Blog

Season Update: January Blues (but not really)

Hello everyone! The team and I hope that you all had a lovely New Year and are looking forward to the beekeeping season ahead. It has been extremely mild over the winter (she says whilst the temperatures have plummeted over the weekend) and whilst inspecting our colony’s feed situations last week the girls have come out to greet us, as well as spotting a few bringing pollen back to their homes.

The workers looking far too busy for January, they may be bringing pollen from the catkins

It has been quite exciting being back after some time off, as some of you may know I had a short time away in Bulgaria snowboarding and only escaped with a few minor injuries! We’re receiving more and more nuc orders now we are into 2020 so if you would likes bees from us this year please don’t leave it to late to get your orders in.

We are really trying to be more in tune with social media (our facebook, instagram & twitter). We started our in depth ‘Beginner’s FAQ‘ with our first post being an analytical piece ‘How Much Does it Cost to Start Beekeeping in 2020?‘ which has already proved to be extremely popular! We’re so pleased that there is more interest in our blog which has always been present but not the most viewed part of our socials, we’re hoping that our experience as bee farmers will be able to help others in the long run.

Sian and I headed to our first talk of 2020 at our local beekeeper’s association which was very illuminating! The talk was called ‘Wings, Stings and Other Things’ and involved honeybee dissection to show us honeybee anatomy and it was absolutely brilliant. James Donaldson manipulated the honeybee to show us how the wings and stinger operates and talked us through the digestive system, I think I can say for the whole of the association that we all learnt something new!

Me trying my hand at carefully dissecting a honeybee

We’re now looking to attend a microscopy course this year to enhance our skills as beefarmers, not just to advance our understanding of honeybee anatomy, but hopefully to analyse our own pollen and possibly diagnose diseases (though fingers crossed we’d not find the need for that!)

We had a huge(ish) overhaul of our unit and decided to move some of our shelving units upstairs and move our glass jars downstairs (yes we were stupidly carrying box after box of jars up and down the stairs). It is certainly much more spacious and is making it much more of a pleasure to work there.

Rob refitting our shelving upstairs (Sian’s bunkbed)

Our Rob is currently in Spain where it is unfortunately raining! Can you imagine? After all that rain here he thought he could escape to warmer climates but the rain had followed him! He is only away for a week but that means no collections from Headley until 27th January.

A terrified looking commercial brood box D:

To those who haven’t started feeding fondant, please make sure that you continue checking the weight of your hives, in the warmer weather the colony can burn through their stores super quickly. We always recommend putting a pack of fondant on at this point in the year. If your bees don’t need it you can remove it wehn you do your spring checks and wrap it back up again. However it may save your colony if they do need it! Remember some weight can be attributed to late flowering ivy which the bees may not be able to break down since it sets so solidly in the cells.

We hope things are looking good for all our fellow beekeepers and bee farmers, fingers crossed for minimum winter losses.

Becky

How Much Does it Cost to Start Beekeeping in 2020?

Maybe it’s your new year’s resolution. Or maybe you’ve been champing at the bit to become a beekeeper for years. Nevertheless an important question needs to be answered, how much does it really cost to start beekeeping? Here we’re going to completely breakdown the costs you can expect to incur if you’re going to go for shiny new equipment and completely prepare yourself for a lifelong hobby.

Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby to have, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a beekeeper too! The team and I are constantly asked questions about our career because looking after bees compels children as well as adults. Honeybees are wondrous creatures that bring a lot of joy to their keepers and there are many reasons why people get into beekeeping initially. It may be that you are passionate about the environment and want to promote a little bit of biodiversity in your area. Maybe you love honey and desire jarring your own harvest. Either way, with bees I find that people either love keeping them or they hate it! So if you fall into the former, prepare yourself for a lifelong hobby as not many quit unless they cannot physically look after them anymore.

So hopefully you’re reading this because you’re seriously considering taking up beekeeping as a hobby but you’re unsure of the costs involved. Let’s just say, beekeeping is not a cheap hobby, at least not initially. Thankfully enough most beekeeping equipment is reusable and we completely encourage that (as long as hygiene standards are kept up – but that is a whole other blog post). Let’s just break it down, don’t worry if you’re not familiar with what everything is at the moment, but believe me – you need all of it!

