Beekeeping Equipment

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Basic Beekeeping Equipment

This list is for a hobbyist. The items and tools you'd likely need for a backyard hive. If you're attempting more advanced techniques, such as queen production, nucleus colonies, etc - I'd hope you already knew what you need.

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Hives

A hive is the house, the home of your honey bee colony. There are more than a few styles to choose from! But, here in WY, whatever you choose, it must have movable frames. That leaves out some of the older skeps, log hives and the like. There're still more than a few to choose from!

Langstroth

A diagram of a typical Langstroth Hive

The Langstroth bee hive, patented in October 1852, is the standard beehive used in many parts of the world for beekeeping. The advantage of this hive is that the bees build honeycomb into frames, which can be moved with ease. The frames are designed to prevent bees from attaching honeycombs where they would either connect adjacent frames, or connect frames to the walls of the hive. The movable frames allow the beekeeper to manage the bees in a way which was formerly impossible.

Wikipedia article on Langstrogh Hives

Covers

Covers are the roof or lid of your hive. They keep weather, bugs and cold out. They also provide a handy place to set your smoker, tools and other things while you work on a hive - if you've 2 hives next to each other.

Telescoping

The most common type of lid. Usually made of wood with a metal outer sheath. It's edges or frame 'telescope' over the side of the upper most super providing an effective weather seal. Disadvantage to these is if you have to move your hives. A telescoping cover prevents packing hives close togehter where they can offer mutual support against rocking and rolling while driving down bumpy roads.

Migratory

Similar to a telescoping cover, except they're usually made of all wood without a metal sheath. They don't offer quite as much weather protection as only the front and maybe the back edge may telescope over the sides of the upper most super. The idea of a migratory super is they allow hives to be stacked on pallets or a truck bed close side by side.

Inner

This is used to maintain bee space and provide an insulating layer to the top of your hive. Many inner covers will also have a vent slot cut into one edge or the other. This can be used during the hot summer to provide more ventilation. Helps the little gals keep things cool and humidity under control.

bodies

Hive bodies and hive supers are four-sided boxes with standardized inside dimensions. There are generally four different sizes. Outside box dimensions vary depending on the type of material used. Polystyrene boxes have much larger outside dimensions than boxes made out of wood. Deep and medium hive bodies are provided to serve as the brood chamber, the part of the hive where the queen lays eggs and the bees care for the larvae. Medium, shallow and comb honey supers are used for honey stores and to harvest the honey. The inside width is 14–11/16 inches (373 mm) and the inside length is 18–5/16 inches (465 mm). The frames rest on a rabbeted side along both ends of each box.

Type Depth Frame length Frame depth Frame width Foundation
Deep body 9⅝" 19" 9⅛" 1⅛" 8½"
Medium (Illinois) super 7⅝" 19" 7¼" 1⅛" 6½"
Shallow super 6⅝" 19" 6¼" 1⅛" 5⅝"
Comb super 5⅝" 19" 5⅜" 1⅛" 4¾"


Wikipedia on Langstroth Hive Bodies

frames

The inovation that makes extracting honey from your hives possible without destroying your hive! Also, movable frames are required by the Wyoming Apiculture Act for all hives in Wyoming - to facilitate inspections, disease and pest control.

Wedge Tops

Normally used with wax foundation. They provide a removable piece that is ued to 'wedge' the top edge of the foundation into the top bar.

Grove Tops

Used mostly for plastic or wax covered plastic foundation. The stiffer plastic provides enough structure to allow simply 'popping' the foundation into a groove and it'll hold itself there.

Grove Bottoms

Parts for 10 top groove, bottom groove and side hole frames.

Same idea as groove tops - can be used with wedge or groove top bars.

Slot Bottoms

Often used with wax foundation, they allow slipping a sheet of foundation into a frame without flexing it. Just slide it in and wedge the top into place.

Side Holes

Used to proved a way of 'tying' your foundation in place or allow reinforcement wires to be affixed to the frame. Not normally used with plastic foundations, but required for wax foundation that doesn't already have it's own wire reinforcements in place.

Bottom Boards

Bottom boards are the floor of your hive.

Solid

What used to be the most common, cheapest and easiest to build. A sheet of wood with a frame around it to slightly elevate the first brood box and provide an entrance on one side.

Screened

A screened bottom board that also includes an inspection drawer

With the advent of Varroa Mite, screen bottom boards allow mites to fall through to the ground. They are unable to climb back up into the hive and continue their pestilence. You can also place 'sticky boards' under a screen to capture mites. A count over time can indicate the level of Varroa infestation your hive is suffering.

Entrance Reducers

These simply handy 'sticks' serve several functions. They help keep bees in as well as keep mice, bugs and cold air out. Usually a simple stick with a couple slots cut for different sized entrances. During the summer months, strong healthy hives don't really need them. In fact, they can get in the way of cooling on hot days. There are also circular steel reducers that can be rotated to allow a desired entrance size.

Stands

An example of a yard stand with two hives. Each hive has it's own hive stand, as well.
Hive Stands

Basically a structure that goes under a bottom board to slightly elevate a hive and provide a sloped landing board. Not required. More cosmetic than anything, but they do look nice.

