Essential Beekeeping Equipment
Looking to start a hobbyist beekeeper career? Wondering what is the essential beekeeping equipment for getting started? What to invest in first? Options are plentiful and can seem overwhelming to inexperienced apiarists.
Luckily, caring for bees doesn’t have to be a daunting responsibility. Besides acquiring the bees themselves, there is a full set of equipment and tools recommended to grow a successful beehive colony. We’ll cover them all in detail.
Bees need a home and this might be the first item you’ll have to put in your basket. You’ll find many different sizes and types of hives.
It’s best to have an idea of how far you want to take your beekeeping hobby from the beginning. This might save you lots of time and money down the road.
Langstroth Hives Configuration
Langstroth hives are considered the most popular beehives. They’re built vertically, with top and bottom entrances. Featuring a roof, they protect your bees from the outside elements.
The middle section contains boxes that can be placed one on top of another. This is a unique and important characteristic of Langstroth hives, as it allows for expansion when needed. Rectangular wooden frames are placed vertically inside the boxes.
When choosing your Langstroth hive, here are the characteristics to look for and consider:
The outer cover is often designed as a pointed roof to protect your beehive from rain, wind, and sun.
The inner cover is placed on top of the highest box, and just under the roof. It often features a small opening to provide your bees with an upper entrance.
A feeder can also be easily placed around the top opening. More on feeders further down.
Bottom Entrance Reducer
The main entrance should be a small opening located at the bottom of the hive. As you’re starting a bee colony, an entrance reducer prevents robber bees from entering. Your colony will also be able to protect itself better.
You’ll find that some beehives come with a queen excluder, or you might be tempted to add one.
A queen excluder is a grill made of metal or plastic and placed at the top of your uppermost box. It prevents your queen bee from accessing the remaining boxes.
The grill contains tiny holes, often large enough to let most of the worker bees go through. The holes, however, slow them down.
When getting started, you’ll want to make things easy for your bees. A queen excluder will make honey production more difficult, and it’s often preferable to start without one.
Most Langstroth hives are today made of pine wood. More economical, pine is sturdier than other woods. It’s, however, not resistant to weather and rot. We recommend painting the hive with a layer of light-colored paint to keep it cool during the summer months.
You’ll also find beehives made of western red cedarwood. This material isn’t as prone to rotting and doesn’t need to be painted. It’s also lighter, making it easier on your back. Tung oil can be used to provide an extra layer of protection.
If you’re unsure which material to choose to get started, don’t worry. You can always start with pine wood and later add or change to a different type of box.
Also called honey supers, the boxes contain the frames and are located in the middle section of your hive. Boxes come in standard dimensions (16 inches by 19 ⅞ inches). You can, however, choose between deep (9 ⅝ inches deep), medium (6 ⅝ inches deep), or shallow boxes (5 ⅞ inches deep).
The box where your bees breed (the lower one), should be deeper than the other boxes.
They’re rectangular and usually made of wood with a wax coating. This is where your bees will live, breed, and of course, make precious honey.
Each box is composed of eight or 10 frames, which can be easily replaced when needed. Keep in mind that more frames also mean a heavier load, and they’re more difficult to hold and use when they’re filled with fresh honey.
A 10-frame box can weigh up to 80 pounds so get ready for some serious and heavy lifting!
Flow hives are a more technologically advanced option. Only available in the last couple of years, they’re a one-stop-shop solution.
A flow hive often includes an observation window. Just have a quick peek in to know when your frames are filled with honey. These devices don’t only produce honey, but also extract it at the turn of a key.
The heavy frames don’t need to be removed at any point. This makes a great option for beekeepers not be able to withstand such a high level of physical activity.
Unlike other hives, you won’t have to open it, disturbing the bees in the process. They provide then a quieter environment for your colony.
On the other hand, you won’t be likely to notice if mites infest your beehive. Mites take great responsibility for the increasing mortality rate in bee colonies.
Flow hives offer convenience but some beekeepers prefer the close relationship that a traditional hive creates with the bees.