We’re going to assess the cost of equipment using the cheapest sized hive – the British National* Please note prices are correct at time of publication.


Complete Hive Price

Inspecting some of our hives

Becky’s BeezzzsBee EquipmentThorneMaisemoreAbeloNational Bee SuppliesPaynes
First or Second Grade?FirstSecondFirstFirstSecondFirstFirst
Price Inc Frames?NoYesNoNoNoYesNo
Cedar or PineCedarPineCedarCedarCedarCedarCedar
Queen Excluder TypePlasticPlasticWired FramedPlasticPlasticWiredPlastic
Roof Depth8″4″6″8″4″6″4″
Flat Packed or AssembledFPFPFPFPFPFPFP
Complete Hive Price£241.94£149.00£224.70£240.47£125.00£285.00£240.00

First or Second Grade? First grade bee equipment is the highest classed wood used in making frames, hives, floors and roofs. They have less knots making them easier to construct and less likely to split when nailing. Second grade equipment also doesn’t necessarily fit together perfectly unlike their First Grade cousins. We have to emphasise that unless you are an experienced carpenter we do not recommend buying second grade equipment, or you may just be throwing your money away.

Cedar or Pine? We have to say that buying Canadian First Grade Cedar (also known as Western Red Cedar on some sites) is the best option in the long run. Pine needs to be treated so that it doesn’t rot, whilst cedar doesn’t need to be treated at all. If the material is Cedar but not Canadian it is going to actually be British Cedar, which is extremely knotty and only used in Second Grade equipment.

Queen Excluders? In terms of efficient cleaning, plastic queen excluders are the most long lasting and easiest to clean, though in our opinion they are a lot less attractive than the wired framed queen excluder. You do have to be careful with the plastic queen excluders because they can snap, a hole bigger than the bee space renders your queen excluder useless. The wired framed queen excluder has a bee space, but make sure you match it to rest of your kit because a lot of brace comb on a wired queen excluder is just a nightmare to clean however you can buy a tool to assist with cleaning. We normally wouldn’t recommend the wired queen excluder without a frame, because it is more likely to get warped. With both plastic and wired unframed you do not get a bee space so again you need to take this into consideration when making this choice. No bee space will mean that the excluder will sit directly onto the top bar of the frames for a hive with bottom bee space.

Roof Depth? In our opinion getting a deeper roof is the better choice because it is more versatile and provides more insulation in the winter months. With deeper roofs you can easily put a feeder and fondant on without exposing the crownboard to pests and the elements. It is also a lot weightier so you can rest assured that your roof will not fly off in high winds.

Flat Packed or Assembled? All of the companies above supply their equipment flat packed. As a beekeeper you don’t need to have carpentry skills, most hives will come with assembly instructions but if they don’t you can easily find instructions on most beekeeping supplier sites. In order to save money it is always wise to buy flat packed and it also means that you will learn how to construct your own equipment. It is never that complicated although initially it can be a little time consuming depending on your skills (which is why we always recommend first grade equipment). If you really don’t want to assemble any of your equipment, National Bee Supplies, Maisemore and Thorne provide an assembly service, ranging from £50.41 to £110.00 (price in assembling complete hives only).

Final Recommendation? Is it a bit cheeky to recommend ourselves? Well in terms of price and quality considering all of the above options, we do believe that we at Becky’s Beezzzs as well as Maisemore and Thorne have the best price for the complete hive. National Bee Supplies does a great deal that includes frames and foundation but we’re going to go more in depth with that in the next section.

Average Price for Complete Hive: £215.15


Hoffman Frames & Foundation (Flat Pack)

Here you can see a mix of the Hoffman and Manley Frames (inc plastic spacers)

Becky’s BeezzzsBee EquipmentThorneMaisemoreAbeloNational Bee SuppliesPaynes
First or Second Grade?FirstFirstFirstFirstFirstFirstFirst
10 x British Standard Frames£15.90£14.22£16.50£15.90£10.00£15.75£16.56
10 x British Standard Foundation£12.48£12.60£11.20£12.48£11.80£8.76£13.20
30 x British Standard Super Frames£38.70£42.66£49.50£47.70£30.00£47.25£49.68
30 x British Standard Super Wired Foundation£23.67£26.25£20.70£23.67£22.50£20.85£25.92
Gimp Pins (500g)£10.60£7.25£3.00£8.47£5.00£8.95£9.60
Complete Price£101.35£102.98£100.90£108.22£79.30£101.56£114.96

First or Second Grade? Unless you’re a commercial bee farmer you’d probably won’t want second grade frames. As explained earlier, you’re definitely better off having first grade frames for easier construction.

