Honey Bee Supplies: What do you need to get started beekeeping?
A quick search online will pull up thousands of honey bee supplies. If you’re a new beekeeper, you can easily find yourself overwhelmed with options.
I’m here to break down the options for you and let you know which honey bee supplies are necessary and which ones aren’t.
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This post is 100% my honest opinion. To write this post, Mann Lake provided me with beekeeping supplies. To receive the supplies, they requested that I write a review article that was purely my opinion and experience with their product and services. I’ll never recommend products that I don’t absolutely love.
Honey Bee Supplies: The Hive
The hive is the stack of boxes where the bees live, raise young and store honey. There are several components in the honey bee hive.
A basic hive includes a hive stand, the bottom board, an entrance reducer, one or two brood boxes, one or two supers, an inner cover and an outer cover.
When you’re shopping for honey bee supplies for your hive, keep in mind that not all equipment is universally sized. Sizes may vary from company to company.
You’ll also want to consider the finish of the boxes. Many honey bee supplies come in unfinished wood and painted options.
Some people prefer the look and natural feel of unfinished wood. However, painted boxes last longer.
The brood boxes are the large boxes that are on the bottom of the bee hive. The hive will have one or two brood boxes depending on the size of the colony.
Brood boxes contain the frames where the queen will lay eggs (hence the name ‘brood boxes’). This will be the first box that you’ll provide your bees with. You will release your new bees into one brood box.
Worker bees will quickly start building comb where the queen will lay eggs. Worker bees will also begin making nectar and bee bread in the brood box to feed the queen and the growing young bees.
Frames are located inside of the brood box. When the top is lifted off of the box, you’ll see 8 or 10 frames that look like hanging panels.
The bees build their comb on the frames. Once the first brood box is nearly filled, a second brood box can be added on top of it, so it’s a good idea to purchase two brood boxes.
Honey supers are the smaller boxes that bees will make and store honey in. Supers will go on top of the brood boxes.
A queen excluder can be used to make sure the queen cannot lay eggs in the honey boxes.
Worker bees will fill the honey boxes with comb and honey. This is the box that you will collect the honey from.
Keep in mind that there are several types of honey supers available. There are honey boxes that are deep. This means that they will be considerably heavier than the shallower honey boxes and harder to maneuver.
You can always add more honey boxes that are shallower and easier to move.
The brood boxes and honey supers will have hanging frames. The frames can be empty rectangular panels, wired or filled with a wax foundation.
A waxed foundation frame is filled with comb shaped wax. This gives your bees an advantage and helps them to build the comb faster than an empty or wire frame.
Frames can also be plastic. These frames have a plastic foundation and can have a waxed coating on top. Mann Lake sells Rite-Cell frames that are waxed plastic. The wax is shaped into honeycombs to give the bees a head start on comb-building.
The queen excluder is a piece that is used to prevent the queen from entering a certain area of the hive. If you want to keep your queen in the brood boxes, the excluder can be put directly below the lowest honey box.
Worker bees can get through the excluder but the queen cannot. Use an excluder to make sure that they honey boxes are only used to make and store honey.
Queen excluders are a metal or plastic piece meant to keep the queen in the brooding area.
The hive stand serves as the base for the entire hive.
Hive stands also provide a landing area for the bees returning to the hive.
It also keeps the hive off of the ground. A hive placed directly on the ground is more susceptible to fungal infections and rotting from wet ground.
You can elevate your hive by putting the hive stand on cinder blocks. An elevated hive is easier to inspect and work than one that sits low to the ground.
When you look at the brood boxes and honey supers, you’ll notice that they don’t have bottoms. The frames hang from the sides of the box and the bottoms are completely open.
The boxes are created this way so that they can be arranged in any order (as long as brood boxes are on bottom and honey supers are on top). The bees can easily move from box to box since the bottoms are open.
You’ll need one bottom board per hive. The bottom board will go underneath the bottom brooder box.
The bottom board will not sit completely flush with the brooder box. You should notice that there is a gap on one side.
This gap gives the bees an entrance point into the hive.
An entrance reducer is used to fill the gap that is created between the bottom board and the bottom brooder box.
Entrance reducers should have two holes that can be changed. There should be a small entrance hole and a larger entrance hole.
The small entrance hole is used for new hives that don’t have many bees to guard the entrance. The larger entrance can be used once the bee colony has expanded and has more guard bees available.
You’ll notice when you inspect your brood boxes and honey supers that they also don’t have tops. This, again, is so that they can be moved and don’t have to go in a particular order.
An inner cover is used to create air space between the top cover and the top of the hive, whether that’s a honey box or a brood box.
The air space created by the inner cover acts as an insulation for the hive. It helps protect the colony from extreme heat or cold.
Inner covers can be wooden or metal screen. A screened cover increases the ventilation in the hive.
The outer cover, also called the top cover, is the top piece of the bee hive. It’s comparable to the roof of your house.
The top cover protects the hive from outside weather.
Top covers can be flat or peaked. Flat top covers are the most common but peaked covers have a charming appeal. Both will work equally well at protecting your hive.
Top covers should be covered with metal to make them last longer. A top cover that is wooden will not last as long.
Honey Bee Supplies: Feeding
A new hive will need some help getting established. The queen cannot start laying eggs until comb is built. Building comb requires energy, nectar and pollen.
You can give your new bees a head start by feeding them sugar water to help get them established quicker.
The quicker the bees can make comb, the faster the queen can lay eggs and the colony can expand.
