We thought we would do a small series on some beekeeping basics as we march toward another beekeeping season. In this first installment we will look at basic equipment and tools needed to have one or two hives.
Most beekeepers use a Langstroth hive. The Langstroth hive is made up of the following components:
Outer cover – to protect the interior from the elements, this top cover is usually covered in metal.
Inner cover – rests directly on the hive body and tucked under the outer lid. A beekeeper can remove the outer cover and because the inner cover is still in place it causes less of a disturbance to the bees. It also provides a bit of space for airflow. It often has a hole in the center.
Hive Bodies- these boxes – most commonly made of wood but sometimes made of polystyrene are the main chambers of the hive. They come in 3 different depths – deeps (sometimes referred to as the brood nest where the queen bee will lay eggs), mediums – also known as Dadants, and shallows – these are also known as honey supers or extracting supers. Mediums and shallows are where the bees will store nectar and cap it over as honey. Each box contains 10 frames (although some beekeepers only use 8 or 9 frames in each box).
Frames – each frame contains beeswax or plastic foundations. The worker bees draw out the comb by adding beeswax to the imprints of the cells on these sheets of foundation within each frame. It is here that they store the brood, pollen and nectar.
Queen excluder – not pictured and not always used. The queen excluder keeps the queen in the brood nest – it is a screen that allows worker bees to pass through, but the queen’s larger size keeps her in the brood nest. Once worker bees start bringing in honey you can add a queen excluder so that you can be confident that you are not removing the queen from the hive when you harvest your honey supers for extraction.
Bottom board – serves as the floor for the colony, and a landing place for bees who return from foraging.
Hive stand – optional. Designed to keep the hive off the ground. You can also use a pallet.
Essential Tools - Smoker and Hive Tool
A smoker is made up of a metal fire pot with a grate and bellows. It looks a bit like a metal tea pot. It is used to divert the bees’ attention from the intruder (the beekeeper) and drives them into the hive to feed. The smoke disrupts their communication (pheromones) and makes it easier for the beekeeper to work. You can use a variety of different fuel types- we like burlap here but you can use sawdust, pinecones, twigs, untreated wood, or pine needles.
A hive tool is a metal bar used to pry apart frames and honey supers, scraping wax and propolis and is a must have tool. It can get sticky and gunked up with wax and propolis but you can clean it by burning it in the metal pot of your smoker. It is essential to clean it thoroughly if you have used it on a beehive with bee disease.
Protective Clothing - Bee Veils and Beekeeping Jackets/Suits
It is recommended to wear a bee veil to protect your head and face from bee stings. Bee stings in your ear can really hurt! There are a few different styles available – veils that go over your hat, hatless veils and veils that are part of an entire suit or jacket. These have wire to keep the fabric away from the face. Coveralls or Jacket styles can help you keep clean and are harder for the bees to sting through the fabric. Bees don’t care for darker fabrics so most of these suits and jackets are white or light colours.
Gloves are optional – some beekeepers find that gloves can get in the way, but leather or canvas gloves can protect the hands from stings.
You can buy bees a few different ways. You can buy a package of bees- these are bees raised outside of Canada (from New Zealand, Chile, Australia) and imported in March or April. Included with each colony is 2-3 pounds of bees and a mated queen within a screen box or cardboard tube with plastic venting at either end. Colonies are inspected by the federal government upon arrival and can safely travel in a vehicle. These bees have completed a season in the Southern Hemisphere and have been integrated with a mated queen.
You can also purchase a nucleus colony. A nucleus colony includes 4 or 5 deep Langstroth frames including a mated queen, some capped brood, uncapped larva, bees, pollen and honey stores. All frames are deep (standard sized) frames. The frames are put into your own equipment and the colony can grow. Colonies must be inspected by the government inspector prior to pick up. The bees come in a solid, safe for travel box that you pay a deposit for. These are usually from local suppliers although the bee stock may be imported at some point.
Make sure to check with your local city officials to make sure you have any necessary permits for keeping bees in your area. You want to make sure all bees & used equipment you purchase have been inspected. You also must register your bees in BC – check out this online form to register: Beekeeper & Apiary Registration
Nuc or Package?
Packages do not come with equipment – you must prep your hive and empty your package onto your ready equipment. With a nuc you can simply remove the frames from the nuc box and put them directly into your deep super. Nucs are considered the easiest way to start a colony. It is like a small starter colony. Those bees have a jump start on the package bees as they have brood and feed. Package bees start from scratch. Packages are available earlier in the season however and if you are eager, they arrive March of April. Nucs are sometimes not available until May or June. Package bees are not difficult to install but they do come with a queen that has been introduced into the hive. There is a chance (small) that the bees will reject her.
Collecting a Swarm
You can try to collect a swarm – bees in our area tend to swarm in May or June depending on the weather conditions. Swarms can settle on branches, fenceposts, the side of a building…you collect them by gently shaking them into a box and installing into your own empty equipment. Sometimes swarms land in inaccessible places (high in treetops) – or they can move on before you have your equipment ready so be ready in swarm season. Some beekeepers set swarm traps which use pheromones as bait to lure the swarms.
Finding a Mentor or Community
We always recommend that if you are ready to start beekeeping you should check out your local bee club. There are as many ways to keep bees as there are beekeepers so attend these gatherings with an open mind and always do your own research. If you are on Vancouver Island there are clubs in Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo and the Oceanside Area. During the pandemic meetings have moved online so check places like Facebook for club meetings in your area or online. You can also check the government website- they host a free course for beginners and have lots of info about building your own equipment and contacts for local bee inspectors. Make use of these resources! Bees (apiculture) - Province of British Columbia