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Must-Have Beekeeping Supplies (For the Beginner Beekeeper)

When it comes to keeping bees, there are some must-have beekeeping supplies to have on hand for keeping a healthy hive and colony. Listen to this podcast with beekeeping expert, Adam Martin, as he shares which beekeeping supplies are a must-have and which we can ignore.

A husband and wife standing outside.

About Adam Martin

Adam and Leslie Martin are the owners of Bee Kept, located in Culleoka, Tennessee. After failing miserably in their first season of beekeeping, they used those failures as opportunities to learn outside of the bee box methods. By season two, they changed their beekeeping method and mindset, and utilized more natural and sustainable methods of beekeeping. 

This natural approach allows the bees to be bees. The honey bees do the work of foraging, collecting pollen and nectar, and producing that wonderful superfood… honey! The bees are not fed sugar water or treated for pests, especially varroa mites. The goal is strong, healthy colonies that can survive without intervention.

Benefits of Beekeeping

Adam refers to himself as a “candy bar coffee” kind of guy. He loves his coffee sweet and when his family decided to improve their diet, one of the first changes he made was to swap sweetener for his coffee to honey.

He also loves peanut butter and honey sandwiches, so using honey raised on his homestead was a great option.

The great thing here is to realize with homesteading there’s no one perfect “project” to start with. Some people start with growing a garden, others start with backyard egg-laying chickens, and Adam started with honey bees.

We’ve discussed the basics of beekeeping before, but what we’re going to discuss further in this post are the must-have beekeeping supplies. What does one need to get started with beekeeping, and are all the supplies you’ll find available out there really necessary?

A man holding up a frame from a beehive.

Must-Have Beekeeping Supplies

For those looking to get into beekeeping, as Carolyn and I hope to do soon, I asked Adam to share his must-have beekeeping supplies.

Hives

Adam started out keeping bees in vertical hives and slowly transitioned to the horizontal hive. It’s not only easier on the beekeeper, but it’s better for the bees.

There are even some commercial beekeepers using horizontal hives.

Horizontal hive boxes have 1 1/2-2 inch side walls in them, compared to the 3/8-5/8 inch hive walls. So, the insulating properties in these horizontal hives are going to be a lot better for the bees through the winter.

If you can’t keep bees through the winter, then you won’t really get any honey in return.

Furthermore, the horizontal beehives are much easier on the beekeeper. With the vertical hives, those boxes can weigh up to 80 pounds when full of honey. So, when it’s time to do a hive inspection, you have to pull those boxes off. This is a lot of weight for the beekeeper to lift and inspect.

Furthermore, vertical hives can be stacked on top of each other as the colonies grow, so for a beekeeper, this means climbing up on a ladder to remove the boxes for inspection. This can essentially be a recipe for disaster.

When you go to a vertical hive, the maximum amount you’re lifting is one frame at a time, which would weigh, at most, about ten pounds.

A man holding up a frame from a beehive.

Frames

One of the first things you have to decide on is the frame style. Man has been making many different styles of frames for centuries. However, here in the Western world, you typically have two options of frames to choose from: Langstroth and Layens.

Langstroth

Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth was an American apiarist who was considered to be the father of American beekeeping. He recognized the concept of bee-space, a minimum distance that bees avoid sealing up. Although not his own discovery, the use of this principle allowed for the use of frames that the bees leave separate and this allowed the use of rectangular frames within the design of what is now called the Langstroth hive. (Source)

Adam says you can use the Langstroth frames in a horizontal hive to get the best of both worlds.

Layens

Georges de Layens was a French botanist and apiculturist. He developed a removable frame and a mobile beehive called the “Layens hive”.

The Layens frames are a little more difficult to get, but they’re easier to make yourself. They also more closely mimic how bees build combs in nature.

When bees build hives in nature (in a hollowed-out tree, for example), the bees will start at the top of the hollowed-out tree and build their combs down with gravity. They’ll then start storing about 4-5 inches of honey at the top of the comb and brood their babies below the honey. This “honey rainbow,” as Adam calls it, is what the bees can survive off of through the winter.

With all that being said, Adam always recommends using what you have, or if bee equipment is being offered to you, never say no!

A swarm of bees in a tree.

Bees

If you’re going to keep bees, you have to first have bees to keep! Adam says free wild, feral bees are the best kind to keep. Adam says it’s incredibly easy to trap bees with a 50-60% success rate. You pretty much put a box in a tree, bait it and wait.

The trap that you build or buy can be reused each year. You’re not only getting free bees, but you’re also getting bees that have survived the winter in your location, so you know they’re a strong bee, not being shipped to you from another climate.

The second-best thing to do is to find someone who catches feral bee swarms in your area and buy a bee swarm from them. You can generally find people in a group of local beekeepers who can help you out.

Feeders

Adam does not recommend feeders for your bees. He refuses to feed his bees sugar water because he feels that if you can’t raise bees who can survive on their own, then it’s not a hive worth keeping.

Adam also believes that if you prop up bees with treatments and sugar, then you’re weakening the colony. It’s the same principle with humans as with bees, if you’re not feeling well, the very last thing you need is a sugary drink to help you recover. So giving bees sugar water when they’re struggling is only weakening their health.

A man in a beekeeping suit tending to bees.

Bee Suit

As a mentor, Adam recommends getting a jacket/veil combination. He also recommends a ventilated jacket because, in the summertime, it can get very hot inside that jacket.

Whether you need anything more than that is up to your personal preference. The best thing you can do is to be calm when handling bees. So, if you feel like you need to dress up like the Michelin man, then go for it!

