This is not a cheap hobby but when honey is harvested there is a chance that you can recoup part of the cost at least.
Thornes seems to be a major player in terms of supply. Rising popularity means demand outstrips supply. Beginners kits with all you need to get started seem to cost about £400 (hive, frames, clothing, smoker, gloves, hive tool, foundation). They seem to sell out quickly pushing the beginner to trying to obtain the parts they need from places where they are in stock.
Joining an association and looking out for equipment offered by other members looks like a good way to get started. Ply hives are cheaper than cedar – but they are heavier and need treating with a bee friendly preservative. Fragile Planet has offered reclaimed timber hives. Putting nails into ply is harder than into cedar! Most parts of the hive can be purchased assembled or flat pack.
There are plastic versions https://www.omlet.co.uk/shop/shop.php?cat=Beekeeping&sub=Beehaus&product_id=2938&product_name=Beehaus+Green but they seem expensive and I would worry about cleaning them after any infection and what happens when they are no longer serviceable. They do look funky.
The talk about natural beekeeping on the web sounds very plausible and seems a cheaper option http://www.naturalbeekeepingtrust.org/ and has some eminent supporters. The Warre hive seems to be their standard hive type.
I’ve got my equipment from a variety of sources and been quite pleased but I may have spent more than the beginners cost. My bee suit was from Bee Basic and I was very pleased with the quality, speed of delivery and price. I also have a jacket with hood from Thornes and a hat that can be used with some bee proof normal clothes as I know I have people who want to watch. That was probably extravagant but has some sense as well.
Most of my hive I got from ebay – but the maker encouraged you to contact him about options and I think those who just bid without contacting him probably ended up paying more at least in some cases – again a symptom of demand outstripping supply. Thornes gives a guide of 2 days to dispatch but I have experienced a delay nearer to 2 weeks; Paynes seems to be faster and packaging seems more robust. I visited fragile Planet and also had a postal delivery from them. I have a reclaimed timber stand from Fragile planet – in the end it seemed more robust than using breeze blocks and it did not seem to matter if the stand was not cedar. Some might not like the mismatch. If you get flat packed it seems good to make them up – if a piece has warped it can make all the difference to the finished product so don’t give it time to warp and possibly making up sooner rather than later means you can ask for a refund / replacement of any damaged part. I think January is Thornes sale time so I will try and look for any other pieces I need then.
Once you have one hive, if you are intending a second in the same location, some thought is required so you aren’t in the way of the entrance of one when you are dealing with another. I have seen several where they have 4 hives all facing in to a common central area. The 4th hive must face almost a northerly direction. I really need to think about this!!
Paynes seems to be very organised; when I have ordered from them not only has delivery been fast they have also kept me fully informed in a logical manner (eg when the order is taken they send a message of confirmation saying you have completed step one of three). My Thornes order took longer and was not well packed. As a result, one of the dummy boards had damage to the sort of wings that allow it to hang in place but it wasn’t broken clear through so I didn’t claim. I rather think I should have done as it will obviously be weaker. Online I have seen comments that when something is damaged Thornes are always very good – but probably wiser to pack better and have the goods arrive in one piece!
So – how much have I spent so far? The answer is probably ‘too much!’ The beginners kits probably do offer good value for money compared with buying items individually though to see prices of £300 – £400 quoted for a hive and equipment with no bees means a sharp intake of breath. Buying individually allows you to be specific about some of the options. Most beginners kits offer a jacket for the clothing but perhaps an all-in-one may be preferred. The leather gloves which seem to be universal in beginners kits seem to be less popular than marigold type alternatives, or the disposable nitril ones though if you delve the web you’ll find those who rate each type. Delivery costs can add up but some suppliers have a cost above which delivery is free so try to make up a reasonable order and think of things in plenty of time.
Cedar hives are the most expensive wooden hives. Traditionally this is the wood used and its weight is not too bad. The weight of honey, wax and bees is not inconsiderable and so many beekeepers seem to have back problems that weight and manner of lifting needs to be a consideration. Other makers I have come across have provided a top quality product often at a competitive price. For example Yorkshire Hives and The Beehive Workshop seem to prefer to make them for you and to be honest there is a great deal of advantage. If you buy a flat pack you don’t know how well it will fit together or whether one distorted part will leave you with a little nagging dissatisfaction. Equally, those makers who care about their hives can be satisfied that the quality of assembly matches their standards. If you are also going to buy bees at the same time this option seems worth considering. At the time of writing I cannot see the combined offer of hive and bees but they were one of the few that offered these. I bought a national hive from them without being absolutely sure what wood they had used (though deduced it was not cedar) complete with frames and foundation for about £150 as my second hive. They now have added cedar hives to their shop – see here . Fragile Planet is another interesting option – they try to reuse and recycle but also have new equipment. They have a system whereby your local BKA can get in touch and get a code which gets all members a 10% discount.
The last link I’ll try to find is a supplier of bees that only sells to those who have been on their course – which means I have been unable to buy from them. Their courses are spread over a weekend in an area of outstanding beauty so for those who want to learn in one long session and have the benefit of a weekend stay this seems an interesting option especially as it is really frustrating to get the knowledge and then find you cannot locate bees. They sell bees they claim are English bred and gentle at a price which is lower than many and reserve these for those who have been on their courses or belong to the Ludlow BKA which suggests a better chance of getting bees. Many newbies end up paying over the odds for bees for which they don’t really have a great knowledge of provenance. Tiger Hall near Church Stretton is the location.