Beginner Beekeeper Q-and-A: What Equipment Do I Need to Get Started?

You've learned about the components of a hive, so what's next? Here are the gadgets and gizmos you'll need to start beekeeping this spring.

by Kristina Mercedes Urquhart
PHOTO: Zach Frailey/Flickr

Newcomers to just about any hobby find themselves in an odd place between knowing and doing. Just before a person really gets going, there is enormous potential. That potential, the fantasy of what is to come, drives us to learn more and do our best, especially when it comes to beekeeping. But it can also make us vulnerable to crafty sales pitches and gadgets we don’t need. The hobby of beekeeping is rife with strange contraptions and doohickeys that look unusual to someone who doesn’t know how to use the items in the right context. We’ve taught you about “woodenware” (the components of a hive) as well as how to choose the best location for that hive. So today we answer the question: How does a new beekeeper know what equipment it takes to get started?

What does a successful beekeeper really need?

Successful beekeepers start with a solid foundation of knowledge and humility to be open to what they do not know. As a beekeeper, you learn something new every year, for as long as you keep bees. Old timers in our local beekeeping club have spent three decades or more keeping bees, and they are still surprised by things.

What equipment is necessary?

Truly, some beekeepers get by on the bare minimum— housing for their bees, and some type of smoker for inspections. You don’t really need anything. But some equipment makes beekeeping a lot easier, much safer and more fun. For those reasons, I recommend three things:

  • Safety gear, including protective clothing and a veil
  • A smoker
  • Hive equipment, called “woodenware” and all of its various parts

Why do I need safety gear? Can’t I just wear jeans and a long-sleeve shirt?

Sure, many beekeeper will tell you they’ve conducted hive inspections in their everyday attire. There’s nothing terribly wrong with jeans, and many beekeepers wear their normal clothes to inspect their hives. But protective clothing has more than a few pros, especially for the new beekeeper. First, its designed to keep bees OUT. A mesh veil around the face zips into a jacket. The jacket as well as pants have elastic cuffs. The ensemble is more than just silly look. It serves a very important purpose of safety. Additionally, street clothes often smell like many things, some of which is your own body scent. Bees like things to smell like their home, and they’re very sensitive to aromas. Beekeeping attire is worn only during inspections and ends up smelling like smoke and honey—scents that will not alarm the honeybees.

What’s a smoker?

A smoker is a cylindrical metal can with a handle and a spout at the top, used to create a smoke to calm the bees during an inspection. Imagine the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz and you’ve got a good visual. The beekeeper squeezes the bellows, creating air flow that keeps the fire lit within. When made properly, a smoker produces a cool white smoke that masks the bees’ communication pheromones, giving you a safe opportunity to inspect the hive without stings or mass panic (on the bees’ part, anyway).

I’m convinced. Where do I get the bare necessities of equipment?

If you’re lucky, you have a beekeeping supplier near you. If not, there are several reputable companies online that ship all over the country. Search the internet for “beekeeping supplies” and you’ll hit several of the top companies in the United States. Happy shopping!

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