Beekeeping is unlike many hobbies. With soccer, for instance, you only need a handful of equipment to play. But beekeeping requires many tools to keep the bees happy, the beekeeper safe, and the honey flowing.
Before you buzz along to the nearest beekeeping supply store and drop down a good chunk of your paycheck, make sure you know what beekeeping equipment you’ll actually need. You’ll save some money and you’ll be beekeeping like a pro!
Must-Have Beekeeping Tools
So what tools and equipment does a beekeeper use? And what are they for? Answers below!
Needless to say, you’ll need a home for your bees. The Langstroth hive is the most common type of beehive used by both hobbyist and commercial beekeepers. It was developed in the mid-1800s by L.L. Langstroth and the design has changed little since then.
Each Langstroth hive has an entrance at the bottom, one or two medium- or deep-sized boxes to serve as the brood chamber, two or three small- or medium-sized boxes (called honey supers) to collect honey, an inner cover to allow ventilation and feeding, and a metal-sheathed outer cover for protection from the elements.
Langstroth discovered that you could hang frames inside boxes in a way that would 1) give bees space to build comb and store honey, 2) give bees just enough “bee space” to pass while discouraging their instinct to build “burr comb” in unwanted places, and 3) be easily removed to harvest honey.
Each box in a Langstroth hive has either has 8 or 10 frames. If you’re deciding between the two, we suggest buying the 8-frame hive. Your back will thank you. 😉
There are several good reasons to place your hive on a stand. First, it keeps the hive dry. By placing your hive directly on the ground, the moisture from the ground creates a damp environment that’s unhealthy for bees and can cause your hive to rot.
Besides, you don’t have to bend and lift as much when you go to examine your bees or remove honey when you use a hive stand. And you can discourage ants from causing problems by simply elevating the hive.
Some beekeepers purchase their hive stands, others make theirs out of cinder block and some 2×4 lumber. The latter requires no construction whatsoever, so it’s really easy to do if you want to save some money.
You’d use the cinder blocks as the base, lay the wood on top, and then place your hive on top of the wood. It’s a good idea to build a stand that’s long enough to accommodate some work space, which saves you from bending all the way to the ground!
Many moons ago, someone discovered that it was much easier to steal honey from bees by holding a burning torch. Why? Because bees communicate by odor, and the smoke from the torch masks any attempt from the bees to send a banana-smelling alarm pheromone across the whole colony to alert everyone of a threat.
Smoke essentially shuts down communication. Your bees will have no idea what’s going on and will remain calm while you work on the hive. So it’s important to have a smoker in your toolbox. A simple stainless steel smoker with a protective grid will do.
You can use many types of fuel in the smoker. But don’t use treated materials, gasoline, kerosene, and other petroleum-based products. Those can cause your bees to die. Stick to natural, untreated materials like wood chips, twigs, pine needles, sawdust, and dried leaves – they’re plentiful and free for the taking!
Along with your smoker, your hive tool is the thing you’re going to use the most. You use the hive tool to pry off burr comb and propolis, separate and remove frames, and scrape off resin in your smoker.
When shopping for a hive tool, choose one that’s at least 10 inches long. This will give you the most leverage.
Bee suits are necessary because, well, who wants to be stung? Besides, beekeeping can get very messy and you can avoid staining your favorite shirt by wearing a bee suit.
Some people use old jackets and pants rather than purchase an actual bee suit. If you want to repurpose old clothes, you can, but don’t use anything dark and fuzzy because you’ll look like an enemy – a skunk, raccoon, or bear – to your bees!
For the best protection, we suggest getting a full body bee suit with a removable hood and veil. You can take off the hood and veil when you don’t need it.
After some time handling bees, some beekeepers develop nerves of steel and toss out their gloves. It’s easier to maneuver without gloves after all. And you’re less likely to accidentally crush your bees. But as a new beekeeper who’s not accustomed to having bees crawl your hands, it can be distracting and unsettling. Gloves can make things more comfortable for you.
