BEFORE you get your bees, you’re going to need some gear, and do some setup. The following is a list of MUST-HAVES and a few optional items. BEFORE you get your bees, you need to have all this stuff, be familiar with its operation and setup, and set up the hive.
Always wear a bee suit!!
- Bee suit (integrated jacket & veil, or integrated veil and overalls).
- Gloves. Disposable nitrile or dishwashing gloves work well.
- Pant leg belt (or duct tape).
- Hive tool – they’re inexpensive, so you might get a spare too.
- Smoker fuel – you can use dried leaves, or you can buy burlap or other smoker fuels.
Be very careful starting and using your smoker. Do not start a wildfire! If it’s a windy day, best not to work on your bees.
Please see here for an overview of a typical beehive.
We recommend starting with a Langstroth hive – by far the most common type of hive.
The minimum to get started:
- Hive stand – highly recommended – it is best to get the hive up off the ground.
- Bottom board – either a solid or “screened” bottom board. You can always change it later.
- Deep hive body (see below about 8 vs 10 frame bodies).
- Frames for the deep body – 9 1/8″ black waxed.
- Cover – telescoping cover w/ inner cover recommended, but “migratory cover” ok too. Make sure it matches your body (number of frames)!
- Water source. Your bees need water. Don’t make them go to your neighbor’s swimming pool for water.
Nice to Haves
- Propane torch to start the smoker. Much quicker and easier than a match or lighter.
- Feeder, syrup and pollen patties.
- Notebook and pen.
- Camera / phone.
- Mint candy or gum – your breath (CO2) can agitate the bees. DO NOT eat bananas around your bees, or have any banana smell or material on your person when near your bees. It has a chemical compound similar to bee alarm pheromone and will agitate your bees to sting you.
These links to BetterBee have some good information about hive details.
Langstroth hives are nice, rectangular boxes, and so folks have started making them in various widths and depths. The length is always the same – the length of a standard frame.
See BetterBee for more details.
The lower box(es) in your hive is where the queen spends her time, and where the brood will be found. You may choose to make sure she stays down there, not venturing into your honey supers, by using a queen excluder – a wire grid device that allows worker bees to pass through, but not the larger queen.
Once all the flowers start blooming in spring, the bees will rapidly start storing honey. You will need to provide them additional room by stacking “honey supers” onto the hive. These are typically medium-sized bodies and frames.
Hives come in either 8 frame or 10 frame widths. You need to commit to a size when you order your first hive body, as you will need to stack additional hive bodies on top of your first body. You cannot stack an 8 frame body on top of a 10 frame body.
10 frame bodies are more standard, but they are also heavier. You may need to lift an entire body, so an 8 frame body will be easier on your back.
“Deeps”, “mediums”, and “shallows”. See the BetterBee notes. Traditionally beekeepers tended to use “deeps” for the bottom brood bodies, and “mediums” for the honey “supers”.
- Deeps – used for brood chambers, 9-5/8″ tall.
- Mediums – can be used for brood and honey supers – 6-5/8″ tall.
- Shallows – not commonly used, but a good option to minimize weight – 5-3/8″ tall.
Each hive body will be filled with frames.
Important note: DO NOT leave out frames – your bees will very quickly fill that void with random comb. It will be a mess and very disruptive to the hive to clean up.
There are two types of covers:
- Telescoping – see BetterBee. These are always used in conjunction with an inner cover. The metal-covered covers are preferable – very durable and prevent warping in the winter rains.
- Migratory – simpler and cheaper, but probably not best in the winter – tend to warp and possibly leak.
The bottom board, as its name implies, is at the bottom of the hive.
Solid, simple bottom boards are a good option to start with… KISS right? Some folks like screened bottom boards. If in doubt, go with a simple solid bottom board.
The quickest and easiest way to get started is to purchase fully assembled hives and frames. If you’re particularly handy or wish to save a few bucks, you can consider purchasing unassembled hives. If assembling your hive, it helps to have some 90-degree corner clamps.
- Unless you get a pre-painted hive, leave time in your schedule to give your hive body a coat of paint. Choose whatever color you wish. Lighter colors are preferable – dark colors could get very hot in the summer.
- Have a water source for the bees. You don’t want them going across the street to your neighbor’s kiddie pool. Just like any animal, your bees need water.
- BEFORE you get your bees, have your hive body installed on your hive stands.
Use a hive stand!
- You do not want your bottom board resting on the ground. Pests and ants will have easy access, and your bottom board will quickly deteriorate.
- For the height of the hive stand, think about your back. If you have a hive stand about 16″ tall, you won’t be stooping over to work on your hives.
- Hive bodies, particularly honey supers, are heavy. You may want to lift an entire super at times. Consider the height, and think about using 8 frame bodies rather than 10 frame.
- The hive stand and hive should be level.
- The ideal location gets morning sun, with the front of the hive facing southeast or south.
- See here for more information.