Hoffman or Manley? When perusing the sites you might see codes such as DN1, SN1 or DN4 and SN4. This is referencing the type of frame, Hoffmans are self spacing frames, so you don’t need any other kit. Manley frames have straight side bars, therefore you need to buy plastic spacers that slip onto the lugs or alternatively buy castellated spacers.

Gimp Pins (Frame Nails)? Don’t underestimate the importance of buying good frame nails, we implore you to try a few brands, but cheap and brittle frame nails can turn an easy task into frustrating hours of work!

Final Recommendation? There is not much variance in price amongst the big equipment providers. Abelo is the cheapest by a huge margin, I cannot vouch for the quality as we have not bought this particular product, but we have bought their assembled frames and no complaints on our end!

Average Price for Frames & Foundation: £101.32


Spring Nuc of Bees

Can you believe this nuc didn’t swarm?
Becky’s BeezzzsI Want BeesSipa Honey BeesBSHoneyMaisemoreBee EquipmentThorne
Number of Frames6665656
Queen TypeBuckfast or CarniolanUnknownBuckfastBuckfastUnknownBuckfast or CarniolanUnknown
Offers Postage?YesYesNoYesNoYesNo
Total Price£230.00£240.00£249.00£220.00£240.00£235.00£265.00

Number of Frames? A little self explanatory, the nuc generally comes as 5 or 6 frames although you can buy nucs of just 3 or 4 frames. We used the most popular 5 or 6 frame for our comparison and you can clearly see which are better value for money. Most nucs come with 2 frames of stores no matter if they are on 5 or 6 frames, so the main difference is how much brood you will get, and doesn’t it sound better to get 4 frames of brood?

Queen Type? We used to provide the option of having Ligustica or Mellifera headed colonies too, but this unfortunately led to problems within our operation so we now only offer Buckfast or Carniolan similarly to Bee Equipment. Other companies did not state the breed of bees they offer, and the others only offer Buckfast.

Postage? We understand that not everyone can come and collect their nuc, but we do always encourage that our customers collect, there is so much less risk involved. We want to sell ourselves above others, but try going local too, possibly within your association – that means less fuel used and the bees will have a shorter, therefore less stressful journey (just ensure you are three miles away, as the crown flies, from the nuc’s original site or all your flying bees will return there!).

Final Decision? We offer the best priced 6 frame as well as offering the choice between Buckfast or Carniolan headed colony but your local hobbyist beekeepers may sell for a fraction of the price so always be on the lookout for a good deal – do note that they may not be as strictly inspected, and you do want to ensure you have good healthy disease free bees on frames that are new or just 1 year old. They may also not have traceability or the same record keeping details as nuc producers.

Nuc of Bees Average Price: £239.85


Suits & Tools

Becky in her kit
Becky’s BeezzzsBBwearBJ SheriffThorneMaisemore
Beesuit (Fencing Veil)£112.99£112.99£162.00£136.00£110.00
Hive Tool£10.00£10.50£10.49£10.00£11.38
Smoker£29.00£27.50£29.99£17.50£30.77
Disposable Gloves£6.50£6.50N/A£5.00N/A
Total Price£158.49£157.49£202.48£168.50£152.15

Beesuit? I tried to get the most similar looking beesuits on the market to compare, and there is a £52 price difference from Maisemore’s to BJ Sheriff’s. There are some subtle but important differences such as thickness of the material and ease of cleaning. Both BBwear and BJ Sheriff manufacture their beesuits in the UK, and we at Becky’s Beezzzs are proud stockists of BBwear’s fantastic beesuits, the team wear them throughout the summer and they have lasted for years. Our apprentice also has a BJsheriff suit, provided for free by them as they help to sponsor the Beefarming Apprenticeship Scheme.