A water feeder can be as simple as a pail. It’s probably not a piece of equipment that you’d think about getting, but it’s super important. Bees need as much as a gallon (almost 4 liters) of water on a hot summer day. They need it to keep cool and dilute honey, and if they can’t find any readily available, guess where they’ll end up going? To your pet’s water bowl or your neighbor’s swimming pool.
Toss a few pieces of cork or some pebbles in the pail so that your bees have somewhere to land on to drink. Bees need fresh, clean water so be sure to change the water often. You can also use an automatic birdbath or set an outdoor faucet to drip slowly, especially when you go on vacation and won’t be around to change the water.
A frame perch is a simple device that hangs on the side of your beehive. It gives you a place to put your frames while you work on your hive. It’s super useful for when you need to examine your hive or rotate the frames.
Want to harvest pristine honey? Then you’ll need a queen excluder. A queen excluder is a metal or plastic grid that you place between your brood chambers and honey supers to stop the queen from being able to pass through to your honey supers to lay eggs. The gaps on the grid are large enough for the worker bees to pass, but not the queen.
Every time an egg is laid and a bee emerges from the cell, there’s some debris that gets left behind. This debris causes the wax and honey to darken and adds bits and flavors to the honey, thereby reducing the quality of the honey. Keeping brood in one area of your hive using a queen excluder allows you to harvest the best honey you possibly can.
Escape Board and/or Fume Board
You might be wondering how you’re supposed to harvest honey when there are bees in the super. That’s what an escape board is for.
An escape board has a wide opening on one side and a triangular maze on the other side that allows the bees to go down to the brood chambers but not back up to the honey supers. You’d place it between your brood chambers and honey supers like your queen excluder, and you’d leave it in your hive for a day or two until most of your bees have left the supers.
Alternatively, you can use a fume board. This is the quicker option. A fume board uses a chemical repellent to move bees away from the honey super. This repellent is nontoxic to your bees and won’t be absorbed by your honey or wax.
You’d cover the honey super with a fume board sprayed with repellent, and then you’d wait ten minutes or so for your bees to move down into the brood chambers. Then you can remove the super to harvest honey.
The first thing you need to do when removing honey from the frames is to cut off the wax cappings. You can either use a serrated kitchen knife, uncapping knife, uncapping fork, or all of the above. But we think the best tool for the job is an uncapping fork.
The other tools scrape away too much honey from the frame, but with an uncapping fork you can dig underneath the cappings and very easily and cleanly lift them off. Check out the video demonstration below.
After removing the cappings, you can place the uncapped frames inside an uncapping tub while you work on the other frames. Most uncapping tubs can hold as many as ten frames. The tub has a grid that will catch any remaining cappings while allowing honey to flow through to the tank below. The tank has a valve that allows you to drain the honey.
The final step to harvesting honey is to release all that liquid gold from the frames. And the thing that will take care of the job is a honey extractor.
A honey extractor is like a salad spinner, but for honey. Depending on the size, you’d place anywhere from two to four frames inside the extractor to spin out the honey. You can save some money by buying a hand-powered honey extractor, or you can go easy on yourself by buying an electric honey extractor.
And finally, every beekeeper should be in possession of a sting kit. This should include things to clean the sting and provide pain relief. You should also talk to your doctor about prescribing you with an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen). You never know who might have an allergic reaction to a bee sting, and having one on-hand can very well save lives.
How Much Does Beekeeping Equipment Cost?
Just so you have an idea of what you’re about to spend, here’s a summary of what all this equipment will cost you roughly. (Cost varies depending on where you live.)
|Escape Board or Fume Board||$30|
As long as you have all the equipment we mentioned, you’ll be beekeeping like a pro. If we didn’t include something on this list that you’re thinking about getting, it’s probably because you don’t need it or you probably don’t need to purchase it as you can make do with something else you have around the home.
Have Fun Out There!