Before Working On Your Hives
- Make sure you are very comfortable with your PPE, your bee suit. Do some trials. After putting it on, have a partner or friend verify there are no gaps or openings. There is nothing worse than noticing a bee on the inside of your veil when you are halfway through working on your hives.
- Seal your pants legs.
- Your bee suit will probably have elastic loops at the arm cuffs – you can loop these over some of your fingers to make sure the sleeves stay down, covering your tender flesh, as you work.
- Heavier nitrile gloves work well, like these. Longer sleeve disposable nitrile gloves may also be found at Grainger.
There are two ways to extract honey from your frames:
- Crush and squeeze
Crush and Squeeze
The crush and squeeze requires the least amount of equipment. It is simple – scrape all the capped honey cells off the frame with a putty knife or spatula, squeeze the honey out of all the wax, and strain it.
- It’s inexpensive and simple.
- The wax comb on the frames is destroyed. Your bees will have to rebuild the comb, which takes significant energy.
- It’s very messy and time consuming.
The club owns two extractors – a 12 frame motorized extractor, and a small hand-crank extractor. Both can be reserved here.
You will need:
- Uncapping tools.
- Filter (optional, but highly recommended).
There are a number of uncapping tools, ranging from expensive automated frame un-cappers to kitchen forks. Here are some of the simpler options:
Works well on fresh, light golden colored caps. Not as effective on darker colored caps.
You can also use a kitchen fork.
An uncapping knife can work well if your bees have built very even honey cells. Pictured above is a “cold” knife – there are also heated knives that melt the caps.
When you uncap your wax, put that through a strainer too. You will be amazed how much honey is in there. Once it’s strained save the wax and render down to use to make other hive products such as candles and bees wax wraps.
Buckets and Filters
Remember to get a lid!! A simple lid (like these “easy peel” lids) is best – the gamma seal lids can be harder to clean and are more expensive.
- Home Depot carries food grade 5 gallon plastic buckets. Check in the paint department.
- Amazon has many food-grade buckets, e.g. this 6 pack of food grade, no BPA buckets.
If you use a filter as you are extracting, your honey nice, clean and ready to bottle. Paint filters work well.
- These strainer inserts work very well with 5 gallon buckets. Recommended!
- Or you can use a mesh bag filter, like this, available from Amazon, or find them in the paint department at your local hardware store.
It will be easy to fill your honey jars if you install a gate valve in your honey bucket before you extract. Here’s a link to a valve on Amazon. You will need a hole saw to drill the hole in your bucket. Come to a GBA Extraction Event and we will have a drill and hole saws available for use.
The following are sample “getting started” shopping lists with links to various vendors.
Two of the major vendors have facilities within a couple of hours drive time – Mann Lake has a store in Woodland (near Sacramento), and Dadant has a store in Fresno.
The prices quoted are retail, from their websites, as of October 2023.
Following are links to beginners kits from several manufacturers. Some kits may require assembly (light carpentry skills; corner clamps help), or you can get fully assembled kits. Kits are generally unfinished, so allocate some time in your bee deployment schedule to throw on a coat of paint. Also note shipping cost of assembled vs. unassembled kits may be different.
Kits generally include hive bodies, frames, covers, smoker, veil, hive tool, etc.
Items Not Included
- Hive stand – you can purchase a hive stand, or just use some cinderblocks. Remember to keep your hive level!
- Water source.
Reasons to NOT get bees
- You will get stung
- Expense (see below for an example budget)
- Requires a time commitment, especially when the weather is good
- Migratory hives
- Disappointment - despite best, most knowledgeable efforts, hive sometimes perish
Reasons to get bees
There are many great reasons to consider becoming a beekeeper, including:
- Help honeybees
- Interesting hobby
- Connect with the environment
- Bragging rights - it’s a pretty cool hobby
Becoming a Beekeeper
If you wish to have bees on your property, but are not sure you want to tend them yourself, please reach out to GBA and see if anyone in the club would like to manage a hive for you.
If you'd like to work with bees, but cannot or do not wish to have hives in your yard, the Adopt A Hive program might be the ticket. Please contact Steve Mink at email@example.com for more information.
So, you want to become a beekeeper:
- Bees are typically delivered in the spring, usually in March or April. If you are getting a “package”, you must install it as soon as you get it, so your hive needs to be ready, you have the required equipment (particularly a suit!), and your brain has some basic information.
- If you’re getting a “nuc”, you have a little more wiggle room on the hive, but you will still need a suit and tools. Best to install the nuc ASAP.
- Equipment - what equipment will I need?
- Budget - how much will it cost?
- Installation - how to install bees into your hives.
- Maintenance - some tips for working with your bees.
- Schedule - monthly tasks.
- Things That Can Go Wrong - pests and other problems.
- Resources - Other sites, books, magazines, advice.
- Vocabulary - Not sure about a term you've heard? Check here.
- Start with 2 hives.
- Be prepared. Have your hives and gear ready for receiving your first bees.
- Join GBA.
- GBA wants to support you. Reach out to the club and to members for help and advice. Members will be willing to come to check out your hives with you.
Click here to view or download a PDF of "Getting Started".