Before you jump in and start ordering supplies, let’s take a step back and understand exactly how a hive works and what bees do. Bees make nests in nature, fly to flowers and extract nectar, then bring the nectar back to the hive and comb, where it slowly becomes honey.
To keep bees, you need a beehive. You will provide a man-made hive for your bees so you can help maintain the colony and easily harvest the honey.
There are a few different choices for the backyard or larger-scale beekeeper. Langstroth and top-bar hives are the most commonly found types.
You need to provide a man-made hive for your bees so you can help maintain the colony and easily harvest the honey.
A basic Langstroth beehive, the most common kind, consists of several parts:
- Hive stand. Something to keep the hives off the ground about 18-24 inches. Treated wood and concrete blocks are good enough. Some people use pallets. It should provide ventilation and a level surface to support the hive.
- A bottom board. This forms the bottom of the hive. It can be screened for ventilation and mite control, or slatted or solid wood.
- Deep hive bodies. These are the boxes with frames and foundation in them where the bees will live and raise their brood. Multiple boxes are stacked together to form the hive. Inside each individual frame is foundation, which the bees “draw out,” forming comb.
- Inner and telescoping outer cover. The inner cover provides a hole for the bees to get out of. Sometimes a pail feeder is inverted on top of this hole to feed the bees sugar syrup. The telescoping outer cover is usually covered in metal and provides a secure top to the hive.
- Supers. The boxes where the bees make honey – and where you collect it. These are filled with frames as well.
- Frames. Frames are wooden or plastic, and are rectangles that hold foundation. The frames give you the opportunity to pull out parts of the hive to inspect the bee colony, or to harvest honey.
- Foundation. Foundation is the base on which bees draw out honeycomb. The bees use the pattern on the foundation as a guide and add wax to the needed depth. Then the queen lays eggs in some of the cells. In others, the workers store honey and pollen. So a frame of foundation can have eggs, brood (developing bees), honey and pollen.
What do you need to really get started beekeeping? Learn what are the essential supplies, and what you can do without for now. Remember: start small, so you can make changes if you change your mind later.
Minimum Required Equipment for Beekeeping
1. Veil: Unless you are buying a beekeeping suit, the best veil is a square folding veil with beekeeping helmet. The ventilated helmet is cooler; the plastic helmet is cheaper and keeps the rain off your head.
2. Gloves: I prefer ventilated goat skin gloves. They do not last as long as the calf skin gloves, but they are more flexible. I normally do not wear gloves, but should a hive become defensive, they are good to have around.
3. Optional Beekeeping Suit: You really only need to wear a long sleeved shirt and slacks. The best colors are white and/or khaki. Remember to tuck your pants into your socks. Worker bees will crawl up your pant legs and sting you when they are pinched at your knees. A beekeeping suit may be purchased. I do own one and wear it as needed when the bees are especially defensive such as during harvest time. (If you are going to buy a bee suit, buy some boots to go with them. Getting stung on the ankles is not fun.)
Tools for Working the Hive
1. Smoker: Purchase the largest smoker you can afford. This way you will spend less time fueling the smoker and more time enjoying your bees.
2. Hive tool: Buy the cheaper hive tools. You tend to loose these often.
3. Bee brush: You do not use it much, but when you need it, you need it.
1. Ten frame or 8 frame equipment: One of the first decisions the beginning beekeeper must make is what equipment to use. Commercial beekeepers use almost exclusively supers that hold 10 frames. A deep super holding 10 frames of honey will weigh 90 pounds. While heavy, this equipment is easier to sell. Eight frame equipment is also available to the hobbyist beekeeper. This equipment is lighter, but more difficult to sell.
2. Deep or Medium Supers: The second decision you must make is to use deep or medium supers for the brood area. Once again, medium supers are lighter, but a deep super gives you more brood area for less cost and there is evidence that the queen will lay more brood in the deep super. Using medium supers cost a little more, but they are much lighter and easier on the back.
3. Using deep supers:
• Two deep supers.
• Telescoping cover with inner cover or migratory cover.
• 20 frames: Wedge top/grooved bottom is best because it can be used with all foundations.
• 20 foundations: Duragilt foundation is best for the beginner because it does not require wiring into the frame and does not have the acceptance problems of plastic foundation. Still, it is not perfect. The bees will not draw out comb in areas where all the wax is gone. Eventually, you will need to make the equipment to assemble frames with wire foundation because it is cheaper.
• Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Bottom Board: In my opinion, Brushy Mountain Bee Farm has the better IPM bottom board.
• Hive Stand: This is usually made by the owner. “The New Complete Guide to Beekeeping” by Roger Morse has a good plan.
• Paint: The supers are painted on the exterior, top and bottom edges only. Paint all wood surfaces on the outer cover and bottom board. The inner cover is not painted. Use good exterior paint with a coat of primer and give the equipment a minimum of two coats after priming. This may be the only time the equipment is painted.
4. Using medium supers
• Telescoping cover with inner cover or migratory cover.
• Three medium super.
• 20 frames, wedge top/grooved bottom is best because it can be used with all foundations.
• 20 foundations, Duragilt foundation is best for the beginner because it does not require wiring into the frame and does not have the acceptance problems of plastic foundation. Has the same problems as above.
• Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Bottom Board, see above.
• Hive Stand, see above.
• Paint, see above.
5. Another decision the beginning beekeeper must make is what kind of honey super to use. The medium super weighs 40 pounds when full of honey. The shallow super weighs 30 pounds when full. Purchase only one kind. The shallow frames do not work well in medium supers and medium supers do not fit shallow supers. If you have a mixture of both kinds of supers one tends to get the frames mixed up. Initially, you will need 10 frames and foundation per super. After the foundation is drawn out you can use 9 or even 8 frames in your supers. It is easier to uncap frames from a 9 frame super and you get just as much honey. Plan on at least three honey supers per hive.