I won’t lie to you guys, beekeeping is not cheap! I started to help out my mum with her bees but I wanted to branch out on my own and have the responsibility of keeping my own hives. I live my life on a restricted budget and beekeeping equipment is something I have to carefully budget for. Usually I share a lot of equipment with my mum but as we live 30 miles away I am having to buy in my own kit to use this year during lockdown and it got me thinking. So what is the basic beekeeping kit you need and what does it cost?
First of all you will need a hive! There are many different options but the usual one here in the UK is the National Hive. You can pick up a National hive with floor, brood box, two supers, a crown board and a roof for anything upwards of £85. That’s for a pine hive. I would always prefer to buy red cedar rather than pine as the pine hives often tend to be false economy, especially when pitted against a wet British winter! I usually look to pay around £125 for a cedar hive. You will usually have to do some assembly, if you want to keep bees, you need to be handy with a hammer!*
*You can also buy polystyrene hives, which a lot of people like… I don’t for reasons I may write a future post on so I can’t give any advice on that! But the prices are more or less comparable with pine hives.
To go inside this hive you will also need frames and wax foundation. (If you choose to use foundation, some people don’t but I would recommend starting off using foundation for beginners.) Annoyingly most places sell frames and wax in packs of 10… I run my brood boxes on 11 frames and this is quite normal. One company that sells in 11s is Simon the Beekeeper, a company I highly recommend. Otherwise you buy 10 extra and slowly use them up as the years go by. It’s always good to have spares and you should always have a few extras on hand. Brood frames and wax will cost you about £25 a box, super frames with wax will cost you about £20 per box. (See my post on how to assemble national frames.)
You will also want some bees to go in your hive! You can pay a small fortune for a nucleus (mini hive) of bees. Mum’s first bees cost about £300! Now, knowing many more local beekeepers, this is ridiculous! She actually sells nucs of her bees for between £60 -£80 which is the cheaper end of the scale. I would expect to pay £120 for a nuc from a good local breeder. Contact your local beekeeping association for recommendations and steer clear of national bulk operations unless you have no other options or are after a particular strain of bees. Local bees usually will do better in local conditions so you’re setting yourself up for success.
That’s the hive sorted but what about you?
You’ll need a proper beesuit. My first one cost £22 off eBay and lasted 5 years, the plastic veil started to perish after a few years but I just mended it with gaffer tape! I got a nicer one for Christmas this year but the cheap ones do the job just fine if you’re on a budget.
I wear leather gloves and gauntlets as it makes me more confident when working the bees to have that extra protection. These cost around £7. You can also just wear washing up marigolds if you don’t mind the odd sting getting through. (I wear these for fiddly jobs.)
A smoker is another essential bit of kit, you don’t want to go into a hive without one! They’re generally less than £20.
You will need a hive tool, I prefer a J shaped tool, my mum prefers a standard shape. If you’re undecided then they cost less than £5 so get one of each and experiment!
(Often you can pick up bundles of smoker, hive tool, bee brush and say a pair of gloves or a decapping tool for around £20 on eBay which is worth looking for when starting out.)￼
We’re not done yet! There are a few other bits and bobs you’ll need.
I prefer plastic queen excluders over the metal ones that often come with a hive as I feel they’re kinder to the bees and easier to work with for me. They’re about £3 each.
Mouse guards for the winter are about £2.50 each.
A rapid syrup feeder is generally £5 for a small one, £10 for a larger. (And upwards for larger ones!) I would recommend starting with a 4l feeder. I have a small 2l feeder for giving them a quick boost for convenience but you can always put less syrup in a bigger feeder so I’d go with the bigger one to begin. When you’re starting your bees off in a new hive it’s a good idea to feed them as drawing out comb is a lot of hard work!
I make ekes (smaller boxes to lift up and create space) from scrap and pallet wood so those are free if you’re handy with the hammer! This is my feeder eke below made from pallet wood.
Those are the essentials for getting your first hive up and running! Later on you’ll need access to other things for extracting honey and cleaning kit but often you can use your local association’s shared kit or gradually buy in your own over the years to spread the cost.
So, what’s the total damage?
Hive -£125 (brood box and two supers)
Frames – £50 (brood box and two supers)
Bees – £120
Beesuit – £25
Gloves – £7
Smoker – £20
Hive tool – £5
Queen Excluder – £3
Feeder – £10
Total = £367.50
These are your basic start up costs. If you get it right then most of that is kit you will reuse for all of your hives and you can increase your hives yourself by making splits from your first bees so that’s a big saving once you’re up and running. I make splits into poly nuc boxes so for each hive have one on hand at a cost of £36. (You don’t need these, you can split into a new hive body direct, it’s just what I prefer.)
For each extra hive you add you’ll need to buy in a hive body and frames so adding a new colony to your apiary costs you about £175 each time. May be a touch more if you get a feeder/excluder/mouseguard at the same time.
So, yeah. Beekeeping isn’t cheap! You can recover some of your costs by selling honey or even bees once you have enough colonies but the first few years you’re looking at a reasonable about of outlay. I felt that there wasn’t enough focus on what everything will cost you when I did my beekeeping course. May be for retired accountants these costs are peanuts but for someone living on a budget it all adds up quickly! I love my bees though and really enjoy it as a hobby. If you compare it to other hobbies where you need kit it’s not that bad, I know someone who just spent £1000 on a bicycle!