Like many hobbies, beekeeping requires some basic equipment before someone can establish a successful hive. This equipment should be bought before you get a call from the post office asking you to come and pick up the honey bees. You can buy honey bees and hive together locally from someone in your local association, club or group. They are also often for sale in bee journals and magazines but get advice from an experienced bee-keeper.
Beware of the reason why the honey bees are being sold. The first hive and honey bees I bought were being sold because the honey bees were very aggressive/defensive. The seller was very good; because he told me they were aggressive and he had difficulty handling them. I got advice from my local bee inspector who said he knew the honey bees and yes they were aggressive/defensive but he felt that they could be calmed with gentle handling, but not the ideal choice for a beginner. I bought the honey bees, hive and equipment at a knock-down price. My first experience of opening that hive was a disaster, the veil was weak and when I put it on a hole appeared in the rear which I was unaware of. The honey bees found it in seconds and started crawl all over the back of my neck. As calmly as I could I closed the hive and headed away from the hive they had started to sting by this time. I removed the veil and jogged to the house to get my wife’s assistance. She scraped nineteen stings out of my neck, head and face, they were very painful.
Within the week I had obtained another veil and an all-in-one white boiler type suit and went back to the honey bees. Yes they were still very aggressive, or defensive as some prefer to call it, and smothered my gloved hands and left their stingers in the leather but didn’t actually sting me. The hundreds of honey bees on my hands made handling the frames difficult as I was a novice and very nervous and I think they knew. It took me nearly eighteen months to calm them down. I always worked slowly and deliberately with no jerky movements and spoke to them about how good I thought they were. How effective speaking to them was I am not sure but it helped me and gave me confidence when I told them what I was going to do next. They were never gentle like the honey bees I have now but at least they stopped smothering me and stinging my gloves. So my advice is get advice from an experienced beekeeper or an expert.
The most obvious piece of equipment you will need is the actual beehive. A floor with landing board, brood chamber, queen excluder, super (s), crown board with Porter bee escape and feeding aperture and of course the roof with waterproof covering.
Your beehive should have at least one super but preferably more. The supers are a very important part of the beehive because they are where the honey bees will be storing their honey. These supers should be between the bottom of the hive i.e., the brood chamber and the hive cover or roof. The supers are very important because they are where the honey bees will be storing their honey for feeding and raising their offspring in the brood chamber below. Once you have an active hive each of these supers will contain nine to twelve frames depending on the type of hive. You can choose if you want a hive with shallow supers or deep supers. The advantage of deep supers is that they enable bee-keepers to buy only one size foundation. The disadvantage is that, when full, a deep super can weigh one hundred pounds or more.
Once you have a hive for your honey bees make sure you place it somewhere that has a flat surface preferably off the ground on a stand so that the hive won’t tip over in a strong wind and the damp won’t seep up from the ground. Also make sure that you place it somewhere that humans, livestock and pets aren’t likely to disturb it.
Some bee-keepers use spacers others judge the spacing by eye. A spacer is a piece of equipment bee-keepers use to keep an equal amount of space between the frames while they are in the super.
The next piece of equipment you will need is a smoker. The smoker is what you will use to control the honey bees and move them when you open the hive particularly in preparation for harvesting the honey. The smoker is surprisingly simple in its design. The smoker consists of a funnel, a combustion chamber, and bellows. Many bee-keepers claim that old, clean burlap or Hessian is the best material to use in the smoker because they are easy to ignite and smoulder and smoke well. Other bee-keepers prefer to use dried corn cobs, hay, straw and some use old socks not nylon of course. Once the fire has been lit in the combustion chamber the bellows will keep it going. The funnel directs the smoke into the hive, encouraging the honey bees to move away.
Another tool you will need is a metal hive tool. The metal hive tool is used to pry open the hive, and separate the hive bodies and frames, and to scrape the frames clean. Think of it as the all purpose tool of beekeeping, it can also be used to remove bee stings by scraping it across the skin. Never try and remove a sting by pulling it out with your fingers you will just squeeze the poison sac and push more venom in. By all means use the fingernail to scrape out a sting or your hive tool.
No bee-keeper is ready to receive their shipment of honey bees until they have a bee brush. A bee brush is used to gently brush honey bees out of the way so that the bee-keeper can examine the frames for brood.
When it is time to harvest your honey, you can use a fume board. A fume board is a board that is covered in bee removing chemicals and is then used to encourage the honey bees to leave a super and go down to the brood chamber and let you take their honeycombs by removing the complete super. You can also use a crown board with a one way Porter bee escape. Once they have gone through the Porter they can’t get back this can take 24 to 48 hours.
If you don’t mind getting and using used equipment you can find some great bargains on beekeeping equipment on auction sites. There are several catalogues and websites that offer beekeeping equipment, and many of them offer beginners packages. If you acquire previously owned i.e., second-hand equipment you must ensure they are cleaned and sterilized. This can be done by washing with washing soda and flaming/scorching with a blow-lamp/torch.
Bob Prior-Sanderson. I am a successful bee-keeper.
Photo. Ronnie B.