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The New Beekeepers Checklist
and what do I need to start keeping bees?
Share this article and help a new beekeeper!
I get the question a lot, an it was time to put my recitals on paper. These are the essential items to begin beekeeping. Often times people are completely paralyzed by not knowing what they need so they put off beekeeping until next year......and the next year....and the next year.
New Beekeepers Checklist: The Essentials
With a desperate glazed look in their eyes.......new beekeepers are overwhelmed with what to buy when they are preparing to get bees. Magazines, advertisements, and other beekeepers may overload you with a mind-boggling amount of equipment you need to buy to get started. In reality, there is very little necessary to get started. Although you may decide to purchase or make additional equipment, this is a short list of initial equipment that is broken down to each individual item. Your list may vary depending on the configuration of the hive and style you choose. I will recommend going with an 8 or 10 frame standard Langstroth hive body. What a new beekeeper may not understand is that there are two sizes of Langstroth hives and the only difference is one holds 8 frames and one is a few inches wider and holds 10 frames. Now given that information, a 10 frame box full of bees, honey, brood, comb and pollen is heavier than an 8, so if heavy lifting is a consideration, maybe an 8 frame is the better choice. Because 10 frame was THE STANDARD for so many years, not all accessories were available for 8 frame hives. Often times, there are universal parts, like expandable mouse guards that work on both sizes. Be sure if you choose 8 frame that you buy ALL 8 FRAME components. If you choose 10 frame, be sure to look close to make sure it is all 10 frame components. Also consider buying black foundation for your frames because it is easier to see eggs. I'm not going to get into Ware' hives or top bar hives, and I don't recommend them for the beginner beekeepers. A long Langstroth(which is like combining a top bar with a Langstroth), could be a consideration, but for this article, I will stick with the standard Langstroth for an equipment list. Long Langs general are not as productive as a stacked hive.
The Stand: I do not like my bees on the ground or on a stand where they can't defend against an ant invasion. Ants carry diseases that transfer to bees. Lets keep the ants out. Pallets and cinder blocks are not a good choice. I make wood and cinder block stands that I can apply an ant deterrent like grease ring to the legs so the ants wont cross the grease. The stand must be sturdy so it can handle the weight of a 200+ pound hive when it is full of honey. I put a grease ring about 1" wide around each beam. Throughout the season, you may need to break the glaze that forms on the grease or occasionally add a little.
Bottom board: There are generally two types of bottom boards. The first is a solid bottom board, which is as you would think, a solid piece of plywood with side rails to sit on and space for an entrance reducer. The other option is a screened bottom board, which has screen hardware cloth and a wooden frame. It may have an "Integrated pest management" corrugated slide out tray. My preference over the years has been a solid bottom board, but both have their advantages.
Entrance reducer: This is a square stick with two different size entrances that goes across the bottom board to allow more bees to go in and out. You can reduce it smaller so they have less area to protect when there is robbing, or a dearth when no natural nectar is available.
Hive Body: "hive body" can be used to describe various sizes of wooden boxes often referred to as deep, medium, or shallow. They are also referred to as brood box, super, and shallow super. Essentially, it is a wooden box to hold the frames and some hand holds on the outside for carrying. It is important if you choose to assemble boxes yourself that they be square and flat so once stacked, they don't wobble or leave air gaps. A beekeepers choice is somewhat personal. Some people use two deep boxes and two or three medium boxes for honey. Some like all medium boxes because they are easier to move when inspecting the hive. Yet other people may have a miscellaneous combination of boxes. I prefer a traditional one or two deeps and the remaining boxes on top as mediums. When starting out, you may want one or two deeps and two supers.
Frames: There are two basic types of frames: Wood and Plastic. Both have their place in beekeeping. For my general purpose frames, I prefer wood frames, stapled(or nailed), and glued together. The only time I use plastic frames is for drone brood either in drone production or pest management. The next step gets a little more exciting.........foundation.
Foundation: Foundation sheet within the wood frame that is the building block that bees use to start drawing wax comb. I've used every type available and here is a simple starting point. Buy assembled wood frames with plastic foundation that is triple dipped in wax. If you want to explore, there is foundationless, wired frames, wax drop in foundation, plastic foundation, and several variations of the previously mentioned types to make cut comb and Ross rounds. There will be plenty of time to try different types down the road.
Queen excluder: Let me preface this with..... there is a time and place for a queen excluder and is sometimes better left to the seasoned beekeeper. The queen excluder keeps the queen out of the honey boxes so you don't have brood in them. If you are going to use it, put it on 30 days before you intend to harvest honey and take it off immediately after the honey is harvested. Do not leave it on over winter.