Hive tools? Generally hives tools don’t have that much of a difference in the quality, basically if they do the job then it’s fine.

Smoker? Your smoker is going to be your best friend in the future and it is imperative that you get an effective one. We stock an amazing German Manufactured Rauchboy smoker, it has an internal chamber and I have to be honest we have tried many smokers on the market and none stand up to this one. There are a lots and lots of different smokers available, many of them being manufactured in China and to be honest they are not the greatest of quality. We suggest you find and buy a quality smoker, maybe go on recommendation from a experienced beekeeper, and stick with it.

Disposable Gloves? We recommend that our customers get used to using disposable gloves when handling bees instead of thick leather gloves. They’re definitely less protective in terms of stings but they are much better in reducing the risk of spreading disease in addition to making it easier to go through your hives swiftly (or maybe it’s just me that is extremely clumsy with thick gloves on?) This may be less of a concern for those with only a few colonies. If you are really not comfortable starting with a nitrile glove and feel you do need a little more protection on your hands then try starting with a marigold type washing up glove, these are thicker than nitrile. Alternatively wear leather with a nitrile glove over them. Remember though, most stings occur because we crush the bees!

Final Recommendation? A little difficult to have a fair comparison of total costs since BJ Sheriff and Maisemore don’t supply disposable gloves but you can always mix and match your order.

Average Suits & Tools Price: £161.49


Treatments & Feed

Feeding time
Becky’s BeezzzsPaynesThorneMaisemoreAbeloNational Bee SuppliesBee Equipment
Apilife Var£5.80£6.24£6.00£6.82£6.00£5.90£4.90
Apistan£4.00N/A£4.60£5.04£3.98£4.38£3.98
Syrup£26.00£29.40£29.00£29.00£25.00£23.95£18.75
4 Pint Rapid Feeder£5.50£6.98£3.50£7.01£5.50£4.95£3.40
Fondant£5.25£6.80£6.75£6.46£5.00£6.75£4.95
Pollen Patty£4.40£4.80£4.00£4.00£5.00£4.75£3.75
Total Price£48.95£54.22£45.55£55.81£48.49£48.49£37.74

Treatments? The price of this is going to vary every year, but you will have to pay for two treatments a year (ideally with different active ingredients). The prices above are shown for 1 treatment per colony and some of the treatments are sold in packs enough for 5 colonies. Apistan is an example of this, there are 10 strips per pack so you can expect a full pack to cost 5 times what is quoted above.

Syrup and Feeders? You may not need syrup every year if you always make sure to leave a good amount of honey in the colony, in your first year you are likely to feed syrup to encourage your nuc to pull their foundation frames when hiving them. We usually experience a period known as the “June Gap” each year, this is not necessarily in June, and feeding syrup maybe necessary at this time also. Across the companies they are all 12.5kg jerry can of Ambrosia syrup except for Bee-Equipment which is a 14kg jerry can of Invertbee Syrup. And if you’re feeding syrup, you will need a feeder.

Fondant and Pollen? In the winter you may need a pack of fondant and pollen to ensure your girls get through. Hefting is not an exact science of course, so we always recommend to put fondant on even if you think they have plenty of stores (the weight could be Ivy for example, which they will find extremely difficult to break down if it has set hard through the winter).

Average Price of Treatment and Feed: £48.46


Honey Extracting and Jarring

Our Jarring Machine

In your first year it may be wise to be cautious with how much honey you remove from your hive. Your goal first and foremost is to keep your colony strong, with plenty of stores to welcome the spring in your second year. In any case, as a hobbyist you won’t be likely to buy an extractor or any other heavy machinery, you may invest in some muslin or a double strainer. You may also find quite a few jars knocking about in your cupboard ripe for reusing, so it’s unlikely you’d buy a gross of jars straight away.


Memberships & Courses

The Cult of Beekeepers!

It is always recommended that you join your local association and do a beekeeping course before buying your own bees. We always ask prospective beekeepers if they have been on course before we sell them bees. We have had many customers attend our beekeeping courses with us who have been on order and who are so excited to get their bees but then when they’re with us during the practical handling portion of the course it’s just not what they were expecting. We have also had customers who bought a lot of equipment from us only to find they were dangerously allergic to stings. If you do a course first you will know for sure that beekeeping is for you before you commit to buying any equipment.

