There are all sorts of gadgets now for beekeeping. Frame spacers, hive carriers, frame holders, bee brushes, cappings scratchers, frame cleaners, and the list goes on and on. For most beekeepers, many of these items are unnecessary, and can even complicate what is in reality a very simple process. Some of the gear is never needed and other items only become handy if your apiary grows to the point you are a sideliner.
The basic equipment necessary for any beekeeper working in any type of hive is a short list:
Yes, I also listed these in order of importance (at least in my opinion).
I have sold queens & bees for over 20 years (wow, time flies). Never before have I felt there was a better time for beekeepers (especially new beekeepers) to just get back to the basics. There is so much to learn; adding complications and so many choices leaves folks feeling lost in the beekeeping equipment maze before the bees’ first buzz. Additionally, saving $100 on items you don’t need or won’t use for years is a good thing! Bees naturally keep it simple (remember they like the dark, protected space of hollows in trees or rocks) and so should the beekeeper!
I feel the smoker is the most important tool and should be used EVERY time you go into a hive. With the push of ‘natural beekeeping’ there have been some fly by night ‘bee experts’ that advocate not using smoke and some even claim that smoke is bad for the bees, or it will contaminate your honey. By smoking the bees you are doing them and yourself a big favor. We all know how bad stress is for us, so why would we want to stress our bees out time and time again? By masking alarm pheromone with smoke in the air the hive can stay calm and concentrate on doing their jobs instead of going into panic and attack mode.
If anyone thinks bees can’t remember and aren’t affected later on by intrusions that send them into a frenzy should try going into hives that have had package bees shook out of them (some big banging of bee boxes happens during package bee production). They won’t be happy anyone is coming back into the bee yard for days. Calmer beekeeping will mean there will not be an un-welcoming committee waiting for next passerby. When the bees get stressed, so does the beekeeper. Even if the smokeless beekeeper is wearing enough protective gear to go to the moon, their experience in the hive is not pleasant. How can anyone enjoy the hardworking honey bee if 1000 of them are working hard to sting them? So for the health of the hive, the joy of keeping bees, and the safety of all please light your smoker every time you work the hive.
Honey bees, and especially the bee breeds that excel in protecting themselves from the elements, robbers, and pests will fill every nook and cranny with wax and propolis. When the bees do this the lids, supers, and frames feel as someone went nuts with a bottle of gorilla glue in the hive. Without a hive tool a beekeeper will have to pull, tug, jerk and yank the hive around to inspect frames. With every jolt the bees will become less keen of your intrusion… no matter how much smoke you keep puffing out!
Additionally, bees build comb on their frames leaving just the right amount of space for bees to pass between the combs on each frame. They are not planning for your removal of these frames. Using your hive tool to space out the frames so bees are not brushed off the neighboring frames (or worse, smashed) as you remove the one frame will keep your hive calm, the bees safe and reduce the chance of damaging comb, brood, and food stores. So keep that tool handy, and use it with each manipulation of your hive.
Thanks to natural selection, bees remember what their for-mothers learned a long time ago: dark objects are the best places to sting an intruder. When Mama Bear found a yummy bounty of brood, bees, and honey she only retreated when the hive landed their stingers in her nose, ears, eyes and mouth. These same bees that were able to successfully chase She Bear off were able to reproduce, and our bees today remember the trick of their ancestors. Thus, if you are working bees and one or more decide to send you the not so subtle message to leave via a sting, then chances are it will be on your face. Most folks with beekeeping experience will also vouch that the face sting is also one of the most painful — my worst one was deep down in my ear in 1992 (I will never forget). So veil up! It only takes a moment to put a veil on, and your friends won’t be calling you Cyclops for the next 3 days!
Enjoy the bees, keep it simple and thank you for taking the time to make the world a better place: one beehive at a time!
Laura Weaver, Old Drone Layer @BeeWeaver