Yard Stand

A structure to keep your hive off the ground. They can be quite elaborate and made of many materials. Or, simply 'field expedient' and simply do the job. They all work. Other than cosmetics and durability, there're not many criteria to judge your choices. Only suggestion is they elevate your hive entrance to at least 18" above ground. This prevents predation by skunks and other rodents.

feeders

There are times when you need to supplement your colony's food stores. During spring build up, times of no honey flow, when treating for disease or many other reasons. They provide a convenient and reliable method of offering food to your bees without making a mess of things.

Entrance

Entrance feeders suffer from a couple of issues. They use a jar, often glass, that can break. They may encourage robbing or other insects as the entrance to the feeder is very near the hive entrance. They also have a limited capacity and require multiple visits to refill. However, you're not likely to drown any bees with one of these feeders. The bulk liquid is fully contained.

Frame

A frame feeder in a super. This one has a cap and 'bee ladders' to prevent drowning.

Of various capacities, the biggest problem with frame feeders is they are frame replacements. To use one, you remove one, two or in extreme cases 3 frames from a super and replace it with a frame shaped tank. Usually open top, they provide a larger capacity of feed but do require opening the hive to inspect and refill. Traditional frame feeders must have a float on the top of the liquid to offer bees that fall into it a chance to get out and not drown. There are a few proprietary models that offer textures, lids and bee ladders to prevent drowning.

Top

Likely the easiest, but also the most expensive, of the options for a hive. These are essentially tanks of food that sit on top of the top most super. There are several designs that offer a variety of access methods to the bees. Simply because they can hold so much liquid, there is a risk of leakage and attraction of pests.

Yard

A chicken waterer being used to water a bee yard. Can also be used as a yard feeder

A yard feeder is typically huge. Holding at least 5 gallons of feed. A keeper may place several around a yard to feed very large volumes. A yard feed doesn't sit in or on a hive, but while it's in the yard is available for any bee that finds it to use it. Usually cheap and handy to use, the biggest risk is drawing in pests and animals that also like sweet stuff. While allowing for generalized medicating for a yard, it's hard to know if any particular colony has been properly mediated or not.

excluders

The most common type of excluder is a Queen Excluder. Usually a simple wooden fram with a slotted plage. It's set on top of the upper brood chamber, it's intent is to keep the queen from wandering up into the supers and laying eggs amongst your honey. There are also double screen excluders that are used to totally separate all bees to their own side of the excluder. One use is in 2 queen management. There are some keepers that don't use excluders at all.

Though rare, there are other types of excluders. One kind is a drone excluder, used to keep drones on one side of the excluder.

guards

Mouse

Warree

A Vertical Top Bar hive. Made of simple boxes, Warree hives are usually less expensive than traditional hives and easier to make. Considered by many to be a more 'natural' hive as management tends to mimics growth of the colony and the space they'd choose in the wild. Supers are usually added to the bottom allowing the colony to grow downward. Being a top bar design, full frames aren't used. This can limit harvest options to crushed or chunk comb. One notable feature that's been adopted by some Langstroth users is the top "Quilt Box".

Diagram of a Warree or 'ecological' bee hive

Top Bar

A Horizontal Top Bar hive. Single story and frameless like a Warree. But instead of building vertically, the colony builds horizontally. Since you can't add boxes to a TBH, there may be space in the hive that is not used by the colony. Follower boards are used to contain the colony within the hive and are moved laterally as the colony grows. A newer 'hybrid' horizontal hive uses Langstroth medium super frames. One feature of a TBH is they allow you to keep more than one colony in the box.

Diagram of one kind of Tob Bar hive

Beekeeping Tools

hive tool

As bees use propolis to 'glue' their hives together, fix frames into suppers and generally keep things from falling apart, you may need to exert some force to remove a lid,cover or frame from a body. A hive tool is a small pry bar that comes in handy for such tasks. It also has a 'scraper' end that can be used to remove stingers and burr comb. They come in many styles and sized. Which one you choose is purely personal preference. Some even use a small 'wrecking' bar they already have in their home owners tool kit.

smoker

Smokers are used to 'smoke' bees. A smoldering fuel is burned in the main body and when the bellows are depressed, a puff of air causes smoke to be expelled from the top. Smoke is used to move bees, calm them or cover the attack pheromones released by a sting. A few light puffs of smoke in the entrance of a hive seems to confuse the guards and prevent coordinated attacks. Current thinking is this is accomplished by covering up their communications pheromones.

Too much smoke, too often in a hive can impart a 'smokey' flavor to honey and comb.

Here's a web page talking more in depth on smokers and their history.

Dome Top

A dome top smoker, with guard

Considered by some to be a more 'traditional' design, this is simply a smoker with a rounded top lid. May be more expensive than a cone top.

Cone Top

A cone top smoker, with guard

Consider by others to be a more 'tradional' design, this is simply a smoker with top made out of a rolled, flat sheet.

Cone tops tend to be less expensive. In all reality, which type you choose is purely personal choice as both work as well as the other.

Guards

Smoker guards are wire frames that enclose a smoker body. They're intended to prevent contact burns with a hot smoker. Most also include a hanging hook, though many guardless smokers also have hooks.

bee brush

A soft brush used to gently brush bees out of the way. It's long, soft bristles prevent the crushing or injuring of bees. Something that could be a disaster if your colony's queen were involved. Injured or crushed bees also release an alarm pheromone that may incite the rest of the colony to defend itself.

straps

Hive straps are simply used to hold a stack of supers together. Either to prevent predation, knock over by wind or to hold them together for transport.