So you want your own hives, but there is an overwhelming amount of beekeeping equipment. Do you need all of it? If you buy every piece of equipment you see, it can cost a lot of money. Most of us don’t have a money tree growing out back requiring pollination.
What do I Need to Buy to Start Beekeeping?
There are three categories to consider for beekeeping equipment:
- Small Tools & Protective Gear (PPE)
- Hive Boxes
- Extraction Equipment
Some tools make beekeeping easier, and there are some that you can easily skip. I’ve picked out the equipment that I use and value the most to help you piece together your ultimate personal beekeeping kit.
I will put these in a general order from most to least important.
Small Tools & Protective Gear
These are the essential tools we call the “Must Haves”:
- Hive Tool
- Bee Smoker
- Protective Gear (PPE)
- Beekeeping Gloves
Optional Tools that we recommend because they will make your job much easier:
- Queen Clip
- Robust Spray Bottle
- 3 or 5 Gallon Bucket
- Personal Fan
A hive tool is an essential tool. You use this to separate the cover, from the boxes and to separate and pull out frames for inspections. You always want this tool with you!
There are several types of hive tools available. You can try the different ones until you find your favorite. Fancy hive tools aren’t necessarily better.
My personal favorite is the J-Hook hive tool. It works best for me when prying open the covers and hive boxes. Do yourself a favor and have a couple of spare hive tools. You will put it down and forget where you left it! This is why I would also advise that you have bright-colored hive tools like neon pink or red. You don’t want it to blend in with its surroundings.
Another essential tool is the bee smoker. I personally like having the largest-sized smoker available so it burns longer. Along with the smoker, you will want some fuel such as wood chips. Check your local marketplace for a used smoker and find a great deal!
You can read more about why beekeepers use smoke here.
Protective Clothing (PPE)
I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of people beekeeping without any protective gear. However, I highly recommend having protective clothing, especially as a new beekeeper.
You can decide what is most comfortable for you. Do you want a full bee suit? This is a good choice, but be aware of your climate. You will be wearing this on the hottest days of the year as well as cooler spring and fall days. You can also buy a vented bee suit, which will cost a little more.
I prefer a bee jacket or a bee veil. If I’m doing a quick check or not getting too involved, then I will use a bee veil. For the majority of my interactions with the bees, a bee jacket and jeans are adequate for me. Choose whatever will make you comfortable when working with honey bees.
I have the thick, goat skin beekeeping gloves, but I do not like them. Try a pair of these gloves on, then imagine trying to unlock, get into your car and drive it with the gloves on. You have little to no dexterity.
With thicker gloves, you can easily squish bees without meaning to. You can also accidentally drop a frame of bees. Both of these situations will make angry bees. Angry bees are the ones who sting.
Once a bee stings the gloves, the pheromone is released attracting other bees to sting and attack the gloves. I find this pheromone lingers and continues to affect the bees even days later when you wear the gloves again.
This is why I prefer latex gloves. I prefer the Thickster 14 mil latex gloves. I discovered these because my husband uses them as an automotive mechanic. They are about as thick as you can get without losing dexterity. And these gloves still offer some protection from bee stings. If you are very nervous, you can always double up on the gloves. You will still have better dexterity than the thicker gloves.
A queen clip is not on my must-have list. You can get by without this. However, it is a good idea to have a queen clip with you for hive inspections. If you find the queen, you can catch her and put her aside in the shade to safely inspect the hive without accidentally injuring her.
If you’re buying the plastic queen clips, make sure you buy yourself a few spares. They are inexpensive, but they do break easily.
A queen catcher is more expensive, but I believe it’s worth the extra money. It’s easier to see what you’re doing, and you can let her crawl in. It’s easy to use one-handed, which comes in handy when you’re already holding the frame with one hand. With the queen clip, I worry more about accidentally crushing her.
If you decide to go with a queen catcher, spend the money on a good quality queen catcher. I have both the inexpensive queen catcher and the more expensive brand. In this case, the Mann Lake queen catcher is much easier to use. The mechanism works with much more ease making it simple to use with one hand.
Robust Spray Bottle
I recommend a good spray bottle as a useful tool. This is another recommendation that is not required. However, it is an easy and inexpensive tool. If you want an alternative to the smoker, you can make a drench with a 1:1 sugar syrup solution. You can add some Honey Bee Healthy or essential oils, but it’s not necessary. You don’t want to use too much smoke because it will make the bees scramble around and anxious. The drench is a nice addition to your tools.
