Updated on October 26th, 2020
As a beginning beekeeper, you’re going to start shopping for your initial equipment. You’ll find many sites offering starter kits like this one on Amazon that may get you started but won’t include everything you’re eventually going to need.
Looking back on our initial beekeeping equipment, most of what came in our starter kit was excellent. However, there is one major component we would change if we did it over now.
So here’s what we think your beginning beekeeper kit should include (other than the bees for the moment).
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What’s In A Beginner’s Beekeeping Kit?
So-called beginner kits typically include some or all of the following:
- Some basic instructional material
- Basic beekeeping tools such as a smoker, a hive tool, a bee brush and an uncapping fork
- Protective gear such as a bee suit or jacket, gloves and hood or veil to protect your face
- In the case of Langstroth hives, the most common, a complete hive body including boxes, an outer cover, an inner cover, frames, a bottom board and an entrance reducer
You can buy an all-inclusive kit or assemble one yourself. The kits may save you a little money. Assembling it yourself will let you pick and choose the individual components.
A Good Book
Yes, you can Google around and look for answers to questions or click through YouTube videos. However, a good book will provide the information you need to get started in an organized fashion along with quality illustrations to help you along. Understanding the basics will help you find more relevant answers later on the web. A kit may include basic set up instructions but we suggest you go a little deeper.
Our favorite book is The Beekeeper’s Handbook. We refer to it on a regular basis as we look to expand our beekeeping knowledge. It can be overly detailed for a beginner as it includes information well beyond what you’ll probably try to do in your first few years as a beekeeper.
The Backyard Beekeeper is another excellent resource. It also has great illustrations and fabulous photography to help you along.
See our article The 11 Best Beekeeping Books (Updated 2020) for a complete list of our recommendations.
Your starting equipment should include a number of small items:
- A smoker – used to modify bee behavior to make your time in the hive a little easier. Some kits may include fuel to get the smoker going. It may be helpful until you get the hang of keeping the smoker lit.
- A hive tool – to help lift frames (described below) out of the hive. We use a Maxant-style tool that provides nice leverage for prying out a frame.
- You might get an uncapping fork used in the honey harvesting process. You shouldn’t need one in your first year.
- A bee brush to remove bees from frames during inspections. We seldom use the brush we got with our first kit. We’ve opted for a large turkey feather and found it be gentler on the bees. We don’t even use the feather very often.
Check our recommended Beekeeping Tools article.
TIP: Get some sort of tool box. There are special beekeeper boxes that even have a place for the smoker. You don’t need anything that fancy. Just a place where you know your tools are. We keep ours in an old nuc box.
Protective Clothing – Because You Will Get Stung
Okay…you’ve been surfing around YouTube seeing all these beekeepers in t-shirts and shorts and no protective head gear and it looks so easy. DO NOT BE FOOLED. You will get stung.
Do Honey Bees Sting?
Yes, They Do and What You Should Do About It
A severe allergic reaction to bee stings can be life threatening. Assuming you’ve determined that you are not so vulnerable, you should still wear protective gear. We’d advise you take the most precautions when you’re starting out. You may opt for less protection as you gain more skill in handling the bees and get comfortable. Your starting kit should include:
- A bee jacket if not a full suit. In the middle of summer, a full suit can get pretty warm. If you don’t go for a full suit, you can tape the cuffs or your pants closed or tuck them into your boots if you want. A bee trapped in a pant leg is not a fun experience though you might learn some new dance moves.
- Gloves – they can be a pain to work with. But even if you become comfortable going bare-handed, there will still be times you’ll want gloves.
- A veil or a hood is extremely important. We wear hooded jackets which is probably the simplest starting set-up. The zip off hood will let you switch a different veil later on if you’re so inclined.
The Hive Body
While there are several other types of hive bodies, the Langstroth hive is the most popular and the one we focus on here. For a detailed discussion of Langstroth and several other hive types see our article 3 Main Hive Types (Which To Choose).
