Beekeeping Equipment: The Basics to Get Started


 

Beekeeping can be a pretty inexpensive hobby to get into if you are good with woodworking or know someone who is and will help build some of the basic equipment. The cost is generally because consumer retail products are expensive, but there are not many you need to purchase. And the products you do purchase will be a one time purchase for the majority of them. The items lists on the left are products that with proper maintenance can last decades and the items on the right are items that are one time purchases:

  • Bottom board

  • Two deep supers

  • One medium super

  • Frames and foundations for the supers

  • Inner cover

  • Hive Cover

 
  • Hive tool

  • Smoker

  • Bee jacket

There are some items that you may need repair and/or replace over time, most of the above as long as good maintenance practices are in place should last decades. There are consumables that do help strengthen the hive, they are not needed in most cases but they do assist in healthier bees. Here is the list of consumables:

  • Pollen and/or pollen substitute

  • Sugar

  • Honey B Healthy

Let’s look at each of these one at a time, explaining what they are and for some we will include a link where you can purchase it or see pricing.

Construction of a Bee Hive

A bee hive does not have many components to its make up. We will start from the bottom and move upwards explaining what each part is. In the lists above I did not include a hive stand, the reason for this is that there are so many different objects that may be used to elevate the hive. Some of the methods I have seen are plastic hive stands commercially built, cinder blocks, railroad timbers, piping, boxes, pallets, and even a truck box. Because of this, many people have this item at home or a friend has something they can use. You want an object that is sturdy and will hold several hundred pounds and be able to keep the honey bee hive level. By elevating the bee hive you are keeping it away from excess moisture, snow, restricting rodents, allowing air flow, and keeping the structure as sound as possible against the elements and insects that would burrow into the wood and eat it. There should be many choices and it should be easy enough to obtain something for free.

Hive Bottom Board

There are two basics types of bottom boards, the solid bottom board and the screened bottom board. There are variations of each of these but the basic concepts are the same. What a bottom board does is have a component that is separate from the supers so they may stay universal in design. This keeps cost down for those main components while giving the honey bees an entrance and exit to and from the hive. Both of these bottom boards have advantages and disadvantages, let’s review each of these bottom boards.

 Basic Solid Bottom Board

Basic Solid Bottom Board

Solid Bottom Board

As stated before, there are advantages and disadvantages to both the solid bottom and the screened bottom. The solid bottom is easier to construct and more economical in cost as well. During the winter it does restrict air flow and helps keep the hive a little more warm for the bee ball. There are some beekeepers that say because the hive is darker that the queen stays deeper in the hive more readily than moving into the honey areas.

The down side to the solid bottom board is that it can be harder to count varroa mites, more cleaning the floor of the hive, and if the weather is hot there is less air flow than with the screened bottom board. I do prefer the solid bottom board, it may be my imagination but I have fewer issues with a bottom board than I do with a screened bottom here in northern Ohio.

If purchasing a solid bottom board, look for a bottom board that uses boards instead of a piece of plywood. There should be a rabbit down the sides for the planks to fit in and then fastened on the sides. The planks should not be glued on the long side. This allows for the boards to expand and contract with the weather changes. Plywood doesn’t expand and contract as much, but it will to a degree. The planks seems to hold up a little better and should last longer.

 Basic Screened Bottom Board

Basic Screened Bottom Board

Screened Bottom Board

The screened bottom board is good for allowing better ventilation for the bee hive, although if you have harsh Winter months ventilation is not always a concern. The screened bottom board is made with #8 hardware cloth which is too small for the honey bee, wasps, hornets, etc. to travel through. But this is large enough for small hive beetles, ants, varroa mites, etc. to go through. This is one of the up sides and down sides to the screened bottom board. By placing a mite monitoring sticky pad under the screen, you can see where and how many varroa mites you may have. This could help save your honey bees.

Between the two basic models of the solid and screened bottom boards, there are few differences. As stated, I do prefer the solid bottom boards compared to the screened for the basic models. I would suggest trying something along the an IPK screened bottom board if you decide to go with a screened bottom that is focused on pest control. If you want to go along the route of having a screened bottom board and want to collect pollen then highly recommend the Sundance Pollen Trap.

 A deep box a.k.a. bee box, deep, and deep super

A deep box a.k.a. bee box, deep, and deep super

Supers

This is one of the areas that there are different names for the same thing. I often call all boxes supers and make the distinction which ones are for honey and which are for the honey bees. Although, many will call the bottom box or two the bee box and the honey boxes supers. This is probably the better method because it creates instant distinction.

There are three standard depths to Langstroth honey bee hives. They are termed shallow, medium, and deep. The shallow has a height of xxxxx and when full has 25 to 30 pounds of honey from the 2 to 2.5 gallons of honey. The medium has a height of 6 5/8” and when full has 35 to 40 pounds of honey and from 3 to 4 gallons of honey. Finally, the deep has a height of 9 5/8” and when full has 60 to 70 pounds of honey from 5 to 6 gallons of honey.

There are generally two boxes at the bottom of a hive, often termed bee boxes. These two boxes are for the bees to live in and are inspected for parasites and disease, but the content is left for the bees. The next supers will most often bee mediums and these are for surplus honey that the beekeeper will take. The shallow is not used as often, unless the weight of mediums is too hard to handle. This is one of the main reasons for the short super.

Often people will use pine for the construction of the beehive. This is because of the cost, I have seen cedar, aspen, plywood, cypress, and other woods used as well. This will be discussed in a later article on building materials.