Becky’s BeezzzsRiver CottageBuckfast AbbeyThe London Honey CoSurrey BeesForestry England
£90.00£155.00£110.00£150.00£100.00£70.00

Association membership costs approximately £30 per annum, this varies of course so check your local association’s website. And if you want more personal and ongoing support with beekeeping then most associations do beginner beekeeping courses throughout the winter.

Average Price of Membership & Courses: £142.50


So How Much Does it Cost to Start Beekeeping?

Itching to get started?

Well, adding all of the average costs up, we get to a grand total of £908.84. Of course by reading this post you can see quite a range in terms of the cost of equipment, courses, clothing and tools, less difference when it comes to feed, treatments and nucs so you can really choose where to save your money.

It’s in our view that you would want to invest in good quality equipment that you can re-use year after year, if you are looking after your kit you shouldn’t have to replace them for a long time. Another of our top tips is to really look local for as much as you can, people are constantly selling secondhand equipment so you can really save money this way. But, do be careful buying second hand, this is one way of spreading disease, so make sure you sterilize any second hand kit you buy before you put your bees in it.

I hope this gives you more of an idea of what you can be looking to spend before getting knee deep in the beekeeping world. Remember that the initial costs are quite high but as long as you look after all of your kit then you shouldn’t be looking at many ongoing costs. Beekeeping is a highly rewarding hobby that many people enjoy, so please start checking out some of the stores referenced here and start looking forward to getting involved!

Total Average Cost: £908.84

External Links (we may be biased but we’re not sponsored by any of the following companies mentioned in the post :D)

Abelo

BBWear

Becky’s Beezzzs

Bee Equipment

B.J. Sheriff

Buckfast Abbey

BSHoney

Forestry England

I Want Bees

Maisemore

National Bee Supplies

Surrey Bees

Sipa Honey

The London Honey Co

Thorne

Run Up To Christmas

The excitement is in the air now, and all my little bees are slacking (I’m looking at you Rob & Sian!) because they’re so looking forward to some time off. Our Gabriel is having a fantastic time in New Zealand but is working up until 11pm and getting up at 4am! So no rest for him then.

Just a friendly reminder that any orders that you would like to arrive prior to Christmas need to be received before 12pm on Friday 21st December. We will be closed over the holiday period, from 23rd December – 2nd January. So please check your colonies to find out if they need any feeding and get any fondant orders in nice and early as there will literally be no one in the office.

To be honest I’m probably the most excited amongst the team about Christmas because I am heading to Bulgaria to go snowboarding with my family! I’ve been duly taking lessons and kind of getting the hang of it, Sian thinks I will be a pro by the end of the holiday and Rob is just scared I will break my arm (I don’t have a great track record – that’s why). Anyway, we’re all in the festive spirit, Sian and I went around Winchester Market yesterday and I’ve made a wreath!

My wreath making skills!

With Gabe in New Zealand, Sian has been locked up in the cold removing old wax from frames so that we can repurpose the wax into candles and sanitize our frames to reuse for next season. A lot of miserable weather today, and it’s making us envy our apprentice who gets to experience the New Zealand Summer. Just look at the scenery that our Gabriel is blessed with, surrounded by the mountains and the rivers. He’s in a relatively remote area called Hanmer, but they do a lot of nomadic beekeeping – moving their hives to the world renknowned Manuka Honey. A little more upscale there (they have 1000 hives!) So they’re making the use of our young apprentice and putting him through their paces.

Gorgeous New Zealand!

Luckily for Gabe, he lives a short drive away to the natural hot spring resort, Hanmer Springs! Oh he is such a lucky boy! There is just so much to see in New Zealand that Sian is reminiscing about her time there too, she’s hoping Gabe will be able to go see Mount Aoraki, or even swim with some dolphins in nearby Kaikoura. We do worry about him though, with the recent natural disasters occuring there, we hope he’s at least messaging his family more than he does us!