Use the spray bottle to lightly spray the bees. The drench will occupy the bees and prevent them from flying up to greet you. They will be too busy grooming off the sticky solution. Be mindful of the weather. This is not an option for cold days.
Three or Five Gallon Bucket
A bucket is another non-essential recommendation, but it’s an inexpensive way to help keep you organized! You may want one or two buckets for your gear. I use it to store all of my small hive equipment such as my hive tools, queen clips, and spare gloves in one place. I also keep extra fuel and matches or a lighter in your bucket in case your smoker goes out. You also might want to throw in a few entrance reducers. I can hook the bottle of sugar syrup onto the side. Then it’s easy to carry with you to your hives to ensure you have everything with you.
You also might like to include a bucket seat. This will provide a lid to keep your smoker fuel dry while giving you a mobile seat to use while you’re beekeeping.
Imagine it’s a very hot, humid day outside. You’re wearing a bee veil over your head. And you also have on glasses. As you get hot, sweat begins to run down your face into your eyes. It fogs up your glasses, and you can’t reach through the veil to fix it! A sweatband around your head will help mitigate this annoyance.
Personal Neck Fan
Ok, this is an extra item that is not at all necessary, but if you’re in an area that gets hot in the summer, having this neck fan under your bee jacket helps to keep you comfortable.
What do I Need to Start a Beehive?
Now you need your hive bodies for your bees! For this article, I’m going to refer to the Langstroth hive, which has become the industry standard hive. I will cover other hive options in additional articles.
The hive parts that you will need:
These are the essential tools we call the “Must Haves”:
- Hive Bodies
- Frames and Foundation
- Covers (inner and outer)
- Bottom Board/Screened Bottom Board
- Hive stands
- Entrance Reducer
Optional Tools that we recommend because they will make your job much easier:
- Queen Excluder
- Robbing Screen
- Ratchet Straps/Anchors
- Follower Board
- Protection Against Predators and Unusual Suspects
The hive boxes are what will contain the bees where they will work and live. The brood chamber and supers for the honey can be made up of boxes in various sizes. What you decide to use is entirely up to you. Most hive bodies will come in a ten-frame or eight-frame configuration. Although there are other options available if weight is an issue. The boxes also have three different depths: Deep, Medium, and Shallow. Keep in mind, the bigger the boxes, the heavier the hives.
We will focus on the traditional wood boxes for the purpose of this article, but there are other materials available. There are hives made out of plastic, and some are made from polystyrene. Apimaye, Lyson, and Beemax are a few companies that offer hives made from alternative materials. These hives purportedly have superior insulating qualities that help to keep the bees cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
How Many Boxes do I need for a Bee Colony?
You will generally want one or two boxes for the brood chamber. Then you will probably want to have about three supers per bee colony on hand.
We recommend you begin with at least two bee colonies. Having more than one colony can help you monitor and compare progress. The stronger colony can also help with resources if a weaker colony needs it.
There are different choices for frames and foundation, none being right or wrong. I like the wooden frames with plastic foundation that have been heavy waxed. Giving the bees foundation means they can work faster to draw out the comb.
There are plastic frames that do not contain any wood, and they do not need to be assembled. One of the downsides of plastic frames, however, is that unused nooks and crevices become hiding places for the small hive beetles.
You can also provide foundationless frames and let the bees do all the work making natural comb.
I like using black plastic foundation for the brood chamber. The black contrasts nicely with the eggs to make it very easy to spot the eggs.
Frames come in three different depths:
- Deep: 9 ⅛”
- Medium: 6 ¼”
- Shallow: 4 ½”
You can choose the size of supers and frames you want for your hive. Keep in mind that a single deep frame full of honey can weigh 10 pounds! So a ten-frame deep super of honey will easily weigh 100 lbs!
Although it is less popular, you can also choose the size of box you use in your brood chamber as well as your supers. Some beekeepers only use mediums for their brood chamber and honey supers. If you plan on doing so, and you plan on installing a nuc, make sure to find a nuc supplier that sells a nuc that is made with mediums. They are not as common, but they are out there. Otherwise, installing a package or a swarm would be your path to beekeeping.
Follow along as we take a deeper look at other hive options/configurations that are lighter and physically less demanding.
