One of our goals for our homestead this year was to get bees. It is on our homesteading goals list I wrote at the beginning of the year.
As I have been researching bees and what it would cost to start up a hive, I found out one thing: beekeeping is an expensive hobby! Atleast at first, there are many start up costs to beekeeping.
Many experts suggest starting several hives at once so you can compare them and see which ones are doing well and which ones aren’t. That is great, but too expensive for this year on our homestead. For that reason, we are starting with one hive and we will add more next spring.
How much does it cost to start a beehive?
So when I say expensive, what do I mean? For this one hive, it has cost us about $400 so far in set up costs. And that doesn’t include any equipment we will need for extracting honey later or adding more supers. I don’t know about you, but that is expensive in my book!
Just to clarify, we bought our hive brand new from our local feed store. If we had made our hives or found a swarm of bees in nature, these costs could have been less. But we have been so busy that these things just weren’t going to happen. Now we know for next year!
What kind of hive should I use?
There are several popular types of beehives commonly used in the United States:
The most common kind of hive in North America is the 10 frame Langstroth hive. The queen stays in the bottom boxes of the hive. This is where the honey stays for the bees. The upper boxes are filled later in the summer, and that is where the beekeeper gets the remainder of the honey and beeswax.
Top Bar Hive:
Horizontal top-bar hive. A top-bar hive is a single-story frameless beehive in which the comb hangs from removable bars. The bars form a continuous roof over the comb, whereas the frames in most current hives allow space for bees to move up or down between boxes.(wikipedia)
A Warre hive is a vertical top bar hive that is simple to build and easy to use. The cost is about one-third to one-fourth the cost of one standard ten frame Langstroth hive.
A Warre (pronounced war-ray) hive is simple to manage and maintain. Also known as tiered or supered top bar hives, a vertical top bar hive is such as the Warre hive is friendly to the bees since they are allowed to draw out their own comb.
The hive is commonly under supered (nadired) which means the new hive boxes are added to the bottom and not the top of the hive. This promotes the bees natural tendency to build down ensuring a hive environment that is healthier and better suited to their own needs. (https://thebeespace.net/warre-hive/)
Mason Jar Hive:
I love the idea behind this hive because I LOVE Mason Jars. Anything to do with mason jars and I am interested! I love the look of this hive and how you can see the honeycomb in the jars from the outside.
My concern is that living in Colorado, I don’t know how the jars would do in the cold weather. Even now (in April) we are still freezing at night, so I don’t know if that would work. If you are interested in this type of hive, you can find information here: https://homesteading.com/beekeeping-in-mason-jars/
There has been a big buzz (pun intended) about the flow hive. This hive that allows you to extract honey from the hive without opening the hive, has had mounds of controversy surrounding it.
On one side, it looks like (from the advertisements) that you can easily get honey from the hive with the push of a button. You don’t have to disturb the hive or bees to do this.
On the other side, many beekeepers say that this kind of hive makes it harder on the bees and doesn’t leave enough honey for them to live on through the winter. To get more information on this type of hive, check out these blog posts: (against) http://www.tattooedhomestead.com/2015/03/why-we-will-not-be-using-flow-hives-in-our apiary.html (for) http://inhabitat.com/flow-hive-new-crowdsourced-project-lets-beekeepers-harvest-honey-on-demand/
If you aren’t sure which one to pick, I love this website for helping you choose:
If you want to build your own hive, this blog post has many options for homemade beehive building: https://morningchores.com/beehive-plans/.
What do we need to get started?
Hive parts– Whichever type of hive you choose, you need to get the parts or build it yourself using one of the plans above. You also need to paint the hive to protect it from the outdoor elements.
Smoker: A smoker helps relax the bees when you open the hive to inspect it or whenever you are going to be interacting with the hive. Very important in my book as I don’t want to get stung.
Hood/veil: This will protect your face and head from bee stings.
Jacket or suit: You need to be sure your whole body is covered when interacting with the bees to prevent stings.
Gloves: These will protect your hands from stings as well.
Hive tool: This will help you move hive parts that might otherwise be stuck together.
Where do we put the hive?
Sunlight: Your hive should get full sun for most of the day.
Direction: You should face your hive southeast so that the bees rise early in the morning and begin their work. It will also get the warm sun earlier on a cold day.
Flat area: Your hive should be on level ground, not on a hill or slope.
Traffic: You should not put your hive in a high traffic area. They need space to move and although they won’t intentionally try to bother others, you don’t want them near a walkway, pool or other area where people will be often.
Water source: You should provide a water source for your bees. They can fly several miles for water, but they shouldn’t have to. Leave a chicken waterer, bird bath or other water source nearby and refill it often. Just make sure to add some rocks to the water so that the bees don’t drown.
Off the ground: You need to raise you hive up off of the ground. You can do this by putting it up on cinder blocks, wood stand or table.
There are usually 3 ways to order bees:
Packages: You can order a package of bees that comes with worker bees and a queen. This is the cheaper and more available way to go, but there is a risk that the workers won’t accept their queen once they get in the hive.
5 Frame Nucs: The frames consist of honeycomb, honey, pollen, baby bees (brood), a queen and enough workers to fill the box. This method is more expensive, but these bees have already been working together and are more established so there is less risk.
Complete Hives: You can also buy a complete working hive from a beekeeper. This is the most expensive method but takes on less risk because the hive is already established.
We ordered a 3 lb package of bees because it was the cheapest way to go. If we do it again next year, we will probably order a Nuc because it seems better for the bees and easier for the beekeeper.
Where do we get help?
How do you find answers to your beekeeping questions?
Local Beekeeping Club-search online or with your local county extension office and see if there is a local beekeeping club in your area. This group will be a wealth of information and you may even be able to order bees and hives through them.
Mentor-it is always easier to learn something if you have someone to show you how to do it step by step. I have recruited a friend that has been beekeeping for several years as a mentor and it has helped me immensely.
The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum
The Beekeepers Bible by Richard Jones
The Beekeepers Handbook by Diana Sammataro
The Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping by Samantha & Daniel Johnson
I am excited about this new beekeeping adventure! Although I am by no means an expert, but I am happy to learn about these amazing creatures.
I hope this information helps you decide if beekeeping is right for your homestead. I also want to prepare you for the expenses necessary to get started.
Edited: If you would like to see how our first year of beekeeping went, check out this blog post —> 7 Lessons I Have Learned From My Honeybees This Year.
Do you have any beekeeping tips or tricks? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!