive tools are available (I particularly like the so-called Italian hive tool), but this one is good enough to get started.

Frame Gripper. I often use my hands to pull out frames, but a frame gripper definitely comes in handy with frames that are heavy with honey and especially when frames are glued to the hive with wax and propolis. I wouldn’t skip this one.

Smoker. I usually spray my 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 I’m glad to have a smoker close by. I prefer the higher quality Dadant smoker over the one shown here.

Bee Brush. I avoid using the bee brush because it usually makes the bees angry. (My brushing technique could probably use a little work.) I 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 for me. So does the full-body bee suit (and it’s only about $10 more than the jacket). But on hot summer days (a.k.a. beekeeping weather), a full sized bee suit cooks me like a Sunday roast. I strip down to minimal clothing when I put it 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 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. I left my leather gloves outside for a week last summer and they got so moldy I threw them out and haven’t replaced them.

BEE FOOD

Pollen Supplement (x2). I use pollen supplement to make pollen patties that will be used to feed the baby bees in my nucs all summer long (not everyone feeds pollen in the summer, but I have my reasons). A little anise extract doesn’t hurt either. I sometimes add pollen to the hives in late winter 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:

All of this is only a rough guide to how I would start up my first beehive if I had to do it all in one order and couldn’t build anything myself. Some people would want to double up on the hive tools and the protective clothing if they’re not the solitary type. Some might also decide to do without certain items, or make some of the hive components on their own, but I’d say $400 is about right for the bare minimum hive components, protective clothing, bee food and hive tools. Plus $200 (to $250) for the bees and at least another $100 for sugar, nails and other miscellaneous items, adding up to a grand total of $719.76, or somewhere in that ballpark.

Knocking that total down isn’t too hard for people who can build some of their own hive components. But I think it’s fair to say that most people end up spending more money than 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 that each hive is started with a purchased nuc). The cost of nucs is removed at a certain point for anyone who can split their hives.

Now if someone really wants to go cheap and remove non-essential items — leather gloves (use dish washing gloves instead); queen excluder; frame rests; bee brush; entrance reducer — and they have the ability to make all their 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 for anyone (like me) who doesn’t 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.



I’ve also noticed that Beemaid (in this example) calculates shipping online, but they will package the components for each order as efficiently as they can so that the actual shipping costs are often considerably lower than the online estimates.

So depending on what a new beekeeper can build on their own, the costs will range anywhere from $568.76 to $719.76 for the first hive. If they’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 on how to get started, check out the How-To page and my YouTube videos; or read about me building my first hive and go through subsequent posts up to today. It covers a lot of ground.

All of the above only includes everything I used to get through my first year of beekeeping (beginning in 2010) and it worked well for me many times over. That’s the experience I’m speaking from. In the second year, I bought two honey supers (or medium supers) for each hive (because I started with two hives), plus frames and foundation for each super. I bought some extra deeps and more frames for them, because it’s always good to have spare parts for expanding colonies and other unanticipated events. I also had to buy jars for storing my extracted honey (using another beekeeper’s extractor). There’s more, but most beekeepers will probably know enough before their second year to know what they’ll need for that year. Good luck.

P.S. (January 2016): I suppose I should try to discourage casual beekeepers right about now. I realize I’ve only been beekeeping since 2010 and I’ve never had more than eight hives, but I feel like I’ve been through enough since then to have a decent grasp of some of the fundamentals of beekeeping (I hope), so that I can say this with certainty: Most of the bad things that have happened in my beekeeping came from me not paying enough attention to what was happening inside the hive. On every occasion when I said, “They’ll be fine now. I don’t need to check on them” — that’s when everything went south. I learned this mostly after my second year when I wasn’t able to check on my bees regularly, but I know many new beekeepers who right out of the gate act like they can just “let the bees be bees,” which usually means their bees swarm every summer, are weakened going into the fall and either freeze or starve to death over the winter. That seems like bad beekeeping to me. While I believe there is plenty of room for every beekeeper to discover through their own experience what works best for them, I also think people who can’t make the time to pay attention to their bees — especially at crucial times such as swarming season, or in winter when the bees often run low on honey — should perhaps think twice about starting up a few hives. I know how beekeeping can seem all wonderful and harmonious with the natural world, but that’s an idealized, somewhat deceptive perception. It is wonderful — and nightmarish at times — but it’s also a responsibility that requires commitment, especially in a short-summered place like Newfoundland where the bees often need extra care to do well.

19 thoughts on “Beekeeping Start-Up Costs (on the island of Newfoundland)

  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.

    Dennis

  9. I just got the best deal I’ve ever had on hive components through Lewis & Sons out of Manitoba.

    They manufacture hive components that are sold through most beekeeping retailers across Canada.

    My specific order of 6 deeps (60 lbs), 100 frames (43 lbs) + 100 sheets of foundation (28 lbs) came to 131 pounds / 60 kg. The total AFTER taxes and shipping (unassembled): $494. For comparison:

    Beemaid (Manitoba) = $480 before shipping.
    Country Fields (NB) = $495 before shipping.
    Tuck’s Bee Better Farm (NL) = $650 before shipping.

    As much as I’d like to buy local, ordering directly from Lewis & Sons adds up to significant savings that are hard to ignore, especially for NL beekeepers who probably pay the highest shipping costs of anyone in Canada. Lewis told me the shipping costs would be considerably less on larger orders placed through courier companies. (My small order was through Canada Post.)

    If a handful of NL beekeepers were to place a large single order, enough components for two or three full hives each, something in the range of 3 to 5 hundred pounds, the savings would likely be pretty sweet. I wish I’d discovered Lewis & Sons years ago. I would have saved a fortune.

    The ordering page for Lewis & Sons isn’t up and running yet (they’re working on it), but I emailed them a list of exactly what I wanted (including foundation that isn’t on their website’s product page) and they had it all. They eventually sent me a PayPal link that allowed me to pay for the order online.

    The order hasn’t arrived yet (it’s being sent out today), but so far, I’m happy a customer.

    • The order from Lewis and Sons arrived and all the components look good. A few dings and cracks and minor imperfections here and there, but I assembled a few frames, banged together a deep and I can’t see any problems. The foundation was standard black with a wax coating. It’s all good.

      My guess is they build and sell all types of wooden ware, items not listed on their website such as medium supers and medium frames, etc. I suppose they’d probably send their inventory to anyone who emailed and asked.

      Anyway, I would have saved thousands of dollars if I’d ordered from them since I started beekeeping in 2010.

  10. I tried ordering some stuff from Lewis and Sons but the shipping charges to Eastern Canada was a lot. The prices on their hive parts are fantastic.
    Country Fields is now located in Waverly, NS, and their shipping charges for my order were about 1/4 so it was worthwhile to stay ‘local’.
    If I was ordering large amounts, it would likely benefit to go to L & S, but I found Country Fields great to deal with.

    • I agree with all of that. Lewis and Sons usually fill out orders for retail companies and commercial beekeepers who place large orders, and for those people, Lewis and Sons can’t be beat. I only ordered 6 deeps, 100 frames and 100 sheets of foundation, which is not a huge order, but it was large enough to make it worth their while and for me to get the best deal I’ve ever had.

      I’d like to see the NL beekeeping association pool their resources and place a large order from a place like Lewis and Sons to make hive components more affordable to new beekeepers in NL.

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