Beekeeping can seem like an overwhelming hobby for beginners. Truthfully, beekeeping is a relatively easy pastime that rewards hobbyists by providing honey and helping to pollinate gardens and flowerbeds. As with any hobby, starting up can be an expensive and daunting task. Before you order your hive, you need to make sure you have all the necessary equipment and understand its usage.
Hive stands are optional pieces of equipment. You place the hive on top of the hive stand to protect the bottom of the hive from moisture, weeds, insects, etc. Placing your hive on a hive stand can also help keep the hive’s bottom board in good condition.
Your hive’s bottom board is the colony’s floor. It provides a takeoff and landing area for your bees and also prevents water and other critters from entering the hive.
Hive bodies are the box-like structures everyone recognizes almost instantly. They are the box-shaped structures which contain the hive and protect the screens or frames from the elements. hive bodies come in three sizes: full, medium and shallow. Beginners usually opt for shallow hive bodies. The deep ones are often used for brood rearing. Usually only experienced beekeepers use these, especially because the frames can weigh up to 60 pounds once filled with honey.
The frames are the honeycomb screens suspended within the hive body. Most hive bodies come with 10 frames. These frames are man-made with a top bar, two end bars, and a bottom bar. This is where bees store honey. Beekeepers will also take these frames out to check their hive for disease.
This piece of equipment is optional. It’s a screen with small openings large enough for worker bees to get through, but too small for the queen and drone bees to pass. It prevents the queen from laying eggs in the honey and messing up your harvest. Some beekeepers believe it makes your hive less efficient, though, so do your research.
The inner cover goes on top of the hive body and helps ventilate and protect the hive. Inner covers have a hole on top for beekeepers to check in on their hives. Bees usually use wax and propolis to seal up cracks in the hive. They will do this to the inner cover instead of the weatherproof top cover, making it easier for beekeepers to remove the top cover and check in on the hive.
The top cover goes on top of the inner cover and protects the hive from weather and other intrusions.
You need a smoker — there’s no way around it, especially if you’re a beginner. You may eventually get to the point where you’re comfortable enough around your hive to not use it as much, but there will be days where your hive is agitated and you’re going to want that smoker. When bees sense danger to the hive, they release a pheromone causing the entire hive to go into defense mode. The smoker masks this pheromone and inhibits/delays their defense response, giving the beekeeper time to work.
You also need a hive tool. Some beekeepers try to get away with using a screwdriver or spatula, but these are poor substitutes. You’ll use your hive tools often to clear wax and propolis from the frames, lift frames, separate hive bodies, etc.
Protective Clothing/Beekeeping Suit
First off, you need to protect your face. There are tons of different kinds of bee veils out there. Some bee suit coveralls actually have the veil attached. The good thing about a bee suit with an attached veil is they are usually more protective. Unattached veils often have a drawstring at the bottom that gets tucked into the jacket collar.
Some more experienced beekeepers forego the suit and opt for just the jacket. Jackets keep you cooler, are less cumbersome, and if you’re confident and comfortable enough around your hive, you may be able to get away with it. However, if you have to move your hive or cause the bees to become agitated, you may regret not having a full suit.
You’re going to want gloves, that’s just common sense. Make sure you either have elastic cuffs that prevent bees from getting in or you are able to tuck the gloves inside your jacket.
Full Bee Suit
Although a full bee suit can get steamy and be annoying to clean, it provides the most protection. You’ll especially want to wear one if you approach a wild hive, move your hive, or your bees are particularly agitated.