How many times have you bought things you didn’t need?
Maybe the sales pitch sounded good. Maybe the sales person looked good.
Maybe the extras didn’t cost much so you figured, why not? Whatever the reason, we have all fallen victim to buying things we simply didn’t need.
When it comes to beekeeping, the community is small. When you eliminate traditional beekeepers, the numbers shrink even further. That’s how you come to rely on sales people for advice.
In all fairness, whatever equipment you buy is probably functional, it just isn’t urgent. So, if you’ll wind up using it anyway, what’s the harm in getting it all now?
Well, first of all, unless you have a genie who keeps you supplied with wishes, you have a limited budget. Second, advances in technology have led to improvements in hive design and lowering the cost of items such as extractors.
Don’t sink your entire investment and wind up with unused, obsolete and expensive equipment.
Having fallen victim to this myself, I’m going to tell you what you absolutely need as a beginner. The rest you can buy as you go along.
The trick is to ask yourself some critical questions which will guide you to the equipment you need.
The answer seems pretty straight forward, but what kind of hive?
As a beginner, you may not know the different types of hive available to you. So here’s a brief look at some of your options.
This is the most common type of modern hive. It is popular with commercial beekeepers. It is ideal for honey production and colony manipulation.
Colony manipulation covers a range of activities. Inspecting the colonies health, splitting a hive and replacing a queen are a few examples of the activities you will be expected to perform.
It allows for the use of an extractor, a machine that allows you to harvest honey while leaving most of the honey comb intact.
If you google “top bar hive”, you will see various designs but they were originally created right here in Kenya.
The Top Bar hive is more affordable than the Langstroth but commercial beekeepers shy away from this design.
It is still popular in the rural areas. The design is said to be a little friendlier to the bees particularly during inspections. It also gives the bees more freedom when it comes to constructing comb.
The KTBH is a horizontal hive so it is easier on the back because no heavy lifting is required when harvesting honey. Harvesting is done by crushing the honey comb and then sieving the honey.
On the one hand, it reduces the time spent at the hive. On the other, it can be very wasteful. A lot of honey sticks to the bits crushed comb which makes it less efficient than using an extractor.
Bonus hive tip: If you are an individual, start with two or three hives. If you only buy one and the colony absconds (leaves), then you have to start a fresh. With three hives, the project keeps going and with time, you could split one vibrant colony into two. Starting with too many hives can be expensive and may leave you with unused equipment for long periods of time.
Bee suits are not created equal.
Bee stings hurt just as much through the suit as they do when they make a direct hit. Try as you might, you can’t have a fully impermeable suit. But you can get pretty close.
Suits made out of a bride satin material (the same used to make wedding dresses) seem to work very well. It could be that the material, being very smooth, makes it difficult for the bees to grip. If they can’t get a proper grip on a surface, it’s more difficult for them to sting.
Okay, I’m just speculating here. All I know is that it these suits do a very good job of keeping me sting free.
Khaki suits are also available in the market and they will work for you, but they would be my second choice.
Since it’s not completely impermeable, it’s best to wear something long sleeved underneath the suit for extra protection. Ensure that the veil attached to the suit is durable. One small rip and your new “friends” will take that as an invitation to explore your suit’s interior.
The smoker does two things. One, it signals that there’s a fire. The bees are programmed to grab their stuff, in this case honey, and get ready to flee.
The second thing it does is affect the transmission of pheromones in the hive. The smoker is that guy in your crew you send as a decoy. He/she causes enough of a distraction for you to sneak in and get to work. By the time the bees realize what’s happening, they are stuffed with honey and less irritable.
As with people, bees are easier to deal with when their stomachs are full.
Just like every tool box has a screw driver, every beekeeper has a hive tool.
This will help you pry parts of the hive loose when the bees glue them down with propolis. The bees use propolis to disinfect the hive and fill in any small gaps in the woodwork. That includes the space between the frames and the hive body.
Propolis is very sticky and hardens with time, cementing the movable parts of the hive.
This tool is a must have for your beginners kit.
The word beekeeper, in Kenya, conjures up the image of nimble man in traditional attire making his way up a tree with confidence as his armour.
Harvesting honey is hard enough without the threat of breaking your neck. I’m sure our ancestors would have preferred to work with their feet planted firmly on the ground. Fortunately, you can.
A hive stand allows you to easily access the hive while keeping the colony safe from pests that attack from below. If you can, get a stand that’s like a bench. This will give you space at a comfortable height with which to work. That will keep you from having to bend constantly when carrying out inspections or during a harvest.
When your honey is ready, the first step is to get it out of the hive. That means you have to separate it from the bees. You don’t want to hurt the bees because replacing that kind of bee-power takes time. By gently brushing off the bees, you minimize your bee losses.
The bee brush is also valuable during inspections. When checking the presence of brood (baby bees), you will need to brush away the nurse bees so that you can get a good look at the eggs and larvae in the comb.
This one I learned from Dr. Google, but I have found it invaluable.
Sometimes the bees don’t follow the blueprint when it comes to building honeycomb. When they do this, you’ll need to do some interior decorating. You’ll need to break off the bits of comb that haven’t been built “correctly”.
These large chunks of comb are still useful. Place them back in the hive and use the rubber bands to hold them in place. The bees will eventually get the message, do some minor repairs and build the honey comb how you wanted them to.
Rubber bands are cheap and very effective. Don’t leave home without them.
Bees are masters of getting through the tiniest openings. Unfortunately for you, that tiny opening could be a rip in your bee suit. Sometimes there are gaps where the veil meets the body of the suit. You’ll barely notice these gaps, but the bees will find them. As a beginner, one bee in your suit can bring your operation to a grinding halt.
Look through the suit and identify possible gaps:
With time, you won’t need to seal yourself up so tight. You’ll gain confidence while working with the bees. You’ll be calmer, less clumsy and the occasional sting won’t seem so catastrophic. Until then, don’t leave home without tape.
It is easy for many of us to mistake experience for expertise. It is possible to be roped into an unnecessary purchase because the sales person has more experience than you do.
Arming yourself with information is the best way to protect your wallet and make the most of your investment.
Start small and grow organically.
Do you have any follow up questions? Let us know and we’ll do our best to shed some light your way.
About the author:
Judy Nganga is a freelance content writer and a budding bee enthusiast. When she’s not inspecting her hives, she’s probably on her laptop carrying out research and writing for her clients.