Getting Started

GETTING STARTED : a checklist of basic equipment

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Equipment Notes
THE HIVE Carefully research the different type of hives available and obtain advice before purchasing . Find out about  polystyrene as well as wooden hives. Aim to start with 2 hives, as colonies which become weak can be united.  To avoid starting with infected equipment , it is recommended that you buy new hives.
HIVE STAND Avoid standing a hive directly onto the ground as the base should be protected from damp and weeds. The hive will also need to be  at the appropriate height for inspections and manipulating frames.  Either buy a purpose made stand or raise the hive off the ground using pallets. Concrete blocks or bricks.
FRAMES The frames can be made by purchasing the sections from equipment suppliers, or purchased ready assembled. Check the number and sizes that you require for the brood box and supers that you have decided to purchase. They must be compatible with your hive.
SPACERS You must make sure that there is enough ‘bee space’ between each frame for the bees to comfortably work.  Spacers can either be fitted onto the ends of each frame and purchase separately, or Hoffman frames have ‘self spacing ‘ side bars.


Foundation wax is used as a basis for the honeycomb and brood chamber. It encourages the bees to build straight combs within the wooden frames. It also saves on the bees’ labour in the construction of their combs. You can order foundation wax to fit the frames that you are going to assemble or if you decide to purchase assembled frames, these will already have foundation fitted. (Top Bar Hives do not need foundation in the same way as other hive designs.)
QUEEN EXCLUDER A simple grid of slotted plastic or wire that lies on top of the brood box. The slots in the grid are large enough to allow the workers to pass through, but should stop the large queen going into the higher chambers (supers/ shallows) where the honey is stored so that eggs/ brood  are  not on the frames from which you will want to extract the honey from later in the season. Check  whether a plastic or metal excluder  is best and if it should be set in a wooden frame.
FEEDERS Bees will need to be fed during the year with additional sugar syrup/ fondant. Check the different types and designs of feeders so that you obtain  ones that will be suitable to meet the bees requirements and the style of hive you are using.
HIVE TOOL Hive tools are ESSENTIAL. They are specially designed levers with scraping edges and other features which aid in the removal of frames from the beehives. There are three basic  designs:

A J-hive tool – the curved portion is used as a hook to leaver out a frame. There is another version of the J-shaped tool which is broader and stronger making it ideal for inserting between frames. The third type is broad at both ends with one curled round like a scroll.  Aim to have several of each type so that you have clean hive tools to use in each hive to avoid spreading infection.

THE SMOKER A bee smoker is a tool used to blow smoke into a beehive before inspecting and during any form of manipulation. Check the different designs and sizes. It is advisable to have more than one, ideally a large and small one, to cater for longer and shorter inspections. Smokers  with a metal guard are considered to be safer.
BEE BRUSH A soft brush with a fairly long handle for gently brushing bees from a comb. (Some bee keepers prefer to use goose / swan wing feathers.)
MANIPULATION CLOTH To avoid leaving all the frames exposed while you are working on your hive, a manipulation close is useful for laying on the part not in use. It needs to the of a sturdy enough fabric not to be blown away. If it is attached to wooden dowel rods by Velcro it can be rolled up as it is used and detached for washing. The dowel rods also help to keep it weighted down. Several manipulation cloths will be needed.
QUEEN CATCHER As marking the queen is an important process in hive maintenance, you will need to invest in a queen catcher. One of the best types is like a large plastic, bulldog clip. Once opened it can be placed around the queen and closed around her without causing any harm. Any smaller workers also caught will be able to escape through the slots.
MARKING CAGE A small marking cage is ideal for holding and marking the queen. Check the pros and cons of different types before purchasing.  There is circular one with spikes which fit onto the comb . The queen can be trapped and marked inside it – but unsteady hands can result in the queen / other bees being impaled!  The cylinder with a mesh end and a plunger which is padded with a sponge so as not to damage the queen is another type.
MARKING FLUID PENS The marking pens are produced for queen marking to match the annual colour coding system.  They are quick drying, water based and non-toxic.
UNCAPPING FORK Cranked or Straight : needed to remove cappings from comb , particularly for varroa mite inspection when drone pupa are lifted out for examination.
BEE SUIT There are a wide range of colours and styles. To find out which type of veil you prefer and the size of the bee suit  that will easily fit over your clothes, try bee suits on at the Association Training Apiary before purchasing . (Bring a tape measure with you as there is considerable variation between the  labelled  sizes: S/M/L etc  produced by different  manufacturers. The ventilated suits are helpful in hot weather!  Some beekeepers find separate jackets and trousers more convenient. The peak of a  base ball cap worn under the  veils that are  shaped like a hood,  will prevent the veil pressing against the face, and so stop  bees which may land on the veil netting from being able to sting the face.
GLOVES Due to the requirements to minimise the risk of transmitting diseases from one hive to another, disposable nitrile gloves are now recommended, rather than the traditional leather gloves. They are also thinner than latex gloves which aids with manipulation. For additional protection, thin washable cotton gloves (available from chemists) can be worn inside the nitrile gloves. It is also possible to purchase nitrile gloves with longer ‘sleeves’ so that they fully cover the wrist.
GAUNTLETS Designed to cover the gap where the gloves end and the cuffs of the bee suit start.
WELLINGTON BOOTS  Or similar footwear which extend above the ankle, helps to protect the feet and lower leg from bee stings where bees  which may travel up the bee suit trouser legs/ down inside shoes.