Keeping bees can be an addictive hobby. When starting out a new beekeeper is very enthusiastic and keen to get started and this enthusiasm is maintained as he/she realises how fascinating bees are.
Keeping bees can be an addictive hobby. When starting out, you probably feel very enthusiastic and keen to get started and this enthusiasm is maintained as you realise how fascinating bees are.
However, new beekeepers may be tempted to overestimate the number of hives they can look after.
It’s essential to take the following into consideration before making your investment.
- Why am I keeping bees?
- What do I need to know first?
- How much time do I have to look after them?
- What am I willing to invest in terms of money?
- Where will the hives be kept?
Why Am I Keeping Bees?
If you want to keep bees, what is your reason or goal for keeping them? Do you want to keep them as a commercial venture, or as a hobby?
To keep bees as a profitable business requires a significant financial outlay initially. A large area of suitable land will be needed to house the hives and to provide enough suitable flora for the bees to forage on. Consider if you have enough space for many hives or will you need to rent land instead.
Other costs will be the hive bodies, bases, lids, frames, wax and other essential equipment such as a bee suit, hive tools, brushes, smokers and extracting equipment. To reduce the possibility of spreading disease it is best to own a few hive tools and brushes as spares for when others are being disinfected.
To promote your business it’s a good idea to have a website which is another cost, unless you design and maintain it yourself. This is a personal choice. You will also need insurance for your investment, as the amount of honey you will produce from year to year will vary according to the seasons.
Consider whether you will sell other bee related products such as beeswax, lip balm and hand cream. Renting your bees for pollination of crops such as almonds is another consideration.
If you have a few hundred hives to maintain then hiring suitable staff will be necessary too. That’s another cost to factor in.
Each hive will take somewhere between 20 and 40 hours a year to maintain, so as a hobbyist I suggest obtaining one or two hives to begin with to determine if it’s a hobby you would like to continue with. Then if for some reason you find beekeeping is not for you, you haven’t outlaid too much money.
Remember you will need to purchase a beekeeping suit or jacket as well as the hive hardware, hive tool, brush and smoker.There is another alternative to owning and maintaining hives. Some beekeepers will situate a hive on your property at no cost. They will come and maintain the hive for you and in return for using your land will give you some of the honey harvested. If you would rather not have to look after bees, but enjoy the honey and want to benefit your plants, then this is a great idea. It gives you the opportunity to find out what beekeeping is about at no real cost.
What Do I Need To Know First?
Learn as much as you can before you take up beekeeping. By becoming informed you can decide if beekeeping is actually the hobby for you.
As there are so many aspects to beekeeping from purchasing the hardware to extracting the honey, it’s best to learn from an experienced beekeeper who lives in your area. Join your local club and ask if you could ‘shadow’ an experienced beekeeper for a few weeks.
There are online courses and day or evening courses on aspects of beekeeping. Your local club will cover seasonal topics during their meetings too.
In addition there are books you can borrow or buy. Just be sure the text you are reading is relevant and refers to beekeeping in your particular country and local area.
How Much Time Do I Have To Look After Them?
Approximately 20 to 40 hours per year are needed to maintain one hive. Beekeeping is a seasonal activity, there’s a lot more work to do during the Spring and Summer months when the bees are most active and plants are flowering.
In autumn and winter there is less to do, maintaining and purchasing new hardware and the occasional inspection on sunny days to check on the health of the hive.
Your personal circumstances will determine the amount of time you have. Your usual activities can easily be maintained even if you take up beekeeping as a hobby and only have one or two hives.
When I retired, I decided I’d like to keep bees as a hobby, so I purchased one hive. Holidays to escape the Winter months still took place as the weather was too cold to inspect the hive anyway. Helpful members of the beekeeping club offered to take a look at the hive if needed while we were on vacation.
So the amount of time needed to manage a hive is really very little. It all depends upon you and how serious a pastime you want to make of beekeeping.
What Am I Willing To Invest In Terms Of Money?
In addition to having done some background research, deciding your reasons for keeping bees and how much time you can devote to looking after them, assess the costs involved in setting up your apiary.
Once you know how many beehives you intend to keep you can determine your cost. Essentially you will need:
1. Hive bodies, base and lid
The cost of these depends upon the type of hive you purchase, whether it is new or used, assembled or unassembled and where you purchase it from.
New Langstroth hive bodies, plus a base and a lid can range from approximately $100 to $300 in Australia. Costs vary depending on where you live in the world, so do some preliminary research.
The price varies, depending whether you make your purchase online, from a member of your bee club or a beekeeping supply store. Hives can be made from other materials other than wood too, such as polystyrene, and their cost will be different again. Buying in bulk and assembling the hives yourself also reduces cost.
I’d be wary of buying any used wood ware because it may harbour disease. If you do choose a used hive, check to see if it’s in good condition and have it irradiated first to kill any possible disease.
The cost of a starter package of bees with a queen can be free if you catch a swarm. Bees are available in the Spring when the weather warms up, plants are in flower and bee numbers increase.
Your local beekeeping club may have a swarm collection and allocation service in Spring through to Summer. Put your name on their list, then offer to go out with the beekeeper to collect the swarm when it’s available.
A bee ‘package’ is a small colony of bees that have been split or created from a larger colony. They are often known as a nucleus hive because the hive is centred around a queen bee. Nucleus hives of bees can be purchased online or from some beekeeping supply places. They are seasonal and are often booked in advance.
For an outlay of approximately $200 to $400 Australian you can purchase a queen, bees, brood in various stages of growth and a five frame nucleus hive (or ‘nuc’ for short). The nucleus hive should also have some honey stored in the frames too. An instruction sheet explaining how to care for the hive is usually included.
Additional costs include protective clothing, hive tools, bee brush and smoker. There are other items you can purchase to make your work as a beekeeping easier. Investigate each additional item before purchase to evaluate if it is really necessary.
The costs outlined above are made at the beginning and are relatively inexpensive. Over time though some of the hives will need repairing or replacing so that is an additional cost. If the bees die for some reason or decide to leave then additional bees will have to be obtained too.
Selling your honey will help recoup some of your expenditure.
Where Will You Keep The Hives?
The area of land needed for your hive or hives depends upon how many hives you intend to keep. The first thing to do is to check with your local council to determine how many hives you can house on your property.
Around each hive leave approximately one metre so you can easily walk around the hive and have room to place boxes and frames during an inspection.
If your intention is to make beekeeping a profitable commercial enterprise then you will need a much larger parcel of land to house your hives. You may be able to lease some land, or the owner of the property may pay you to site your hives on their land. The number of hives you want depends upon how many you can physically manage.
If after all your research you decide you don’t wish to keep bees, then some beekeepers allow you to host a hive for a one off cost. All the work of managing the hive is done for you and you can join in hive inspections if you wish.
Another added benefit is increased production in your orchard and/or veggie patch, as well as some of the honey from the hive at harvest time.
Beekeeping is a fascinating pastime and a wonderful way to help the environment. If you are interested in keeping bees but aren’t sure just how many hives to have or how much time you wish to devote to managing them, then I strongly advise you to do some research.
Reading books and going online are a good start, but I believe your best strategy is hands on learning. Become a member of your local beekeeping club, or find a beekeeper who will allow you to shadow them for a few weeks.
By doing so you can discover if keeping bees is really for you and just how much time you’ll need to maintain one hive or several.