Beekeeping on a Budget

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How to bee a frugal beekeeper and on a budget


If you have read my post about Getting Started with Bees ( click here if you haven’t read it yet) then you already know that getting started with beekeeping can be a pretty expensive initial investment, just two hives and safety equipment for two people can cost around $1,000-yikes! You’re going to get stung enough over the years with beekeeping you shouldn’t get stung by the cost too. Good News- with my tips You can beecome a beekeeper on a budget and who knows, you might even make a little money in the long run.

What you won’t learn in this article is why you should keep bees, where to buy bees, the different types of bees, hive maintenance, beekeeping in general,  and so on- you get the picture. What you will learn is How to Bee a Frugal Beekeeper & Getting started on a budget with tips and how-to links.

** Disclaimer: Cheap, Frugal & FREE do not always = Easy. If you want easy, refer to my article Getting Started with Bees where I include all of the links to get you started and where to buy equipment (but it’s gonna cost ya!)
My tips are just that, tips. They are not guarantees, promises, and they don’t come with a warranty. They are possibilibees (hee hee) of places and ways you can save money.

Let’s start with the star of the show, BEES

Beekeeping on a Budget: Where to get Bees for Cheap or Free?

The number one way to get bees for FREE is not for the faint of heart , easiest or for those allergic to bees, it’s Catching a Bee Swarm. 

Swarming is the process by which a new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees. In the prime swarm, about 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen. This swarm can contain thousands to tens of thousands of bees.
When a honey bee swarm emerges from a hive they do not fly far at first. They may gather in a tree or on a branch only a few meters from the hive. There, they cluster about the queen and send 20 – 50 scout bees out to find suitable new nest locations

Beekeepers fear swarming because they know they could lose half of their colony, and do everything in their power to prevent swarming by adding additional living space to the hive to separating the colony themselves. But swarming is a natural phase of life among the bees, and a good thing for you because that is when you can get FREE bees!
Many local Extension branches offer swarm removals with their beekeepers associations, call them and ask if you can volunteer with the beekeepers in trade for bees. Find out more about how to catch a swarm of bees here :How to Catch a Swarm by Learning Beekeeping

The second way to get bees for Cheap or Free is with your local beekeeper.
Seek out a local beekeeper and offer to trade labor for bees. Many beekeepers have other jobs and managing time to do both can be a struggle. I know many beekeepers that would be happy to trade used equipment or a colony for labor, especially during honey season and in the spring for hive assembly.

This is a two fold bonus- one, you could get FREE bees, and two, you will learn while doing it. Contact your local beekeepers association or extension office and ask them to put you in contact with a local beekeeper.

The third way to get bees for Cheap or Free is to hook up with a small scale beekeeper in the Spring.
If you know of a beekeeper who lives on a small lot chances are they can only house so many beehives. Like us, we have two right now and can accommodate 4-5 max. Once we reach the point that we are full to the brim, we will have to find new homes for the ‘extra’ bees when the hive splits/swarms in the Spring. I would much rather give these bees to a friend than to sell them to a stranger.

The last way I can think of to get bees for Cheap or Free is to become a amateur Inspector Clouseau and seek out those who are wanting to get out of the beekeeping biz. It never fails with me, right after we bought our bees (and spent a fortune) a neighbor came over and saw our bees. He said “I wish I would have known you were wanting bees, a friend of mine just gave away all of their bees and equipment” Really??? Thanks! So tell everyone you know that you are wanting bees and ask them to keep their ears open, it never hurts to ask and spread the word.