You have many bottom board options to choose from, although the two most popular choices are the solid bottom board made of wood that typically comes with bee hive kits or a screened bottom board with a mite tray. Other companies have different designs with different claims of benefits made of various materials. The advantage of a screened board is that if small hive beetles or mites fall through the screen, they will be unable to make it back up through the screen to the hive. The effectiveness of a screened board for mite treatment is debatable, but it can be helpful.
The basic function of the bottom boards is to provide something for the hive boxes to sit on.
Of course, you have to set your bottom board on something. You cannot place it directly on the ground otherwise the bottom board may begin to rot. But don’t overthink the hive stands.
You can buy hive stands, but you can also easily use something as simple as cinder blocks. Just make sure the blocks are sitting with the flat side down to avoid the block sinking further into the ground over time. Hive stands do not have to be fancy. We have two hives sitting on an old futon frame. As long as you can provide the hive with a solid, level base, then you are good to go!
You probably already have something sitting around your home that will make a great hive stand!
Outer & Inner Covers
There are also a variety of different outer covers available. Some have options to feed without ever lifting the cover and can work with an external feeder. Others have different insulating values which may prove to be beneficial to your bee colony.
The two basic types of outer covers are the telescopic hive cover and the migratory hive cover. If you buy a beehive kit, it will likely come with a telescoping cover. It is called a telescoping cover because it extends out a bit over the hive box to make it less likely for water to come into the hive.
If you have a telescoping outer cover, then you will also need an inner cover. The purpose of the inner cover is to prevent the bees from propolising or “gluing” down the inner cover. Once they glue it down, good luck getting it off! Some will have a cut out that can serve as an upper entrance.
Commercial beekeepers tend to not use telescoping covers. If you decide to use a migratory top cover, the use of an inner cover won’t be necessary. Either cover is fine for the hobbyist beekeeper.
An entrance reducer will typically come with a beehive kit. The idea behind the reducer is that it makes a small opening at the entrance of the hive, which makes it easier for the bees to defend their hive. You have three options: a very small entrance, medium, or remove the reducer entirely. The second largest position is typically what you would run year-round. When the colony is first installed, you will probably want to use the smallest opening so that the colony is easier to defend. As the colony grows, you can switch to the larger position.
During the peak of summer, if your colony is booming, remove the reducer entirely. You don’t want to create a traffic jam for your bees trying to enter and exit the hive.
In the winter, you can use either the small or second largest position. This will be a personal preference.
In the winter, you will occasionally want to remove the entrance reducer and use a small stick or skewer to sweep out any dead bees. You don’t want an accumulation of dead bee bodies blocking the entrance. This is especially important if you do not have an upper entrance. Replace the reducer after you’ve cleaned out the area.
There are many choices when it comes to feeders to help your bees with their spring buildup and comb drawing. Although it is less expensive and easy to install, I do not recommend entrance feeders. This feeder is like putting up a sign that says “Eat at Joe’s” and tends to attract every other insect around and bees from other colonies, which can induce a robbing frenzy.
One of my favorite feeders is the rapid round feeder. You can feed either syrup or sugar. You can make the switch by simply removing a small plastic cover. Some inner covers will require minor modifications to use this feeder. A simple hole saw and electric drill is all you’ll need. The rapid round feeder can hold approximately ½ gallon of syrup, so it would be perfect for a backyard apiary you can access regularly.
If you have an apiary that is further from home, my feeder of choice is the Ceracell hive top feeder. Just like the rapid round feeder, the Ceracell hive top feeder can be used for syrup and dry sugar. The inserts can be installed or removed to accommodate either feed. With its larger capacity of over two gallons, it is perfect to use on your beehives in an out yard.
For a queen excluder, you can have a steel or plastic excluder. This works to keep the queen down in the brood boxes. The worker bees are small enough to slip through and work the honey supers while keeping the queen down in the brood box to lay her eggs. The use of a queen excluder is not an absolute must. You will have to decide whether or not to use one. Some beekeepers call the queen excluder a honey excluder.
Robbing screens are designed to make it more difficult for robber bees to gain entrance to your hive to gain resources. This is nice to have, but you could also create your own with a window screen. I don’t always use this, depending on the season. If there is a strong nectar flow, you don’t have to worry about this. But if there is a dearth, and bees discover a source of honey, it could set up a robbing situation.
