When our son first decided he wanted to keep bees and we started looking at beekeeping supplies, we learned pretty quickly that starting beekeeping can be pricey. Since we are really not the kind of people to rush out and drop a lot of money on a new found hobby we had to get creative.
There are some beekeeping supplies that are essential and some that you can make do without or find substitutes.
11 Essential Beekeeping Supplies
Hives – You need a place to keep your bees and a hive is that place. You can choose to buy or build a top bar hive. We have one that a friend built that has an observation window which is really great. We also have Langstroth hives that we bought from a retired beekeeper. Many beekeepers use both types of hives. If you are going to use Langstroth hives be aware that there are eight frame hives and 10 frame hives. They are not interchangeable so it’s important to have a beehive plan from the beginning and choose what size you plan to use. The main difference is that the eight frame hives are lighter when full of honey and therefore, easier to manage.
Bees – You can’t keep bees if you don’t have any. So you need to either buy packaged bees or catch a swarm.
Veil – A beekeeper’s veil is probably the most important piece of equipment the beekeeper will use to keep safe. Even the most gentle bees can and will sting at times, unfortunately, you never know when that time will be. Getting stung on the face or scalp is especially painful, so a veil is on the top of the list. Also, bees are naturally curious about small openings, such as nostrils and ears.
Beekeeper’s Suit – While you will want to buy a real beekeeper’s veil, you don’t necessarily need a real beekeeper’s suit. If you can and want to purchase a new one, that is probably a good thing. However, if you need to stagger your beekeeping purchases you can make do with things you might already have at home. Our son wore a hunting camo jacket that we picked up at the thrift store, long jeans and work gloves. He wore tube socks and tucked his jeans into the socks and used duct tape to cinch down the jacket at wrists. Then he put the gloves on and used another layer of duct tape to tape them to the jacket.
Gloves – You can use any work gloves to work with bees but leather ones will serve you better. Most beekeeper gloves are leather for the hands and then fabric up to the elbows…yes, the elbows. If your work gloves are shorter than the elbow, consider using some duct tape to cinch the wrists down.
Hive Stand – You don’t want your hives on the ground. They will be hard to lift but more importantly, when the hives are on the ground, it’s more likely that critters will mess with them. To make a hive stand you just need six cinder blocks and a couple of 4X4’s. Make sure the lumber is long enough to put a couple of hives with enough room for another one in between them. This space will come in handy when you are working in your hives. Turn the cinder blocks up on one end and lay them out in two rows. Put the lumber through the top holes to form a shelf.
Smoker – Smoke is used to calm the bees so you can get into the hive. The smoke masks the pheromones that the bees give off to communicate with each other. A smoker makes getting smoke pretty easy. You can use wood chips, small twigs, leaves or pine needles in the smoker.
Hive Tool – Sometimes you’ll need to pry the top of the hive off or loosen the frames since bees really like a snug home and glue everything together with propolis. This is where a hive tool comes in handy. These are really inexpensive and totally worth purchasing instead of using something around the house. But you could substitute a mini crowbar and a painter’s scraper if you already have those on hand.
Bee Brush – When you pull up a frame from the hive, you will most likely need to brush bees off of it. Most will come off if you shake the frame some, but there are always a few that just don’t want to get off. A bee brush has long, firm but not stiff bristles that will gently remove the bees. You can substitute a good quality soft paintbrush that hasn’t been used but will probably cost as much or more than a bee brush.
Uncapping Tool – If you want to be able to keep the honeycomb on the frame so the bees don’t have to draw out new comb, you’ll need a way to uncap the honeycomb. An uncapping tool is an inexpensive tool that will allow you to get just the caps off the comb. There is an uncapping fork and an uncapping knife. We prefer the uncapping fork. If you don’t have either of these, a sharp knife can be used but it won’t be as efficient.
Honey Extractor – This is at the end of the beekeeping supplies list for a reason; you don’t need it right away. A honey extractor is a great way to get the honey from a Lansthroth hive but they can be quite expensive. We were able to get a used honey extractor from a retired beekeeper along with some Langstroth hives. I’m going to encourage you to look for a used extractor or make do with a homemade extractor even if that means you have to use the “crush and drain” method of extracting. After a few harvests, you’ll have a better idea of what you need and make a better decision than you’ll make when you’re just starting out.
What are some of your favorite beekeeping supplies? Let us know in the comments below.