5.5.11

beekeeping: a word about the investment

checking the frames in our bee hives.
 one of the things we're doing with our little bee adventure is that we're trying to keep track of how much we're spending on it (not something we're usually very good at, i have to tell you). i was thinking that a good way to do that would be to share the tally of it so far with all of you here. of course, these prices are what it costs in denmark (where everything's shockingly expensive), but they may give you a rough idea, or at least a comparison, should you decide to investigate in your area.

lighting the smoker with my williams-sonoma kitchen blow torch!
thus far, our investment has been as follows:

membership in the danish beekeeper's association: 670DKK ($133) for 2011. this is a family membership, so we can all 3 go to the meetings and the lessons if we want to.  it also includes a very informative monthly magazine.

once you are a member and you are assigned a local branch of the association, the lessons (bi-weekly from april 2 - september 12) and your mentor are included, so it's very good value for money.  the lessons take place at the school hives, which are near a little museum about 15 minutes from our house. it's very hands on, learn by doing. or what those of us who have worked in the training business call legitimate peripheral learning. :-) 

the bees are looking good.
as you know, our mentor, who is 84, has not messed around - he took us very seriously when we said we wanted bees already this year. we've been to two lessons and we've already got two hives in full swing. because he's been a beekeeper for years, he has connections and he was able to get us our hives for a song. we paid 250DKK ($50) each for the two - so a total investment of 500DKK ($100) in the hives (they can be around 2500DKK ($500) for new ones!). as you can see, they're used and not the prettiest ones ever, but they're perfect for us as a beginning.

looking for the queen - she's got a blue dot on her back.
we got two bee families as well, which each cost 700DKK ($140) for a queen and 500-1000 bees. tho' both are hard at work, one family is thriving better than the other and working faster and it's an interesting contrast. but our bee mentor says that's quite normal and the family that's not growing as quickly is just fine, so he says not to worry about it. some are just stronger than others.

a view of the frames down in the hive. later in the summer, there will be two "stories" of these.
in order to work with the bees, especially when you're new like we are, you need protective clothing. we bought a set for husband - it's a jacket with a built-in net hat and it cost 350DKK ($70). a pair of good bee-handling gloves for 120DKK ($24) and he was ready to go. we'll eventually get jackets for me and sabin, but for now, we know that husband will be the one handling the bees, so his is enough.

an old basket carries the new frames - you can see the wax plate is attached.
the bees are really busy here with the spring in full bloom, so we needed to quickly get our hands on some frames. the frames cost 6DKK apiece (we bought 25, so 150DKK). you could probably make them yourself, but it would be fiddly and for $1.20 apiece, we think it's totally worth it to just buy them. we bought a roll of the thin wire you have to string on them for 52DKK and a thread tightening tool for 109DKK ($21). you also need a package of wax plates - the bees can build them themselves, but you help them out by starting with a wax plate base. as you can see above, it's already got the hexagon-shapes started to help the bees. and it is made of beeswax, so it's quite natural. we got a package of 100 of those for 300DKK ($60) (included in that price were two boxes where you can hold the frames that are full of honey until you process them). in order to attach the wax plates to the frame, you need a device that heats the wire so that it melts fast. those cost 600DKK at the bee store (yes, there is a beekeeping supply store), which struck me as ridiculously expensive for an ugly piece of MDF with a lawn mower battery attached to it, so i didn't buy one. husband has made one himself, using an old computer cord and some neat ceramic insulators that were lying around in his workshop, so we got a much more steampunk one for free! (strangely, i can't find it in his workshop to photograph it, so i'll have to show it to you another time.)

a gentle puff of lavender-scented smoke calms the bees.
smoke calms the bees and moves them where you want them to be, so we needed a little smoker. it cost 240DKK ($48). i bought a big package of tobacco to put into it for 35DKK ($7) and some little starter blocks that help you get it started for 25DKK ($5). the packages i bought should last us throughout the season. husband appropriated my small kitchen blow torch for starting the tobacco, so we didn't need to buy that. the tobacco has lavender in with it as well, which makes it smell very nice and has a relaxing effect on the bees.
the smoker is going very nicely
so for a total of 3951DKK ($787) we are in business with bees! of course, there is a lot of equipment for extracting honey that we don't even know about yet and i can see a price range on that of anywhere from about $400 for a hand-operated separator to $6000 for a fully automated centrifuge. i think that this year, we can learn how it's done on the bee association equipment and decide what kind of investment we'd like to make.

at the moment, we don't really see this as a business, more as a way of covering our own honey usage and even upping that...i intend to learn ways of using honey in recipes instead of sugar. but we have quite a honey habit already - we use four 450gram containers a week in our tea alone. since our bee families can produce anywhere from 40 to 80 kilos of honey in a season (it's a wide range because it depends on so many factors), we should have plenty for our own use and as presents. i'm looking forward to having the wax to use as well - for candles and possibly to embark on some experiments in encaustic art.

7 comments:

Lynne said...

You eat nearly 2kg of honey a week? Yoh!
No wonder you need bees!
Or is my measley honey consumption of about 250g a month just totally abnormal?

Heather Moore said...

I can't think of a nicer thing to invest money in than bees. Beautiful!

julochka said...

lynne - we're freaks. and we started putting honey in the tea instead of sugar and we drink a LOT of tea (especially husband). i think it has actually helped lessen my allergies, tho', so i'm totally in favor of it! :-)

heather - thank you!

nacherluver said...

Thank you for sharing. What an informative piece! It's so great that you're raising bees. Fun! We use honey tons around here and I love doing encaustics. Fun fun!

Anneli/Bockfilz said...

Very interesting and very informative! And I'm surprised too, how much honey you consume each week - but I'm sure it's quite healthy!

I wish you good luck and a great harvest!

M said...

wow - looks vvv cool - and LOCAL in the EXTREME!

stephanie said...

Your honey consumption is impressive! I've been hearing a lot about honey from local bees helping with allergies, so I'm going to give it a shot this year. (Maybe some day I'll have my own bees!)