Beekeeping Supplies

This is the bare minimum supply list that I recommend as a new beekeeper

  • Bee Hive(s)
  • Frames
  • Foundations
  • Veil
  • Gloves
  • Bee Suit * Optional but I’m allergic to bees so this is a must have for me
  • Smoker
  • Smoker Fuel
  • Feeder
  • Water Source
  • Hive Tool
  • Brush
  • Resource Book- (First lessons in Beekeeping, Natural Beekeeping, The Backyard Beekeeper, The Beekeepers Bible)

The supplies mentioned above would cost around $400-$600 new, but I’m going to share some cost-cutting tips under each category to help you save $$$ (you can thank me later)

Beekeeping Supplies on a Budget

  • Bee Hive(s)
    • Make Your Own Hive with scrap lumber (This will require Intermediate Carpentry Skills). You really can save a small fortune making your own beehives, if you’re good at it you could start selling them and make some money. Locally made beehives are in demand because shipping cost from supply companies are expensive.
      To learn more about making a Top Bar Hive click here.
      To learn more about making a Langstroth or Warre Beehive click here.
    • Barter your labor with a beekeeper. Any commercial beekeeper has extra supplies laying around and a long list of chores that need to be done, offer your labor in trade for a hive. I can’t imagine anyone not willing to trade some equipment for labor during a time of need.
  • Frames
  • Foundations
    • Foundations are the wax foundation in which the bees build their comb. Many natural beekeepers like to install foundationless frames claiming they like the bees to have a more natural environment and draw out their own combs. In order to do this you need to add a pure wax starter strip to the top of the frames.
      Here is an excellent video showing you how (any why) to make foundationless frames, click here to watch  
  • Veil
    • Mosquito Net Over a HatA bee sting to the eye could permanently blind you, so while there are plenty of YouTube videos of these brave (reckless) souls not wearing a stitch of protective gear, I HIGHLY recommend against it. A simple over the hat mosquito net over a wide brimmed hat should work just fine.
  • Gloves
    • Surgical Gloves. Surgical gloves are puncture resistant and fit tight to the hand, unlike beekeeper gloves. Many beekeepers use their bare hands because they don’t like the limited mobility and the bulkiness of beekeeping gloves. These puncture resistant gloves work great for inspection task (not so great for honey extraction).
  • Bee Suit
    * Optional but I’m allergic to bees so this is a must have for me

    • Tyvek SuitWhen buying our beekeeping equipment we had to get two of everything (because hubby and I were in this together) two sets of gloves, two hats, two veils, and two suits. A good bee suit cost over $100.00 each! We are contractors by trade and have used the Tyvek suits on jobs before so hubby suggested we buy them for our bee suits (he’s a frugal genius but don’t tell him I said so). They cost less than $10.00 each and work great! The only cons are: #1 They are hot and offer no ventilation whatsoever so you have to work fast and when it’s not in the heat of the day #2 They are designed to be disposable (but they can last a very long time) so you need to be careful not to rip or snag them.
  • Smoker
    • Every beekeeper will tell you, if you’re going to buy one, buy a good one; so I can not offer you advice on a cheap smoker. However, a friend of mine who has been a beekeeper over 20+ years doesn’t use a smoker at all, instead uses a mix of essential oils in a spray bottle to keep them calm. Her results? Amazing. After reading more about the affects of smokers on bees I am inclined to follow her advice.
  • Smoker Fuel
    • Alternatives to buying fuel for your smoker are: Pine Cones, Pine Straw, Pine Chips, Cardboard Egg Cartons, Wood Chips, Dried Herbs, Peanut Shells, Corn Cobs, Cardboard, and Cotton Fabric, just to name a few. Whatever you use, make sure it is free from chemicals, burns cool, and is non-toxic
  • Feeder
    • There are many different types of feeders. Initially, I bought a front feeder but 90% of my Beekeeper Association members all use a large ziploc bag with a couple of small slits on the top and place in a box on top of the hive.
      Click here to see the directions on how to make a ziplock feeder.
  • Water Source
    • If you do not have a water source nearby you will have to give your bees water almost daily. We use a birdbath and the bottom of a planter tray. Make sure you add sticks or marbles so the bees won’t drown
  • Hive Tool
    • Pry Bar (yard sale, Home Depot). Make sure you clean any used tool you buy and designate it for beekeeping only.
  • Brush
    • Dollar Store Dust Pan Brush
  • Resource Book
    • Library or Free Download on Kindle