A new honey bee hive can be fed sugar water right in the hive. Sugar water can be made by mixing one part sugar with one part water.
Make sure that your sugar is organic cane sugar. You don’t want to expose your bees to potential chemicals.
Sugar water can also be sprayed inside of the hive to encourage the bees to explore it once you put them in.
You can mist bees lightly with sugar water to prevent them from flying off. This is helpful when you are taking bees out of the shipping container and moving them into the hive.
Use feeders inside or near the hive to provide food to the bees. The feeder being inside the hive allows the worker bees to work more efficiently since they aren’t leaving the hive.
You can remove an empty frame or two in a new brood box and put a feeder in place. Fill the feeder with your sugar water mixture and refill as needed.
Top feeders have openings at the top that allow bees to access the sugar water.
You can also use an entrance feeder. An entrance feeder is placed at the entrance of the hive and filled with sugar water. Don’t use an entrance feeder when it is cold outside.
Other Feeding Honey Bee Supplies
You can provide your bees with sugar water, pollen cakes and winter feeding patties if needed. I wouldn’t use these all of the time.
Use them sparingly during times of stress or when the food supply is short.
Honey Bee Supplies: Tools
The hive is of course, the most important of the honey bee supplies that you’ll need. The tools listed in this section will make working with your bees so much easier.
Guard bees release an alarm pheromone when they think the hive is in danger. The alert pheromone smells similar to banana candy and can be strong enough for beekeepers to smell.
This alerts the other bees that they may need to pack up and relocate.
Mask the alert pheromone with a smoker. This will keep the hive calm, docile and easier to work with.
A smoker gun is a canister with a bellow attached. Smoking material is placed in the canister and lit to create smoke. Squeezing the bellow expels the smoke out of the canister.
Smoking the hive makes it easier for you to inspect the hive properly. If you smell bananas, apply more smoke to the hive.
Smoker fuel usually comes in a pellet form. Simply light the pellets on fire and create smoke to calm your bees.
Honey bees like to seal up the entire hive and all of its components with propolis. Propolis is a material that bees make from resin. It’s sticky and then dries hard.
A hive tool can break apart frames or covers that have been sealed with comb or propolis.
Hive tools pry frames, cut or scrape propolis or detach comb from unwanted areas such as the sides of the hive.
Use a bee brush to gently remove bees from unwanted surfaces. Bee brushes should have soft bristles that won’t injure the bees when you brush them.
You’ll use bee brushes when you are inspecting hives or harvesting honey. Brush the bees off of frames to check for larvae or honey production.
You can also use the bee brush to gently remove bees from equipment or your clothing after you’re down working with them.
The queen can sometimes be hard to identify, especially for the beginning beekeeper.
Mark the queen using a queen marker. This makes it easier to identify her. Queen markers aren’t necessary but can make it easier for the untrained eye to locate the queen in the hive.
Honey Bee Supplies: Protective Gear
One of the downfalls of keeping honey bees is the potential (and likelihood) of getting stung.
Protect your body from stings by using protective gear for beekeepers.
Wearing a protective outfit can help you feel calmer about working with your bees.
Head and Face Protection
One of the most important pieces of a beekeeping suit is the veil. This part of the suit covers the face and head.
Honey bees have adapted ways to fight off potential hive predators. Bears, a common natural predator of bees, are the most vulnerable around their face.
Honey bees developed sensors that detect carbon dioxide, the gas released when we, and animals, exhale. This leads them to the face of the predator, making it more likely that they will try to sting you in the face or on the head.
It’s been said that honey bees can smell fear.
While this isn’t exactly true, they can detect the carbon dioxide you release. When you are nervous or scared, your breathing increases and so does the amount of carbon dioxide you release.
Protect your face and head with a bee keeping veil.
A veil provides a bee-proof mesh around your face and head that prevents bees from getting close enough to sting you.
Honey bees will try to aim for your face, but they will also sting your body if they feel it necessary.
Protect your torso, arms and legs with a beekeeper’s suit.
A beekeeper’s suit will attach to gloves and a veil to make sure that bees cannot get underneath your protective gear.
Protect your hands with beekeeping gloves. Beekeeping gloves can be canvas, cowhide or goatskin material.
Make sure the gloves fit you well. Gloves that are too big will make it hard to inspect or manipulate your hive properly. Gloves that are too small won’t offer adequate protection.
They should be sturdy enough to prevent stings but soft enough to work in the hive with.
Don’t inspect your hive or harvest honey without gloves. Your hands are in the hive and are more likely to get stung.
What are the necessary honey bee supplies?
If you’re starting a new hive or you’re a first time beekeeper, use the list below to gather the essentials for beekeeping. You can always get more supplies as your hive grows, but these are the definite must haves to get up and going:
- brood boxes with frames (2)
- bottom board (1)
- entrance reducer (1)
- hive stand (1)
- honey supers with frames (2)
- feeder (1) (top feeder that goes in the hive is best for feeding any time of the year)
- queen excluder (1)
- inner cover (1)
- top cover (1)
- spray bottle for sugar water
- organic cane sugar or bee feeding liquid
- smoker with smoking fuel
- hive tool
- bee brush
- bee suit with veil and gloves
Once you have all of your honey bee supplies, you can order your bees!
You might also be interested in:
- Why You Need Native Plants
- Why You Need Native Grasses on Your Farm
- Reasons to Keep Bees
- Beehive Inspections
- Starting a New Honey Bee Hive
- Beehive Inspections
What are some must have honey bee supplies that you can’t go without? Let me know below!