Protecting yourself from bee stings is crucial in a successful beekeeping practice.
Veil & Suit
Beekeeping safety involves avoiding stings. Getting stung on the face or scalp can be extremely painful. Like many insects, they also tend to love small cozy openings such as the nose and ears.
Bees are able to sense carbon dioxide, which is emitted when we breathe. Originally used to protect themselves against bears, bees tend to become quite aggressive as they detect CO2 exhalations.
When you’re getting started, you’ll likely be nervous. Bees can feel heavy breathing and you’ll be more likely to be stung. This is the reason why you’ll find experienced beekeepers handling their beehives without gloves and not getting stung.
As a beginner, a veil covering the head, neck, and shoulders, as well as a heavy-duty suit keeping the rest of the skin out of reach, might be one of the best investments you can make. If budget allows, a bee suit covering you from head to toes would be the best bet. Some suits are even ventilated and can be worn comfortably in hot weather.
Your hands are the most exposed parts of your body. To keep them bite-free, a pair of gloves should be a beginner beekeeper’s best friend. Any gloves would work as long as they reach the elbows. The sturdier the material, such as leather, the better.
If you’re using gloves shorter than the elbows, use duct tape to avoid bees flying inside.
If you don’t have a good pair of high boots at home, it might be time to invest in some. Bees are able to sting through thin fabric, so thick rubber boots are preferable.
Accessories for beekeeping are numerous, but as you’re getting started, only a few are essential.
Leaving your hive on the ground will make the job of crawling creatures (such as beetles) much easier. Using a hive stand won’t only make your hives more difficult to access, but will also keep the bottom part of the beehive dry. That means better insulation.
Hive stands are readily available, and often found made of concrete or wood. You could also make one yourself.
During certain times of the year, such as in winter and summer, your bees might need some extra help to find food. Every year, lack of food causes high bee mortality rates. Simply mix water and sugar and place the liquid in the feeder.
You can choose an entrance feeder or a top feeder. You can also leave the sugary water in a jar outside. This is the least preferable option, as you might get robber bees enjoying the extra meals as well.
It’s important to include floaters inside the feeder to prevent bees from drowning. If you have a large beehive, budget accordingly. Bees can require a very large amount of added sugar to their diet.
A veil and gloves aren’t the only pieces of equipment to make honey retrieval safe. Smokers are used by most beekeepers to make bees more docile and calm.
Bees use pheromones to communicate with each other. The smoke has the ability to mask these pheromones, making your job easier.
Smoke also makes bees believe that a wildfire is nearby. To prepare for their move, they’ll ingest as much honey as possible. A full stomach makes them slower and using their dart to sting becomes more difficult.
Place twigs, leaves, wood chips, or pine needles inside the device. It’s important to use chemical-free natural materials to avoid harming your bees.
The best ones are made of stainless steel and include a grate placed at the bottom. Don’t forget the lighter to fire it up!
Bees love to glue everything with propolis. Because of this, frames tend to stick to the hive, making them very hard to remove.
This is where a scraper tool becomes very handy. It’s one of these inexpensive but useful utensils that you won’t regret investing in.
Ideally, the tool should measure nine to 10 inches long and feature a scraper on one side and a knife on the other. Some tools even include a hole to remove nails. Don’t be tempted to use a regular screwdriver as they tend to damage the hive itself.
While removing and shaking a frame, most bees fly away. A few stubborn ones, however, hold on. A bee brush helps to remove the last few ones. It’s composed of long but soft bristles that won’t hurt your bees.
Honey Uncapping Tool
In order to access the honey, you’ll first need to remove the sticky wax that covers it. An uncapping tool looks like a brush combined with a fork.
It’s made of thick and stiff metallic bristles. It removes the wax without losing the honey underneath.
If you’re not planning to retrieve the honey manually, you’ll need a honey extractor. It’s a large metallic cylinder designed to place your frames vertically.
The extractor spins the frames to extract the honey. Just like a juicer, the honey comes out from a tube located at the bottom of the extractor.