Adam takes care of his bees wearing his glasses and a baseball cap, because he is very calm when around bees and he is not concerned with getting stung. He would rather be comfortable and cool. Because he’s very calm when around bees and not concerned with getting stung, he’d rather be comfortable and cool.

Gloves

Adam recommends latex gloves so you can feel bees between your fingers. When wearing thick leather gloves, you can’t feel if you inadvertently squish a bee. When a bee is smashed, it sends out pheromones and alerts the hive to danger.

Some may hear latex gloves and think the bees could sting you through them since they’re much thinner than leather gloves, but Adam says the bees will not sting through the latex.

Boots

Boots are up to the beekeeper. Dress in whatever way makes you feel most comfortable. This also may depend on where your bee boxes are located and your property. If you need to muck out through the mud or snow to check on your hives in the winter, you may want to invest in some good boots.

But Adam doesn’t think boots are a “must-have” when it comes to beekeeping supplies.

A man working in a bee box with a bee smoker on the box.

Smoker

A smoker is a must-have when it comes to beekeeping. In fact, Adam recommends always taking your smoker with you, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. He says there may come a time when you need that smoker, and, at that point in time, it will be the hardest thing to light.

When it comes to buying a smoker, Adam recommends purchasing one made in the USA. He says Dadant is a trustworthy brand that makes a great product.

Adam also says you can find used smokers on eBay!

A hive scraping tool.

Hive Tool

Hive tools have a lot of functions and it’s definitely on Adam’s must-have beekeeping supplies list. You’ll use your hive tool for multiple uses.

It usually has a sharp edge on both ends, and it can be used to scrape, stick between the frames from the propolis, etc.

Bee Brush

Adam jokes that during the gold rush, the people who got rich were those selling shovels. In the bee industry, he also says there are a lot of people making a lot of money off of recommended supplies that you really don’t need.

A bee brush falls into this category of non-essentials, in Adam’s opinion. Adam refers to a bee brush as a bee agitator. The goal of a bee brush is to remove bees from a frame as you’re removing it.

Adam shared that bees have 100x the sense of smell as we do. If Adam needs bees to move, all he does is put his hand near the bees, and they’ll disperse. You can also get bees to move by blowing on them or using your smoker.

Queen Catcher

A queen catcher (or a Queen clip) isn’t a must-have beekeeping supply. With natural and sustainable beekeeping methods, the best thing to do with a queen is to leave her alone.

Bees in a hive.

Honey Harvesting Supplies

It’s not enough to simply have supplies for keeping bees. The whole goal is to be able to harvest honey. So, let’s discuss the must-have supplies for harvesting honey.

Capping Scratcher

There is a waxed cap that covers the honey in the comb. In order to get honey out of the comb, you have to remove the wax cap. A scraper will help remove the wax to allow the honey to come out of the comb when using an extractor.

It looks like a fork with very sharp tines.

Extractors

When it comes to extractors, there are so many different kinds of extractors you can buy. From electric to hand-crank, there’s a lot to choose from. Adam recommends starting with a simple two-frame hand-cranked extractor for the home beekeeper.

Layans extractors, which are a little harder to come by, can extract both Layans frames and Langstroth frames.

Beyond that, you can actually put a comb into a fruit press and strain the honey out that way. This keeps the pollen in the honey, which is very beneficial for seasonal allergies.

Furthermore, if you use simple cheesecloth and the pressure of your hands to strain honey.

Extractor Accessories

With an extractor, you can choose to strain your honey directly into the storage containers or get a specific 5-gallon bucket that comes with a spout at the bottom to then pour into your final storage jars.

There are also screens or sieves you can use to strain the honey and ensure you’re not getting any wax caps in the final product.

All of these accessories are optional and definitely not on the must-have beekeeping supplies list.

Honey being ladled from a five gallon container into a one gallon jar.

How Much Honey Will I Get?

I was curious to know how much honey the average home beekeeper can expect to get in a year. Adam says that the average Langstroth long horizontal hives can hold up to 31 frames. When a colony gets that large, you can get upwards of 100 pounds of honey.

For reference, a quart of honey is 2.5 pounds, so out of 100 pounds you’re getting about 40 quarts of honey or 10 gallons of honey.

This is probably a larger-than-average yield with a very strong colony. Adam finds the 17-frame Layens hive is the sweet spot.

Bee swarm catching box.

Beekeeping Supply Resources

  • Starter Kit: Check out Adam’s store, Bee Kept, to find great supplies and a starter kit.
  • Books: Adam is currently writing a beekeeping book. Give him a follow on social media (see below) to know when that gets published. However, until that’s released, he recommends Keeping Bees with a Smile and Honeybee Democracy.
A husband and wife standing outside.

Where to Find Adam

Check out Adam on his website, Bee Kept, as well as the following:

  1. Bee Kept on Instagram
  2. Bee Kept on Facebook
  3. Bee Kept Bootcamp – Adam’s online class on how to Bee Kept by bees by using natural and sustainable methods of beekeeping. Individuals will learn how to trap honey bee swarms, explore horizontal hives, and participate in hive inspections.
  4. In-Person Classes – Adam also offers informative and interactive in-person classes on beekeeping basics. If you’re in the Tennessee area, his classes are great for a school field trip or a family outing.
  5. Finally, we teamed up with Adam over at the School of Traditional Skills to teach a beekeeping class. So, take a look at that, as well.
A sunflower with a bee.
A man and wife smiling.

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Josh and Carolyn bring you practical knowledge on how to Grow, Cook, Preserve and Thrive on your homestead, whether you are in a city apartment or on 40 acres in the country. If you want to increase your self-sufficiency and health be sure to subscribe for helpful videos on gardening, preserving, herbal medicine, traditional cooking and more.

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