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The Costs Of Keeping Bees

My son is developing a passion for bees. Last summer, he started asking me questions about how people keep hives of bees, and at about the same time, he started capturing bees with his bare hands. He captured bumblebees, as well as the wild honeybees still living somewhere near our land. He didn’t get stung once.

Now that spring is here, the bees are out again, on warm days at least, and my son is capturing bees again. I’ve told him not to do it, that honeybees can’t survive on their own, and need to find flowers for food on their own, instead of being given cut flowers. Still, every time he goes outside, I catch him hovering near the flowers, looking for bees.

So, we’ve had a talk, and we’ve agreed that instead of him catching bees, we’ll try to maintain a beehive. This is not something we’ve done before, and so I have a lot to learn about what I need to do.

I’m not worried about resources for the bees. I’m in a place where there are plenty of flowering plants for bees to forage on. I don’t use pesticides anywhere on my 4-acre lot, and neither do my neighbors.

What I want to have a realistic understanding about to start with is cost. I’ve come across a document from the Illinois State Beekeepers Association that summarizes startup costs, giving an estimate of 300 dollars for one beehive and 430 dollars for two beehives. That document was based on information from 1999, however, and I’m presuming that inflation would increase the cost to something like 500 dollars for one beehive and 750 dollars for two beehives. The document talks about a beehive eventually paying for itself, but I have to say that, as a pair of beginners, I’m not expecting that any time soon for my son and I.

I’m looking for some expert opinion – is that estimate about right? What are common, yet often unexpected, sources of additional expense?

More generally, what are the most reliable information resources and sources of startup equipment for where I live – in Upstate New York?

4 comments to The Costs Of Keeping Bees

  • Kenneth

    I am not certain about the costs for you in upstate New York with shipping. But, one hive with everything that one needs for a single colony including veil, pith helmet, smoker, basically everything need for one person and one colony from a supplier in Georgia, Rossman Apiaries, is $275. They are about average on costs and are reliable. You would still need a package of bees and another child’s veil gloves and suit. The packages, last time I checked a couple of years ago were running $100.00 for a five pound package.

    So, you cost estimates are a little high but it would be better to over estimate than to under estimate.

    I would strongly suggest you check to see if there is an association or group of folks that get together regularly in your area! I have been around them for over thirty years and did some graduate work on them so I keep a close eye on internet postings, hence the reason I found your post. Point being, check the internet for more information and meeting in your area. I would also suggest that you try to find a bee breeder closer to you! They will also be a source of information and local news about what is going on in the world of Apiculture.
    I hope this has helped. Here are a couple of links to suppliers:

    http://www.gabees.com/home.htm Rossman Apiaries
    http://www.dadant.com/beekeeping/index.html Dadant and Sons, they are one the oldest and best in the business! Check out their books, Especially “The Hive and The Honey Bee” and “First Lessons”

  • You are not far off with the 300 figure.

    Here’s the list of items we are buying as a Co-Op for beekeepers in NYC:
    http://gothamcitybees.com/gear_buy_2009.html
    This is much more equipment than one finds in a “beginner kit”, but this is because we expect each hive to at least drawn out the comb in a total of 5 “medium” boxes in the first summer.

    You have the headquarters for Dadant in Hamilton IL, and they can likely give your better prices and lower shipping on equivalent items. We put links to the Brushy Mountain website simply because they have good photos of all the gear.

    While the prices of the items not listed as “optional” comes to exactly $300.00, you can save some money by getting a veil attached to a mesh “tee-shirt” for $50.00 (Brushy #994) rather than a full jacket, and save $30 right there.

    In simple terms you are doing 3 smart things by following our Co-Op’s approach to novice equipment:

    * By using all “mediums”, you are avoiding heavy lifting
    * By using wax foundation in the brood chamber, but plastic foundation in the honey supers, you are using modern advances in a prudent manner, as plastic foundation will stand up better to extraction forces when they are spun around
    * By purchasing the 5 boxes, your bees will be able to be fed even in the dry parts of the summer,
    with the large hive-top feeder, and continue to draw wax comb that they can fill with honey next year, to make a larger crop. First-year bees struggle to merely survive if not fed, and one wants
    to feed them lavishly if one wants a small population to draw comb.

    Now, all you need is a nuc or, if you can’t find a nuc, a package of bees.
    But most of all, you need to find your local beekeeping club.

    We’ve gone out for bid on gear for our 30 novices who started taking our free classes in Jan 2009,
    and you will note that we are NOT suggesting that anyone buy a “beginner kit”, which consist of items that are, in the view of more experienced beekeepers, inappropriate, cheaply-made, and not of long-term value. If your son wants “gloves”, buy him yellow kitchen rubber gloves, which are better and cheaper than the leather gloves sold by bee supply dealers.

  • Kevin

    There must be plenty of empty hives around. If you are willing to risk it, with CCD so active, you could probably find a farmer who has/knows of empty hive boxes and equipment.

    Maybe he can find someone who will teach him… if you don’t know how…

  • le pelerin

    I catch swarms every year. Here in OH I can expect swarming to start in late April. If you see a lot of honeybees around, there are colonies of bees nearby and they will smarm.

    Every Spring, we have a beekeepng school for beginners. That’s a good way to go. Call the beekeeping associations around.

    Your son will love the drones. They are big, noisy and don’t sting.

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