Place a bucket underneath to gather the honey once it’s been spun from the frames.
Some extractors are made of plastic, but these tend to have a shorter lifespan. Stainless steel extractors are usually preferred as they’re sturdier, food-safe, and durable.
Extractors can contain from two to 10 frames. It’s important to know how large your colony is, so you can acquire the right extractor from the beginning – refractometers can also help with judging honey quality once you start getting serious with extracting.
Tangential Versus Radial Extractors
Tangential extractors do remove the bee-comb, but one side at a time. Cost-effective, they’re a two-step process. Once one side has been cleared, you need to remove each frame from the extractor.
Flip them, and place them back inside the extractor. If you have a few boxes with 10 frames in each, this means a lot of extra effort and time.
Radial extractors remove the comb on both sides in one single spin. They come at a higher price point but are also more convenient. You only place the frames once in the extractor.
Manual Versus Electric Extractor
Both manual and electric extractors will do a great job at removing the honey from the frames. They each, however, come with their set of benefits and disadvantages.
Manual extractors often come with a crank to maneuver. They don’t rely on power. If you live in an area where power outages are frequent, these might be a good option.
Less expensive than electric ones, they also give you full control over the speed of the spin and the extraction process.
On the downside, they tend to be less stable than electric devices. An extractor’s efficiency relies on the spinning speed. Your manual extractor will be, therefore, as efficient as you are.
Don’t forget that a box with 10 frames can weigh up to 80 pounds. If you’re looking for an extra workout, manual extractors will offer just that. If you’re having trouble with your back, electric options might be preferable.
If you’ve got a large number of frames to extract honey from, this method might be the easiest and the most efficient.
Spinning starts at the push of a button. The best electric extractors come with different speeds to help you control the extraction process.
More expensive than manual extractors, they also rely entirely on power.
A Queen Catcher
Your beehive will survive as long as your queen bee is present and in good shape. When harvesting, you might need to separate her in the process.
A queen catcher is a transparent plastic box that will keep your queen bee safe until she’s returned to the hive.
These natural remedies are unfortunately often forgotten. They are, however, very efficient and used for several purposes. Starting out, essential oils such as spearmint can be used to attract new bees to the hive.
You’ll quickly realize that hive beetles might be your worst enemies when it comes to harvesting honey. Left unattended, beetles can destroy an entire colony of bees, including its honey, pollen, and comb.
Essential oils such as lemongrass, lemon, or lavender are great insect repellents and should keep these beetles away from your bees.
Starter kits are here to make your life easier. They include all of the above elements and accessories so you don’t have to shop for items separately. This might save a lot of time and money.
Understanding bee behavior might not be as easy as it seems and requires education, passion, and experience. A slight change in the environment can greatly impact a beehive.
In order to maximize your honey production, ensure your bees’ wellbeing, and make proper decisions, specialized books are available to gain knowledge.
Other Things to Consider
Before heading to your department store to purchase the needed equipment, there are a few important elements to take into consideration.
- Space: one or two bee colonies would require about one-tenth of an acre. Ensure that your yard is large enough for your bees to thrive.
- Zoning regulations: Some won’t let you have bees in your garden. A routine check is recommended.
- Allergies: Check with your close and extended family for any potential allergies. If any, you may want to keep appropriate remedies at hand.
- Neighbors: It’s always best to keep a good relationship with your neighbors. We recommend informing your neighbors that bees are coming.
- Records: It’s always a good idea to have numbers, to-do lists and procedures at hand. It’s helpful to record and list anything you’ve already done or need to do with your hive in the future.
Whether you’re starting a beehive as a hobby, or as a lucrative honey business, beekeeping is a wonderful experience. You also get to passively participate in pollination, spreading flowers and planting seeds.
When selecting your equipment to get started in beekeeping, keeping in mind future needs might be the key. Quality and durability should also be considered. New bee colonies have a survival rate of less than 30 percent during the first year. Any functionality making your bees comfortable in their home should be prioritized.