It's POSSIBLE to get started for free, catching swarms, and building top bar hives out of scrap, finding someone with unwanted equipment, etc. But you may as well sit the family down right now and tell them they're all gonna have to start tightening their belts, because the grocery money and the mortgage payments are going straight to the bees.
I wouldn't plan on spending less than $1,000 by the time you get some protective equipment, a smoker, a hive tool the parts for at least three hives (you'll need "spare parts" from another hive if you get into trouble with one of the hives which means at least two hives and enough extra parts to hive a swarm if they swarm).
But it's true, you can start with just a top bar hive from scraps and a swarm or a cutout from a house or a tree. But doing a cutout without a smoker or a bee suit is a brave undertaking ESPECIALLY if you're not an experienced beekeeper and swarms and cutouts are unpredictable as far is if you'll find one, when you'll find one and how they will react.
How many hives are you looking at getting started?? I started in this hobby in june of this year. I place an ad in the local nickle ad newspaper asking if anyone has any honey bees they wanted to get rid of and I was swamped with calls from people that have them in barn/shed walls and want to get rid of them. I must of taken out close to 20 feral hives out of walls in about 2 1/2 months.
If you want to get started and you have tools then build your own boxes and frames. A deep or medium box is only about $9.00 - $15.00 depending on where you buy it(it will take at least 2 - 3 boxes per hive). If you have access to scrap wood then you could build your own very cheap. I recommend you buy the frames, they are 10 for about $10.00. Each box takes 10 frames. Wax foundation cost about $10.00 for 10 sheets(1 per frame).
I dont use a smoker myself but some do. Unless Im taking a feral hive out of a wall I just wear a heavy long sleeve shirt with a veil.
The cost of veils vary greatly depending on the type you buy, my first one I made for about a buck. I got some very fine veil material from wal-mart and stapled it into a hood that fit over a baseball cap then duct taped it to my shirt. I recommend a pair of leather gloves too - just duct tape the gloves to the shirt but they do make a sleave that has elastic in the ends that slide over the arm and back edge of the gloves - this too can be made for a fraction of the cost.
Depending on what raw material you have available to you getting started could be very inexpensive.
[This message has been edited by oregonsparkie (edited November 14, 2004).]
I just bought a few new hives and paid 8.55 for deeps, 6.95 for mediums, .85 (deep) and .82 (medium) each for frames, and 6.95 for migratory covers. For me, buying this stuff is actually cheaper than building from scratch. I can't buy the lumber at the rates the equipment suppliers do.
Migratory covers are much cheaper than telescoping covers. You can still cover them yourself with aluminum flashing if you want. The flashing is available at home centers and is fairly easy to work with.
Make sure you take shipping into account. Woodenware is heavy and sometimes it makes sense to pay a bit more for the product from a supplier that is closer.
Also, you can often get some decent discounts for buying quantity. Use this winter to find a bee club and put together a mass order. The savings can be substantial.
Package bees are the same story. Get a large order together and you will save money.
If you work hard and are careful, every hive will more than pay for itself by the second year.
I also use a tyvec suit instead of a bee suit. They cost about 6 dollars each and I typically can make one or two last for the entire season (might have to tape up a tear here and there). Actually, I can afford a bee suit but I still use the tyvec because it's disposable and I don't expose my household to bee venem by washing a suit.
MB is right on the money, I spent close to a $1,000 my first year. I got three hives
( 6 deeps, 6 supers and 3 SBB's) , all the tools & gadgets and the best beesuit I could find. That also included some books and some candle molds. I don't mind spending the money ( I have no kids) & I am too lazy & incompetent to build anything.
"To bee or not to bee, that is the question"
It is like any hobby. You can spend as much or as little as you like. I spent $1,000 my first 12 months. After that the cost pretty much drop off. If you build your own boxes than you can expect to spend about $30 per box. That price includes purchase frames and foundation. A home made bottom and migratory top might run you $12.
Dcross has good suggestions for the veil and gloves. It is hard to work bees your first year with out gloves. My bee suit is an xxl white shirt from the thrift store. You can make your own smoker out of small coffee cans. The true old timers made them all the time during the depression.
I made a top bar hive out of old fence boards. cost me nothing. I could just have easily made a conventional hive with the old fence board. There is nothing in the book that say a hive body has to be made out of one board. If you use old cedar fence boards bring them inside for a few days to dry out and shrink before making your hive.
I pay about $70 per hive for mine. I make my own screen bottom boards and my lids are made out of a piece of plywood (preferably chipboard... it doesn't warp). I buy three deeps per hive, and buy full plastic frames for all three boxes. The plastic frames are good for life and you don't have to do anything to them... just insert. I get bees by splitting or collecting swarms. If you get 50 pounds per hive- you can make your money back in just one year. A friend of mine bought 6 hives two years ago and has already paid em all off.
I get Tyvek suits at a local farm supply place but I see Brushy Mountain also has them -- but they're pretty expensive from Brushy Mountain.
I think in my initial post I typed Tyvec, but the proper spelling is Tyvek.
This is a non-woven material that I think is made by Dupont. The painters coveralls may be the same thing. They come in several styles such as with a hood and sewn-in foot covers. I try to get the basic model that is just a standard coverall.
I don't believe they are sting proof. They give you protection because they are white and because they are kind of baggy. I've never been stung through the Tyvek but it could happen, especially if suit has been pulled tight against your skin. But this is true for almost any bee suit.
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