Rob & Becky organise how to space out our pallets

Rob managed to bring back 67 pallets for our new nuc site which was very exciting. Rob stood on the trailer throwing them off whilst I drove up and down the the field. It got a bit hairy at times because I forgot he was on the back and kept driving whilst he was mid-throw! Sian enjoyed bellowing ‘STOP!’ when I had to pause, for a small woman her voice travels outrageously far. We were like a well oiled machine, should of had some one filming us!

Some of you may have noticed that we’re certainly using our social media more haha, at least attempting to! So please follow us on our twitter, instagram and facebook for offers and little updates that may interest you. We do hope everyone also managed to get to their polling stations today, we’re all waiting until after work.

The Holiday Season Smells of Cinnamon

Hope everyone has been wrapped up warm if they’re working outside doing their winter maintenance, we’re already making quite a bit of progress but it can get cold at our yard! So we’ve (mainly Sian) been cutting out wax from our used frames so we can reclaim the wax as well as prepare our frames for sterilisation. This way we can re-use almost everything, it is definitely labour intensive but necessary. With all that wax, I’ve continued making candles, we’ve been getting a lot of orders lately, especially for the trees again so I’ve been making forest after forest. Tis the season after all!

Our Office Display of Honey

We’ve been busy jarring our honey in anticipation for the inevitable holiday orders. As you can see we’re pretty well stocked now, just need to refill our cinnamon honey section. I’ve been infusing it here in the office and when you remove the lid, the smell is just incredible and is definitely reminiscent of the holiday season. We always use organic cinnamon for our infusion. If you haven’t tried it yet, you must, especially if you love cinnamon. It is great on pancakes, ice cream, french toast or just on hot buttered toast – now I’m making myself hungry.

Infusing our honey with organic cinnamon

Sian is also delighted that our tortoise Berger is out and about and captured this shot of him enjoying the sparse sun we’ve been getting lately (yes he has a tomato seed on his chin) Now it is harder to get her to work efficiently with all the animals about!

Does anyone like tomatoes in their Bergers?

We’ve also made a big push in terms of recruiting our new apprentice for next year, we’re trying to advertise in as many places we can without incurring a ridiculous bill! We’ve interviewed quite a few candidates with lots of potential, it is very exciting to meet more people interested in completely changing their life and jumping into the world of beekeeping! That’s often why I love doing our beekeeping courses, it’s just so nice to see that fresh wave of excitement adults have when they’re encountering bees for the first time. That feeling is definitely infectious! If you know anybody that could be interested in becoming our apprentice you can get them to send us an email: beckysbeezzzs@gmail.com, we’re open to any kind of candidate and they don’t need any beekeeping experience!

Nightmares and Disasters

We’re well into November now and I’m sure everyone else in the UK is feeling the plunges in temperature. Last week we had an emotional goodbye to our apprentice Gabriel, he is away for his block training and then, finally, he is head to his highly anticipated trip to New Zealand. We are all hoping he will have a blast and bring us back some Manuka honey (and a wealth of knowledge).

From now on we will be doing quick checks on our hive’s and nuc’s for fondant.  If you start feeding fondant you much ensure that you keep offering it.  We check to make sure they have enough stores for the next few weeks, but the rain has been making it very difficult to get to some of our apiaries and some (well one) of the team are petrified of getting stuck in the mud (again). Speaking of anticipating ‘nightmare’ situations, this is one of the most used words amongst our team, so Sian had the idea of trying to eradicate this little bit of negativity by making a swear jar, 50p charge for each blunder! The money is at least going to our Christmas Meal, and if Rob keeps slipping up the way he is, we might be able to afford to eat The Ritz rather then the local pub!

DSC_0133
We have some Santa Candles watching over the kitty.

I’ve been making gift packs and candles in advance of our Christmas rush, it’s quite a nice warm activity when it is bitterly cold outside. I’ve managed to make a forest of beeswax trees, a favourite gift amongst our customers.

And now, looking even further ahead to 2020 (I know, we’re already a bit too excited) we have put up our availability for reservations for 2020 mated queens on our website, as well as 2020 nucs, so if you’re the organised type, go ahead and put a small deposit for a queen/nuc for next year.

Buckfast Beckys Bees

Becky & the Team 🙂