Beekeeping is a rewarding hobby that not only provides honey and other hive products but also helps to pollinate crops and gardens. Before beginning beekeeping, you will need certain supplies that benefit both you and the bees.
Essential beginning beekeeping supplies include reference books, a hive, protective clothing, a bee smoker, hive tools, and bee feeding supplies. And, of course, bees. Beekeeping supplies that are optional or not immediately needed include a bee brush, mite treatments, and honey extraction equipment.
This article discusses the essential items needed to start beekeeping and links to associated articles providing even more information.
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Beginning Beekeeping Supplies
Certain beekeeping supplies are essential to get started with honey bees. This equipment lets you set up your apiary (the technical term for where you keep your bees), house and manage your colonies, and protect yourself.
During your first year and later, other supplies may become necessary or desirable. However, they are not “essential” to start.
To begin beekeeping, you should learn the basics. The best place to start is with one or more of the excellent books available for beginning beekeepers.
Our favorite is The Beekeeper’s Handbook. Beekeeping for dummies is highly recommended in various beekeeping groups on Facebook.
These books will show you how to get started and come in handy as reference material for years.
Learn more! See our article about beekeeping education and books.
Honey bees are eusocial insects. As such, they nest together in overlapping generations and divide labor within the colony.
In their natural environment, the western honey bee constructs its nests in open spaces such as tree hollows or even within the walls of structures. In warmer regions, honey bees may construct nests in exposed areas, suspending their comb from overhangs.
To keep bees, you need to provide them with an alternative nesting location you can manage-a bee hive.
A bee hive is an artificial construct designed to imitate a natural bee nesting site. Bee hives are usually crafted from wood, though other materials can also be used. A hive consists of either several stacked boxes or a single horizontal compartment.
Types Of Hives
The Langstroth hive is the most widely used and easily accessible type of hive in the US. It is known for being easy to use and manage.
A Langstroth hive consists of:
- A bottom board
- Several stacked bodies holding frames with foundation
- Inner and outer covers on top.
As discussed in this article, we discuss the various types of hives outlined here and explain why we strongly recommend the Langstroth hive for beginning beekeepers.
Langstroth boxes (and corresponding frames and foundation) come in several standard sizes described in terms of width and height. They are:
- 10 or 8 frames wide
- Deep, medium, or shallow in height
A “typical” Langstroth configuration is two deep boxes for housing the brood nest and several medium boxes for honey. The total number of boxes needed depends on how productive the colony is.
Technically, you can begin beekeeping with one deep box full of frames and foundation plus the bottom board and covers. However, you will quickly need more boxes.
Langstroth hives are readily available in starter kits that include some of the items below.
Learn more! See our article on recommended beginning beekeeping kits.
However, however you may want to consider other types of hives.
Like the Langstroth hive, the Warrè (pronounced WAR-ray) hive is comprised of a series of vertically stacked boxes. However, Warré components are different than Langstroth’s and require different management techniques.
Warré hives are meant for minimal intrusion by the beekeeper. In the spring a box or two may be added to the bottom. In the fall, a box or two of honey is harvested from the top.
Unlike Warré and Langstroth hives, horizontal hives are single-box cavities where the bees expand horizontally.
Three common horizontal hives include the Top bar hive, Long Langstroth hive, and Layens hives.
Vertical hives require beekeepers to lift and reposition heavy boxes full of bees and honey which may be something for you to consider when choosing your hives.
Learn more! See our article What Is A Horizontal Hive? for more information.
Protective gear is essential when beekeeping, as bees may sting when they feel threatened.
A veil, jacket or suit, gloves, and boots are all important items for a beekeeper to have.
A veil is worn over the head and face to protect the beekeeper from getting stung in the face or head. If you wear nothing else (I mean for protection), wear at least a veil.
A jacket provides coverage for your upper body. A beekeeping suit provides more complete body protection. Quality jackets and suits have elastic or Velcro seals at the openings to keep bees out.
Gloves and boots also provide additional protection for the hands and feet.
Many beekeepers work without gloves, so it is easier to manipulate equipment. However, as a new beekeeper, you may want to consider wearing gloves until you are more comfortable handling the bees.
The most protective gloves are cowhide, but they are also the most difficult to work with. Goatskin gloves are more supple and provide some protection.
Boots are not a necessity but come in handy to keep bees off your ankles. I have been stung through socks. We often wear our Muck boots in the bee yard.
Learn more! Read our complete guide to beekeeping protective clothing for more information about different options and what to look for when shopping.
A bee smoker is another essential tool for beekeeping. It’s used to calm the bees by producing smoke which masks alarm pheromones and makes the bees less aggressive.
I recommend taking a well-lit smoker on every hive inspection.
Learn more! See our article about bee smokers, explaining how they work, how to light them, clean them, and more.
A beekeeping essential, the hive tool, is a multi-functional tool designed to aid in managing bee hives.
Different designs of hive tools are available, but all serve the same two main purposes: to loosen and lift hive components that have become sealed together by propolis and to remove any excess propolis and comb.
A hive tool is an indispensable tool for beekeepers, as it is used on a regular basis.
While you could use other tools you have lying around (screwdrivers?), hive tools are relatively inexpensive and well worth the cost. In fact, we recommend having several of them around for convenience.
Learn more! See our article What Is A Hive Tool? for information about various hive tools and how to use them.
New bee colonies may need to be fed until they can produce enough honey to sustain themselves.
Feeders and pollen patties can be used to supplement the bees’ diet when natural resources are lacking, like in early spring when you get new bees.
Feeders filled with sugar syrup provide carbohydrates in lieu of plant nectar. Pollen patties provide proteins.
Beginning beekeeping kits often include an entrance feeder. However, these feeders tend to be small and can invite robbing by other colonies.
We recommend top hive feeders that are enclosed in the boxes.
Optional Equipment To Start Beekeeping
A bee brush is an optional but useful tool for beekeeping. This soft-bristled brush is used to gently remove bees from frames and other equipment. You can also use a large turkey feather.
I seldom use a bee brush anymore. I prefer to remove bees from a frame with a good, hard shake. Bees will move from other places with a few puffs from your smoker.
Varroa mites are a major problem for beekeepers and a primary cause of winter losses.
Proper hive management requires that you periodically check your colonies for infestation. Mitigation is best achieved by using miticides.
You do not need testing equipment and miticides when you first start beekeeping. However, you should be using them in your first year.
Honey Extraction Equipment
We recommend that you do not harvest any honey from your first-year colonies.
Your first year should focus on building up the population to produce enough honey to survive the following winter.
If you follow this advice, you will not need any harvesting equipment (uncapping tools, extractors, etc.) until subsequent years.
Of course, you need bees to be a beekeeper.
The types of bees are classified by “race” i.e. their background. Each race tends to exhibit certain traits.
Learn more! See our article about what kind of bees to buy for more information.
How Much Do Essential Beekeeping Supplies Cost
We estimate that your first year of beekeeping will cost about $725 depending on some choices you make.
See our article on starting costs for a detailed discussion and a calculator to estimate what your beginning beekeeping supplies might cost.
Starting beekeeping can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it’s important to have the necessary supplies to get going.
By understanding the different types of hives and protective clothing, as well as other essential beginning beekeeping supplies, you will be well-prepared to safely care for your bees.
As always, it’s essential to do more research and reach out to local beekeeping organizations for additional information and support.