Selecting Beekeeping Equipment

Opening up a beekeeping supply catalog or browsing a website can be daunting for the beginner. There is so much equipment available and so many different options that it can be hard to figure out what you need to get started. Hopefully this short write up will help you sift through the options and get what you need to keep bees.

The first thing you need is a hive (obviously). Seems simple enough, but we’re going to run in to a wide range of options right off the bat. 10 frame, 8 frame, deep box, shallow box, and on and on. All these different options have a reason to exist. But for this article, we’ll focus on the basics. We’ll also constrain our discussion to Langstroth style hives. This is by far the most popular hive type, and has the most widely available components in the marketplace.

First, you’ll have to decide if you want to use 10 frame or 8 frame hives. 8 frame hives are a little lighter and easier to handle. However, 10 frame hives are typically what you’ll want to start off with. They have a higher internal capacity and are generally considered the standard. You’ll need at least one deep hive box (preferably two) for your brood chamber. These deep boxes measure 9 5/8” tall. This is where the queen will lay all her eggs, which will eventually grow into bees. On top of your two deep hive boxes you’ll need at least one medium super. This box will be 6 5/8” tall. This will be a honey super, where the bees will store excess honey. Then you’ll need frames and foundation for the hive boxes. There are many options here. I prefer plastic foundation on wood frames, and would recommend this to beginners as well. You’ll also need a bottom board for the hive to sit on, and a stand that the whole set up will rest on. You can build or buy a nice stand. Or you could do something as simple as use some cinder blocks. What’s important here is that the stand is very sturdy and elevates the hive high enough to keep potential rodents/predators out of the hive. The hive will also need an inner and an outer cover (often called a telescoping cover). A queen excluder is also critical. The queen excluder is placed on top of the brood box and under the honey super. This prevents the queen from laying eggs in the frames of honey you will use later. That’s about it for the hive and its components. Let’s recap:

  • Brood chamber – This is the hive body. It can hold 8 or 10 frames of comb. The brood nest is in this box and this is where the brood is reared and honey stored.
  • Medium honey supers – Surplus honey is stored in the honey supers. This is the honey you will harvest.
  • Foundation and Frames – these hold beeswax or plastic foundation.
  • Bottom board – The hive sits on a wooden component called the bottom board.
  • Hive stand – This keeps the hive elevated off the ground. Keeps the hive dry and pest free.
  • Queen excluder – Situated between the brood nest and honey supers. Keeps the queen in the brood box and prevents her from laying eggs in honey supers.
  • Hive outer cover – This is basically the roof of the house.
  • Inner cover – Helps insulate the hive and prevents the bees from attaching comb to the outer cover.

Now that the hive is set up we need to figure out what tools and equipment the beekeeper needs. As a beginner you’ll definitely want a bee suit or at least a jacket. These are protective suits that cover your body and your face, protecting you from bee stings. There are several types. Some are vented, some have different types of built in hoods/face nets. Find one that you like and can afford and go with it. If you live in a hot region I do recommend a vented suit if you can afford it. You’ll get hot working your hives in a suit or jacket. You’ll also want some gloves. Again, there are several options. I recommend some basic leather beekeeping gloves. Alternatively, you can also use thick nitrile gloves, which provide more dexterity but less protection.

Next up on the list is tools. You’re going to need a hive tool. There are a couple different styles, but they all perform the same basic function. Find one you like and go with it. They’re cheap enough that you can even buy a couple different types and see which one you prefer.

You’ll also want a smoker. The smoke makes the bees much more docile and helps cover up any danger pheromone released by the bees. Also, the smoke is completely harmless to the bees. Most smokers are essentially the same, some are a little fancier, though. I bought the most basic smoker I could find when I started beekeeping a few years ago, and it’s still going strong. You can buy smoker fuel that is usually made from some type of burlap. I prefer to use dried grass or small bits of wood scrap I have laying around as fuel. Just be sure you don’t burn anything in the smoker that has chemicals in it, as this could potentially be harmful to the bees,

While it isn’t an essential tool, a bee brush is very handy to have around. The bee brush has long soft bristles that you can use to move bees around without hurting them. This is convenient when trying to get bees off of a frame to inspect it or moving them around as you manipulate hive components.

That about sums it up. You’ll notice a seemingly endless amount of other accessories and components available, but these are the bare essentials. As you progress and grow as a beekeeper you’ll learn how to integrate other items into your tool kit. The easiest thing for a new beekeeper to do is buy a beginners kit. These kits will come with everything you need to get started, and often even include a beginner’s beekeeping book. You’ll also usually get a small discount buying your equipment in a kit. As you expand you operation you can buy hive components separately as you need them. The next article will cover bees and how to select a breed for your operation. So… stay tuned!