Beekeeping essentials for the beginner: Langstroth hives
So this is the year. You are finally going to take the plunge into the world of beekeeping. In addition to a package of bees, what is the very minimum you are going to need to survive the first year?
The first thing you must determine is the type of hive you will use–Langstroth, top-bar, or Warre. There are others, of course, but these three are very popular.
Assuming you decide on Langstroth, the next question is whether you are going to use 8- or 10-frame equipment. Eight-frame equipment is lighter and easier to move around. Ten-frame equipment is the standard used by commercial beekeepers. Ten-frame equipment is probably best if you want to buy used equipment or specialty items, although every year a larger variety of 8-frame equipment becomes available. The bees don’t care one way or the other so the decision is yours.
Equipment can be divided into two types—stuff for you and stuff for them. I’ll start with stuff for them, sometimes called “furniture.” The list below assumes you will be starting with one hive. However, if you can afford it, it’s better to start with two.
Essential equipment for the bees, from the bottom up:
- Hive stand. This is a platform that keeps the hive off the ground. It can be fancy or cobbled together from wooden pallets or concrete blocks. The distance you keep the hive off the ground is a matter of personal preference, but remember that the height of your hive will vary with the season. I keep mine about 18” off the ground, but less is okay too.
- Bottom board with a Varroa screen. You can start without a Varroa screen, but why bother? Mites are the bees’ worst enemy so you may as well start dealing with them right away.
- Entrance reducer. This allows you adjust the size of the entrance. It is especially useful in the winter and during robbing season.
- Two deep brood boxes or three medium boxes. This is where the bees will live, so it is important the colony has enough room to grow. Click here for a description of box sizes.
- A full complement of frames for the brood boxes. Remember to buy frames that fit the boxes—deeps for deeps, mediums for mediums.
- Foundation. Although not essential, foundation is a good thing for a beginner because it helps the bees build comb in the right place. You’ll need one sheet per frame, either pressed beeswax or plastic. Plastic is easier for the beginner.
- Some type of a bee feeder. There are many options, but you will need to feed sugar syrup to your new package of bees.
- Telescoping outer cover. “Telescoping” just means that the cover fits down over the edges of the hive to keep the rain out. These can be made of wood covered with metal or plastic.
Nice to have, but not essential the first year:
- Honey supers with frames and foundation. It is very unlikely you will need these the first year if you are starting your package on new foundation. But most new beekeepers want to have them on hand, so go ahead.
- Wooden inner cover. Some folks use them, some don’t. If your budget is tight you can skip this.
- Slatted rack: The slatted rack is piece of equipment that helps to keep bees cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It also aids in swarm control. Many beekeepers don’t use them at all so you can definitely get by without it.
Essential equipment for the beekeeper:
- Helmet with veil. You can pretty much get by without a suit or jacket, but you need a veil. By the way, I never said they were comfortable.
- Gloves. Although many pros never wear gloves, if you are new to this you really should wear them. No gloves are sting-proof, but leather is sturdy and wears well. Nitrile gloves are easier to work in, and wearing two pairs will cut down on stings.
- Smoker. Again, some beekeepers don’t use them, but most do. A beginner shouldn’t be without one.
- Hive tool. There are many types. Personally, I like the type with a hook at one end.
Non-essential, but helpful, equipment for the beekeeper:
- Bee brush. This soft brush is helpful in many situations. My first year I used a paint brush and killed a lot of bees.
- Box cutter. These have many uses in the field, especially splitting open baggie feeders.
- Duct tape. Endless possibilities . . . and I’m not even male.
- Butterfly net. I use this to catch bees that get in the house. I also use it to catch yellow jackets that are casing the hives. You can also use it to knock down cobwebs that hang from the ceiling.
The only other thing you will need is a computer–or at least the use of one. But since you’re reading this, it must not be a problem.