Beekeeping on a budget
Bees have been producing honey for millions of years. However, only in recent decades has the popularity of beekeeping seen a spike. From their delicious honey, to their moisturizing beeswax, and even their ability to pollinate nearby plants, beekeeping can be a very rewarding experience. But you may ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” With the right plan and equipment, you can save money and set yourself up for success.
Essentials for beekeeping
Between the housing for your bees, the equipment needed to maintain your hives, and the bees themselves, the price tag for getting started with beekeeping can cause sticker shock for some people. Focusing on only the essentials will help keep starting costs down.
One of the most important, if not the most important, part of starting your beekeeping journey is to purchase a beehive. You cannot keep bees if you have nowhere for them to live. While there are several types of beehives on the market, but two of the most popular are the Langstroth and the Commercial. The Langstroth, which has been around for more than 100 years, allows the keeper to easily access the hive without destroying the bees’ hard work. The Commercial beehive is a large, deep structure, which allows the keeper to get into the hive without disturbing the bees or the honeycombs.
Now that you have a shelter in place for your bees, you will also want to consider how they are being fed. Most experienced beekeepers recommend using an internal top feeder, which provides the bees with nectar, so they have the energy to build their honeycomb. Top feeders typically hold a large amount of syrup for your bees, and are easy to refill. There are also open-air feeders on the market, but with these types of feeders comes the risk of attracting other wildlife – such as wasps and raccoons.
There are a number of tools you can use to maintain your hives, and keep your bees healthy. But, the main two tools you need for beekeeping are a hive tool and a bee brush. A hive tool is designed to help with multiple beekeeping tasks, including separating the sections of the beehive to harvest honey. While a flathead screwdriver could be used in its place, the small j-shaped metal hive tool is made to maintain the integrity of the honeycomb. A bee brush is used to remove bees from surfaces in the hive in order to extract the honey.
No matter how careful you are, and how hard you try, there is a chance that you could be stung by one of your bees. That is why protective clothing is so important. A hat with a veil and gloves will protect any exposed skin when around bees. Paired with a thick jacket, and pants, will be safer from any bees that may not be calmed by the next essential tool, a smoker.
One of the most important tools in protecting yourself while beekeeping is the bee smoker. Designed to smolder fuel, the bee smoker emits (you guessed it) smoke, that accomplishes two main functions: 1) masks smells and 2) distraction. Bees primarily communicate through smell. When the hive is disturbed, or you are stung, an “alarm pheromone” is released, which makes other bees become more aggressive and likely to hurt you. Also, when bees smell smoke, their instinct is to rush to the hive, fill up on honey, and be prepared to build a new home elsewhere. Not only are the bees distracted, they are also less likely to go after the keeper on a full belly.
Once your hive is complete, and you have the tools needed to keep your hive maintained and yourself safe, it is time to bring in the bees. So, how do you get the bees? There are three main ways beekeepers acquire their bees.
- The most challenging way to get bees into your hive is to find the bees yourself. In the wild, bees that no longer have a hive may decide to inhabit a new hive if they can find it.
- Another popular, and much easier, solution for obtaining bees is to purchase them from a local, established beekeeper.
- Believe it or not, you can actually buy bees online. For a reasonable amount of money, you can have a package of worker bees and a queen delivered right to your home.
Cutting costs for beekeeping
Between the equipment needed for your first hive, the bees and the operating equipment, you could be looking at more than $600 for your first year of beekeeping. While that may seem a little steep to some future beekeepers, there are ways to cut costs.
- Do-It-Yourself– With the space, time, and a little carpentry know-how, you can save money on a beehive by building it yourself. Wood for hives comes in different grades. For the most cost savings, you can buy budget wood to assemble the beehive. You can also build the frame and foundation yourself to save even more money.
- Buy Used – Buying used equipment can save you a lot of money on the initial set up costs of beekeeping. However, you must be very cautious about the equipment you use. Some diseases can be transmitted through the materials, and could have a negative impact on the health of your bees.
- Keep Bees Alive – It may seem obvious, but one of the most expensive things about setting up a beekeeping operation, is the bees themselves. After a year of taking care of a hive, you do not want to have to start all over with a new swarm of bees.
Like with any new venture, planning ahead is one of the most important things you can do. When it comes to the cost of beekeeping, do your research. Price out your equipment, bees, and the material needed to maintain your hive, like sugar and water for the bees’ food. Include some extra in the budget, just for those unexpected expenses that could pop up at any time.