So you have big beehive plans about your big beekeeping dreams. If you are a beginner beekeeper you may begin setting forth on your big beehive plans and step right into a puddle of confusion. Why? Well, because there are different beehives to choose from. To know which one is right for you, you need to know the “why” for their differences. Most experienced beekeepers will tell you that backyard beekeeping is not difficult but it does take proper planning. Proper planning means knowledge so let’s start with the beehive itself then move on to other beekeeping equipment.
The greatest breakthrough that ever happened for backyard beekeepers is the invention of a hive with an easily removable and replaceable comb. Before this innovation the entire colony of bees would be destroyed in efforts to harvest honey. Smoke would be used to sedate the bees. The honeycomb would be torn out of the center of the hive, along with all the eggs and young contained within, as well as the queen. The honeycomb would then be processed through a strainer to separate the liquid honey from the comb.
Although in the olden days feral bees could just restart a colony, in order to cultivate domestic bees and raise honey commercially, this method was absolutely impractical. During medieval days monastic orders became centers for developing beekeeping methods that are still practiced today. A short recap of the evolution of man-made hives from 1768-1770:
- Development of a fixed parallel set of seven bars across a skep (conical wooden basket) and capped with a removable wooden cover. Bees would build their combs upon the bars.
- Development of stacked hives (later becoming the modern method of stacking “supers”, hives for surplus honey storage, atop the primary hive)
- Development of sliding frames for comb building, the precursor to today’s modern box hives
The biggest breakthrough for American beekeepers occurred during the nineteenth century with a design inspired by the monks and perfected by Lorenzo Langstroth. Langstroth hives are the most common hive used by U.S. beekeepers. European beekeepers use a variation of this design. They all feature the same critical element: within a wooden box, that resembles a deep drawer, are removable frames that slide in and out vertically. The combs are built by the bees within the frames. Individual frames can be removed without damaging the hive for inspection, maintenance or honey collection. Once work is complete, the frames can be returned to the hive and no harm to bees, eggs, young or the queen occurs.
Langstroth and Dadant hives are predominantly used in the U.S. Beekeepers in France prefer a hive design called De-Lavens that resembles a trough. The British National Hive is the standard throughout the U.K. while Scottish beekeepers prefer the Smith hive. Trough-style hives like France’s De-Lavens are popular in Scandinavia and Russia, though many have their own official national design. The reason for these variations is due to differences in climate and surrounding flora and fauna which all affect the reproductive characteristics and honey production methods of the honeybee species being managed.
What all of these different hive designs have in common is that they are all rectangular or square in shape, feature removable frames, are completely enclosed with a floor and roof, have a primary brood box with additional supers stacked on top. Traditionally hives have been constructed of high quality hardwoods such as cedar, cypress or pine. Modern technology now produces injection molded plastic models that work just as well and, perhaps, even better because of improved weather durability, easier sanitizing and lower maintenance needs.
The first piece of beekeeping equipment on the list for your beekeeping plans is to select a hive. If your only desire for having bees in the garden is to improve your fruit and vegetable harvest and flower propagation, there is no need to invest in a hive with removable frames. If your goal is to harvest honey for personal or commercial purposes, then it is certain you will want a hive designed for that.
In addition to the most important element, the hive, the following beekeeping equipment needs to be included on your shopping list for your beekeeping plans:
- Beekeeping suit with veiled hat and sturdy gloves
- Smoker – to calm bees while performing maintenance, inspection or honey harvesting within the hive
- Hive tool – handy to pry apart frames or hive lid that can become stuck with propolis, a substance produced by the bees that is used as a bonding agent in their construction of the hive
- Bee brush – a soft bristled brush designed to gently brush away bees, encouraging them to move another direction; it usually only makes them mad but beekeepers still consider it a useful tool
And there you have it. The short list of necessary beekeeping equipment to begin your adventure. Only four items to scratch off on your beekeeping plans and then you can order your starter colony of honeybees.