A typical hive will include the following:
- A bottom board to serve as the foundation for the hive.
- An entrance reducer, a small item that does exactly what the name implies. It’s used at the hive entrance to manipulate the size of the opening depending on various situations. For example, if other bees or wasps are trying to rob your colony of its precious honey stores you can make the entrance smaller and easier for your bees to defend their hive.
- Two deep hive bodies (9 5/8″ high) which will house the queen, her brood, a lot of bees and honey stores for the colony. (While 2 deep supers are common, some beekeepers have success with only one deep.)
- A medium box or honey super (6 5/8″ high) where bees will eventually store honey you might harvest.
- Hive frames with plastic foundation inside the boxes give the bees a starting place to build out wax comb in a generally straight line.
- An inner cover with an opening for ventilation and an outer, telescoping cover protects from the elements.
What Do I Need That’s Not In A Beginner’s Beekeeping Kit?
What else you will need depends on a variety of factors. Here’s a list of the most likely additional items you’ll want in your first year along with our related articles:
- Bees, of course. See What Honey Bees To Buy (A Simple Answer)
- Some type of hive stand to keep the hive off the ground.
- Feeding equipment and supplies to build up the initial colony and prepare them for winter or assist the bees during a nectar dearth. See What, When & How To Feed Honey Bees.
- Varroa mite treatment (or a conscious decision not to treat?). See Varroa Mites: A Complete Treatment Guide.
- Overwintering equipment such as mouse guards and insulating material as needed in your climate. See How To Winterize Your Hives.
What We’d Do Differently Now
We started out with the Langstroth hive configuration outlined above and learned a painful lesson: a 10-frame deep super full of bees, brood and honey can weigh over 80 pounds. These boxes give the queen the greatest contiguous space for egg laying. However, they can be extremely difficult to move without taking out frames. And someday, move them you will. (Oh, my aching back!!)
Two years ago we began a shift to all 8-frame medium boxes. This configuration provides several advantages that we enjoy:
- Moving to 8-frames alone reduces the weight by almost 20%; dropping to medium boxes means the weight of a full box is closer to 40 pounds than 80 – a 50% overall reduction.
- The narrower boxes are easier to maneuver.
- All boxes are interchangeable. Today’s brood box could become tomorrow’s honey super.
There are some disadvantages to the smaller boxes.
- You’ll need more of them to give your bees similar room to grow the colony and store food.
- The additional space created between multiple boxes might mean your stack is higher in a year with a lot of honey production. We had that situation this year with a very busy hive and solved it by stepping on some cinder blocks to reach the upper boxes.
We are never going back to 10-frame deeps and strongly recommend you start there for a more enjoyable beekeeping journey.
As a beginning beekeeper, should you get assembled equipment or opt for DIY assembly? We recommend that you go with assembled hive boxes and frames with foundation. You’re going to have your hands full with your first hive.
Unless you have some decent skills and tools, the last thing you need to be worrying about is whether your boxes are square and if you’re frames will stay together when you pull them out for inspection. Otherwise, leave the assembly for later on in your beekeeping days.
Can you start by buying used equipment to save money? You can but we’d say DON’T. Used equipment, especially hive boxes, can carry diseases that will doom your initial beekeeping efforts. Items such as hive tools need to be cleaned and sanitized (think bleach). We’d only consider used equipment if it came from a reputable beekeeper that we knew very well.
How many bee colonies should you start with? You’ve probably figured out by now that you’re going to be laying out some cash for equipment AND your first bees so the answer to this question is very dependent on your budget. If your budget can handle it, start with 2 colonies.
Our first year, we lost our one colony to a bear. We had to start over in our second year. You will lose bees to animals, cold weather, dearth, swarming, mistakes, whatever. Starting out with 2 colonies increases your odds of a productive second year. That’s when it gets to be more fun.