top of page

How much does it cost to keep bees?

Updated: Apr 7

Beekeepers like Harry love gadgets. But beekeeping doesn't need lots of kit. How much does it cost to keep bees - as this blog explains, it's much less than you (and Harry) might think.


A smoker and a Universal hive tool sitting on the wooden crown board of an open hive - how much does it cost to keep bees - Harry's Honey Cheltenham
A smoker and a Universal hive tool sitting on the crown board of an open hive

Start-up Costs for Beekeeping in the UK

The five items of equipment you need to buy are:

  • A hive with frames

  • A bee suit

  • A hive tool

  • A smoker

  • Cleanable or disposable gloves (not leather ones)

A hive is key to beekeeping. There are lots of designs to choose from. What you might choose is a whole other subject (and another blog). Hive choice can obsess some new beekeepers (it did me). For others, it's a bit of an after thought.


At its simplest, a hive is a box for your bees to Iive in. Frames are what your bees live on - inside the hive. A hive can be made of wood, polystyrene or plastic. Today (March 2024) you're looking at around £400 for a flat packed wooden hive.


A bee suit comes next. No explanation needed here - a bee suit protects you from your 60,000 stinging friends. You'll see beekeepers online who don't wear a suit. These beekeepers do get stung, but they are used to it - they style it out!


You will get stung. At the very, very least, invest in a veil that will cover your face, head and ears. Really though, put style points to one side and get a suit. A good basic suit will cost £100 - 200. A suit with more features (such as zips at the ankles) will likely be more.


A hive tool is just that. It's the metal tool that beekeepers use to lever and manipulate hive components. There are two main types - the J tool and the Universal. They are roughly the same price - about £10. On balance, we'd go for the J tool.


The smoker is an iconic bit of beekeeping kit. A good basic version costs about £15 although like everything in beekeeping, you can spend much more. Generally, go big (size not cost). A bigger smoker is easier to light and to keep alight.


Harry looking at a nuc of bees - with a J tool and a smoker - how much does it cost to keep bees - Harry's Honey Cheltenham
Harry looking at a nuc of bees - using a J tool and smoker - wearing disposable gloves

Gloves: it seems obvious to say that the purpose of gloves is to protect your hands from bee stings. This is true BUT how about protecting the bees from you?


Cleanable or disposable gloves help ensure you don't transmit disease from hive to hive. A pair of rubber, Marigold type gloves cost very little - say £3. You can build your confidence with these until, if you want, you decide to wear nitrile, disposable gloves.


Please don't get leather gloves - like you often see in beekeeping starter kits and in some YouTube videos. Leather gloves are very thick - you might crush bees. They retain the bees alarm pheromone from when you last got stung - you'll get stung more. The retain any disease - bad news for your bees.


Finally, wherever you're based, I'd recommend a bee keeping course. There is no substitute for seeing a colony of bees close up.


A good course will give you the chance to see inside a hive - ideally several. You should also be able to handle frames and get some get some general hands-on experience. Costs and duration vary massively - pencil in about £150 for a one-day introduction.


If you're right at the start and you just want to get a feel for things, a cheaper, shorter Bee Experience may be the way to go.


But how about the bees?

There are several ways to get bees. We recommend that new beekeepers buy a nuc. A nuc is a mini colony ideal as a starter.


Related: Read Harry's post What is a nuc of bees? for an explanation.


Get local bees if you can. The bees we sell to customers in and around Cheltenham come in at about £250 for a nuc. Some online suppliers charge more. Bees from your local association may be less.


Ongoing Beekeeping Costs

After set-up, there are some annual costs. You'll need to account for the replacement of frames and general maintenance - about £50 per hive per year, say.


Harry checking on his hives - How much does it cost to keep bees - Harry's Honey Cheltenham
Harry "in the field" checking on his hives

There are two other costs that very much depend on your style of beekeeping - some beekeepers do, some don't:

  • Feeding your bees - about £50 per hive per year

  • Treating your bees for Varroa - about £15-20 per year per hive


If you're keeping a hive or two for honey, you won't really need to buy an extractor or jars/labels. If you have something more commercial in mind, you'll need to factor in these costs at some point.


Conclusion

So, if we tot all of this up, how much does it cost to keep bees? If you keep yourself in check and do some shopping around, the start-up cost comes in at around £800+. Annual costs are much less - about £120 per hive max.


I can't deny that's a chunk of cost upfront. Once you're set-up though, with a bit of maintenance and some luck from the beekeeping gods, it's a great hobby that costs relatively little.


Like this post? Sign up for more.


 

Sources:

I got my costings from Thorne's - a big supplier of beekeeping equipment.


Other suppliers include Bee Equipment and Maisemore - amongst many, many others.

Comments


bottom of page