If you live in an area that can have strong winds, you may need to consider ratchet straps or anchors to support your hive and cover. We have some BeeSmart covers that have blown off when we forgot to ratchet the hive down or place a brick on top.
This is another item that is not essential, but it is nice to have. If you have a small colony in a large space, it is difficult for the bees to properly maintain the space. Pests can more easily overtake the colony because there are not enough bees on all of the frames to protect.
By removing excess frames and inserting a follower board, you have now created a smaller hive space that is more manageable.
Protection Against Predators and Unusual Suspects
Consider protecting your apiary from predators and pests. In some parts of the country that have bears, they want to eat the brood and enjoy the honey!
Cattle and horses have been known to knock over hives. They’re not after the brood or honey, but, evidently, the beehives look like scratching posts. If you have goats, they, too, are not after the honey or brood, but they may try to climb on the hives as an obstacle.
Skunks like to disturb your beehives at night. When guard bees emerge, the skunks will eat them. Racoons would like to make a mess of the entire hive and eat what’s inside.
These are things to consider when deciding how high off the ground you want to place your hives. Bees that are constantly disturbed at night by pests could be less than friendly when you visit for your inspection.
A strong fence charger, t-posts, and woven wire fencing can make a world of difference.
We are also asked by potential beekeepers whether poultry will harm the bees and vice versa. The answer is: No. The chickens do not disturb the bees. The chickens may help keep down the small hive beetle population. Small hive beetle larvae will pupate in the soil near the hive. The chickens love to make a meal out of the hive beetles if they see them trying to make their way back to the hive.
We have chickens, guineas, and ducks all around our beehives with no problems for the birds or the bees.
How Do You Extract Honey at Home?
Now that you have an excess of honey, what are you going to do? You need to find a way to extract that golden goodness! Quality extraction equipment is an expensive investment. You can always check the marketplace to try to find a good deal from a retiring beekeeper.
I do not have any required equipment for honey extraction because there are many options depending on your situation.
Honey extraction doesn’t have to be expensive. But it will most likely be sticky! You will need to take the following steps to get your honey:
- Remove Honey Supers
- Extract Honey
Removing the Honey Supers from Your Bee Hives
First, you need to remove your honey supers. Many hobbyist beekeepers purchase a bee brush for this. It is an inexpensive tool, but it is not one you need to invest in. If you want to brush the bees off of the frame, you can use a handful of grass or a branch from an evergreen to sweep them off.
While this is an inexpensive method, it can be time-consuming, and the bees may become agitated when you are trying to brush them off.
Another method could be a leaf blower. If you own a leaf blower, you can remove the honey super, gently shake the excess bees off of the frame, then move away from the hives to use the leaf blower to remove any remaining bees.
The method I like to use is a fume board. You can buy a fume board, or you can easily fashion one yourself. It is a bee cover with a felt liner. You spray the felt liner with a nontoxic repellent such as Mann Lake’s food-grade Honey Removal Aid. The bees hate the smell, and it will chase them down away from the supers within a few minutes.
Remove the queen excluder before you begin so that the bees can move down quickly. Use some smoke to move the bees downward. Then place the board over the frames for no more than five minutes. Remove the cover, then you can remove the entire super. This is a great way to quickly remove honey supers.
How Can You Extract the Honey?
Have you joined a bee club? Your local bee club may have extraction parties! Some clubs invest in extraction equipment so that the members can get together and extract their honey.
If you don’t have a local bee club with extraction equipment, see if you can get a group of beekeepers together to buy and share a honey extractor. Or see if someone local rents out the equipment.
Some beekeepers skip the expensive equipment altogether and keep it simple! It can be as easy as uncapping the honey with a sharp knife and letting it drain into a bucket.
Crush & Strain Honey Method
Some hobbyist beekeepers will crush and strain their honey to extract it.
This involves cutting the comb out of the frame. If you have plastic foundation, scrape the comb off of each side of the frame.
Crush the comb with a potato masher or a wooden spoon. You need to be thorough with crushing all of the cells to get the honey flowing.
Then strain the honey through a strainer or cheesecloth into a bucket. Be patient as this will take quite a bit of time.
Save the wax comb for other projects!
Honey extraction can be a sticky, messy process, but it has great results! Extraction equipment is expensive for the hobbyist beekeeper, but you can easily find inexpensive ways around this!