Do you have any budget friendly beekeeping tips for the frugal minded? Please share!

how to start bee keeping on a budget

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute medical, legal, financial, or other professional advice on any subject matter.
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  1. Ricki @ The Questionable Homesteader on May 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm
    Great post, I never thought of offering free labor for old supplies before, but now that I think of it, it's a great idea. Not only do you get the equipment you need, but you also learn about beekeeping from someone who knows what they're doing. I know the commercial bee company in town often puts hives on farm land in trade for honey, so when I'm ready to learn, they are most likely who I would go too. Thanks for the great suggestions.
    • The Coastal Homestead on May 28, 2015 at 1:55 pm
      Thank You! Most beekeepers I know love to share their knowledge to those wanting to learn. They don't look at you as competition, more like a family member, because they know the importance of bees in our society and want to support as many people who want to keep bees as possible. Keep me posted with your future adventures in beekeeping!
  2. windi turner|ms pedagogy on June 2, 2015 at 10:18 am
    Wonderful tips! We are beginners at beginning beekeeping. We started with 3 langstroth beehives, 3 nucs from a local beekeeper, supplies and tools from the local farm co-op, and a painter suit from Lowe's ... total cost just under $1000 including the class we both took for beekeeping with the local beekeeper's association. Yes, can be costly. I look forward to reading your other articles for more great tips!
    • The Coastal Homestead on June 2, 2015 at 10:31 am
      Thank you so much! Wow, 3 nucs! You really got a wonderful head start on your hives, how nice. If you ever have any cost saving tips or just tips in general, please share with me, I would love them.
  3. Jamie on June 4, 2015 at 3:35 pm
    Do you happen to know what essential oils your friend uses instead of a smoker? Would like to go this route also. Thank you for the great article!
    • The Coastal Homestead on June 5, 2015 at 12:26 am
      So glad you asked as it forced me to give her a call and find out for myself. The recipe is for Honey Bee Healthy, she uses 1 tps of the concentrate and puts in a spray bottle with distilled water and uses it. She just did a complete hive inspection, removing the frames and all, and said they were as calm as can bee. Here is the recipe: Honey Bee Healthy recipe Here are the ingredients: 1 cup water 1 cup honey (You can substitute sugar/water in a 1:1 mixture. Just make sure the water is not boiling when you add the sugar because caramelized/burnt sugar will make the bees sick) 1 cup ice 0.5 oz lemon grass oil – Available at Whole Foods – Go on Tuesday and get 15% off. 0.5 oz spearmint or wintergreen oil- Available at Whole Foods 0.5 oz lavender oil (optional) also Available at Whole Foods 3 lecithin capsules or one cap full of liquid lecithin 1 drop hand dish soap Take 1/4 teaspoon of lecithin granules or one cap full if liquid and mix it in one cup of boiling water. Add one cup of honey and one cup of ice to cool it to room temp. Put it in a blender and put on low setting. One-half ounce of each wintergreen/spearmint, lavender and lemongrass. Add the oils drop by drop until you have a yellow milky looking mix. Add one drop of hand dish soap and mix for 15 more seconds. The Lecithin and soap are both emulsifiers and will help keep the oils mixed in suspension. Add water to make up difference to total one quart. Mix one or two tablespoons to the gallon of feed. There has been some evidence that lavender oil is very offensive to Varroa D. You may want to add some to your blend. It won’t hurt.
      • Pam on April 9, 2017 at 5:12 pm
        So do we JUST add this essential oil recipe to the feed, or also mist it instead of smoking the bees?
        • The Coastal Homestead on April 10, 2017 at 8:05 pm
          The essential oil recipe is just for the spray instead of smoking. Not for feeding. I use Bee Tea for feeding an I buy it from Spikenard Farm. Here is the link:
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  6. Liz on January 12, 2016 at 11:23 am
    Use a large feather in place of the bee brush. It has the added benefit of not angering the bees as much as a brush and the bees don't get caught in it.
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