Inner Cover: While there is a choice of inner covers, with upper entrance and without, I prefer the inner cover that has the slot for an upper entrance. The inner cover was originally designed because the bees will stick down the top cover with propolis. This allows you to take the top cover off easily and pry the inner cover off when it is stuck down with proplis.
Top Cover: The top cover sits on top of the inner cover. It helps moderate temperatures along with several other useful purposes like weatherproofing and protecting the upper entrance. There is a variety of top covers including a simple migratory cover, a telescoping cover, and some fancy gabled covers. I prefer the telescoping cover. One note, the telescoping cover with metal gets very hot in the summer sun, so I use a 2” thick pink insulation foam between the top cover and inner cover.
A brick or block: This will come in handy on the top cover for those windy days so the cover doesn't blow off.
Hive tool: There are so many hive tools and they continue to evolve with time. A traditional scraper hive tool is ok, but my preference is the J-hook hive tool. It comes in handy for lifting stuck frames. I always have two of these so when a frame is stuck with propolis, my partner on the other side can lift too. These have saved me from having a lot of damaged frames.
Bee Suit: You may choose a simple head net or a complete one piece suit. Buy something that matches your needs. A simple head net, a jacket with veil, or a one piece suit with veil are all options. Bees will crawl and explore every possible entrance you leave open. If you wear a jacket, they may get you at your belt line when you bend over. They may also crawl up your pant legs or up your sleeves. I spend 8-12 hours a day in the bee yard on some days, and a full suit protects my clothes from getting dirty and stained with propolis. It's also convenient to slip it off so I don't bring any hitchhikers into the house.
Gloves: A decent pair of gauntlet sheepskin gloves will serve you for many seasons.
Smoker: A little puff of cool smoke from a smoker is used to calm bees down. A cheap fuel like wood chips or grass & leaves can be used. Never use material treated with chemicals.
Notebook & pen: This may be one of the most important tools in becoming a good beekeeper. Keep notes on what you are doing. It's helpful when trying to remember when you were in their last and what was done.
Check them off as you acquire them:
_____Hive bodies(the size is your choice)
_____Frames(that are the same size as your hive bodies)
_____Foundation(that match the size of your frames)
_____Notebook and pen
Let’s not forget the star of the show! Keep it simple. Yes, there are many varieties, but a local stock Italian will give you best results. Once you get a few years of successful beekeeping behind you, then try something else if you must, but you will probably come right back to Italian bees for their gentleness and consistency. If you can’t find local nucs or packages, find a local queen breeder and replace the or queen in August so you go into win with a fresh local queen.
Chose a location were it is mostly sunny, i encourage you to check on them weekly, and monitor for Varroa mite level every 3-4 weeks throughout the flying season. Treat before the mite numbers get high. Find a bee buddy or participate in a mentoring program.
Down the Road:
When it's time to harvest honey: You may want to buy an extractor to collect your honey, or share one with another beekeeper. The prices have become affordable along with the support items like screens to screen off wax chunks and debris, your uncapping knife or other uncapping tool, bottling tank, bottles, labels, lids, etc. I'm certain when that time comes around you will have made connections with another beekeeper that will help you. You can invest a lot of money into all of the gadgets and gizmos of beekeeping, but money can't replace experience. The more time you spend with your bees, the less money you will spend on fads and trendy items. Find a good bee club that provides education and make a commitment to yourself and your bees to become a better beekeeper.
Beekeeping is cyclical. You will do the same thing at about the same time every year. Take good notes because what you don’t learn this year, the bees will try to teach you again next year.
Other great resources to help you along are the “ IBA Honey Do List” which gives you some guidance on things you should be doing each month.
If you are in the Northwest Indiana or North East Illinois area and would like to learn more, find a beekeeping buddy, or learn more about the IBA mentor program, go to http://www.IllianaBeekeepersAlliance.com
If you have found this helpful, please consider supporting our educational programs by joining our club or making a donation.
Written by Jerry Gordon, owner of Indiana Honey Bees
Send in your question and we will submit it to our mentors and post the answer here!
A passion for bees and Author of many beekeeping articles, lectures, research, and educational programs in the beekeeping industry. President of the Illiana Beekeepers Alliance, contributor to many local clubs and their conferences. Jerry is a queen breeder and anchors his education on using and improving local bee stock along with bee health and Varroa management.
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