Decide Whether Beekeeping is Right for You

With all the buzz (sorry!) about beekeeping, you may have considered taking the plunge and getting a hive of your own. But as with adding any new species to your farm or homestead, it can be tough to know whether you’ll eventually regret the addition or celebrate it. So let’s cut to the chase: what does it take to keep bees?

Bee Allergies

If anyone in your family or close circle of friends is highly allergic to bee stings, this might be one venture to cross off your list, for obvious reasons. Beekeepers, even decked out in a full bee suit, get stung occasionally. And although you can position the hives to minimize human contact (and you want to make sure you don’t set things up so the flight path will be interrupted by humans constantly), there is the risk that someone could get stung even when not tending to the bees.

Time to Care for Hives

Kim Flottum, author of Backyard Beekeeper, says that bees need “more time than you need to properly care for your cat, but less time than needed to take good care of your dog.” The amount of time required to keep bees depends on the method you’re using, but to give you some ballpark of the amount of time that’s needed, the San Francisco Beekeepers’ Association says to figure 30 minutes per hive per week, and 2 hours per hive twice a year to extract honey.

Why Keep Bees?

Of course, collecting the honey they produce is the obvious answer, but there’s more to it than this. Keeping bees is good for your garden and crops, too. They help pollinate vegetables and flowers and may help your yields.
Honey, honeybees, beeswax and other bee-related products like propolis tincture and beeswax-based beauty products can be a great supplement to a homestead or farm income and can even form the basis of your farm’s business. Many small farmers find bees to be a rewarding and productive means of income.

How Much Does It Cost to Get Started?

This varies, again, depending on the method you choose. Most people start with two hives so they can compare how they’re doing. Check our list of beekeeping supplies to see more details on what you’ll need, but here is a basic breakdown for one hive, according to New England Beekeeping Supplies:
• One hive setup (includes bottom board, frames, etc): $200
• Package of bees (3 lb of bees and a queen): $105
• Clothing and tools (veil, gloves, smoker, 2 hive tools, bee brush): $125
• Medication and Feed: $35
• Bee school: $75
• Extraction: $15
According to this estimate, your first year with one hive would cost $575 and with two hives, $885. However, don’t get discouraged – read more here and learn how to minimize startup costs and use more natural methods that may require less outlay of cash! And remember, you’ll end up with enough honey to pay back those costs pretty quickly.

…and then “How Many Hives?”

How many hives can I have in one place? This is a difficult question to have a distinct answer to. Even in a given place it varies from year to year depending on the nectar flow which depends on the timing of the rain and the early and late frosts. In a place with really good forage (like the middle of 8,000 acres of sweet clover) it may be almost impossible to have too many hives there during a flow. But in general most rural locations in areas where there are the typical farm crops of corn, beans, alfalfa etc. about 20 hives in one place is usually the economic threshold where after that the competition will cost you honey. Try increasing the number of hives gradually until you see too much competition and honey crops decreasing.

How many hives should a beginning beekeeper start with?

The standard answer is two. I’ll say two to four. Less than two and you don’t have resources to resolve typical beekeeping issues like queenlessness, suspected queenlessness, laying workers etc. More than four is a bit much for a beginning beekeeper to keep up with.