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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 and long-damp-wintered place like Newfoundland where the bees often need extra care to do well.