As we all know, a grazing table is a perfect solution for the hot summer months when bees don’t want to work. They can go out and get water and/or nectar at any time of day or night without needing their keeper’s intervention.

What many beekeepers do not realize, however, is that maintaining a grazing table can be costly. It will cost you in electricity for your fountain pump (unless you use solar power), it will cost you in water bills if you do not have access to fresh clean well or spring water, and it will even cost you in wear and tear on your body as you haul heavy buckets back and forth from where they are filled with water to where they sit on top of your hive. Let’s take a look at some of these issues.

This article will concentrate on the actual costs for maintaining your grazing table, assuming that you already own hives, and are therefore paying for their upkeep (you can’t keep bees without hives).

## Size

The first thing to consider is the size of your grazing tables. Your goal should be two standard deep brood boxes per hive, with 8-10 frames in each box given normal fall/winter conditions. This usually works out to about 45-50 pounds of bees per box maximum, depending upon how much room they have to expand into nectar-producing territory in the summer months.

To see what 50 pounds look like, check out this link. For the sake of simplicity though, let’s say you have two hives, and keep them at the minimum 45 pounds per box size. That means that you need about 90 pounds of bees per day just to maintain your hives (not including any brood-rearing…let’s leave that for now).

## Hive Scale.

Bee apiaries are measured by how much weight they can hold. 50 lbs = one hive body with 8 frames in it (the US standard). Multiply this times 4 to estimate how many boxes equals 100 lbs of bees.

A rule of thumb is that it costs $35/year to cover the cost of feed, varroa mite treatment, etc., per hive (this figure was established by Purdue University beekeepers who were conducting a study on the economics of beekeeping). Therefore, if you divide $35 by the number of pounds per hive, for two hives it comes to about $17.50/year/hive for expenses (this does not include the cost of the hive itself). Add $17.50 to $35 and your total yearly expense is $52.50/hive/year.

## Water Costs.

Now let’s add in the costs for water…

Depending on where you live, a visit from a truck with fresh non-fluoridated well or spring water could run you anywhere from 50 cents to five dollars per visit, totalling about six gallons per visit at most (going on what I’ve seen around here). Assuming that there are 365 days in a year, that works out to about $18/year/hive for water costs.

## Electricity Costs

Now let’s add in the costs for electricity…

Even if your grazing table is on a timer that comes on only at night, this means that you have an electric pump running all day long just to keep some standing water available next to your hives. It has been my experience that some of these fountains are pretty thirsty, so figure 5-6 hours of continuous operation per day. Let’s say it takes 1 watt per hour (see here ), so our 90-pound hive would use 9 watts per hour every time the fountain runs.

A good deep cycle battery weighs about 20 pounds and can provide 400 ampere-hours of power at 12 volts. A 400 amp-hour battery will run a 5-watt load for 20 hours. So the 90-pound hive with our 9 watts per hour draw would need about 42 hours worth of juice from the battery. 42 x 24 = 1008 watt-hours per day, or 10 amps/day. So your battery tender will have to be able to provide 10 amps at 12 volts continuously to maintain this table (see here ).

A deep cycle marine battery weighs about 55 pounds and is designed to put out between 200-400 ampere-hours of power when new, depending on make and model. For our purposes let’s budget on the high end… which means that one battery will operate our fountain pump for 43 days out of the year, at a cost of about $3.20/year/hive for electricity (assuming that you are using this battery to run something else as well). I have three batteries hooked up, but only one is being used to power the fountain pump…

So now let’s total up our costs for electricity and water: $52.50 + 18 = 70.50 + 3.20 = 74.70/year per hive Now what about labour? This part will be different for everyone, depending upon how much time you want to spend on maintaining your hives, but figure on an average of four minutes per day spent twice a week turning each frame so that the comb has equal access to the syrup.

This means that you will spend 16 minutes a week working each hive for a total labour cost of about $1.43/year/hive. So now let’s add it all up: 74.70 + 16 = 90.70 + 1.43 = 92.13/year per hive

## Weight

There is one other thing to take into consideration…what if the weight of your hive goes up? As time goes on, boxes get thicker and thicker with bee burr comb, so the number of pounds in your box should go up at least slightly from year to year or else you might have a queen problem or other issue which could wipe out your entire colony. Add an extra 50 pounds per box to account for this effect and you will need to add an extra $1.89/year/hive onto your total yearly costs.

92.13 + 1.89 = 94.02/year per hive Calculating our initial investment… Assuming that you purchase a deep cycle marine battery for about $75 and a pump for around $60, with enough coroplast ($40) to make two grazing tables, then the total cost of starting up beekeeping comes out to around $225. If you divide this by the number of seasons it takes a hive to fill a standard eight frame nuc box (three), it comes out to around $78.75 /season or 95.28/year, making our break-even point at 23 hives!

That’s a lot of beekeeping, so why not pick up a couple more hives to help defray the cost?

This calculation also doesn’t take into account the average increase in whole hive weight per season… if you get six seasons out of each box (going on my own experience) then you would need to add an extra $1.46/year/hive beyond your break-even point for every year after Year One (i.e., 95.28 + (95.28 x 6) = 193.88). If your calculations show that it takes longer than three seasons to fill one standard eight frame nuc box, then adjust accordingly.