Last Updated on August 14, 2022
If you want to start beekeeping, one option is to buy a beehive starter kit with bees. The advantage of a starter kit is it gives you the sense of security that you have all the things you need. Starting any new skill/hobby/profession is always overwhelming, and there are a lot of folks out there willing to scam your insecurities. In this article, we take an honest look at the basic kit you need to get started – and which pieces to buy from where.
A Quick Overview Of The Most Important Equipment You Need
This is the single most important piece of kit you need as a beekeeper. In many cases, it is actually the only piece of kit I need that is purpose-built. I always have a smoker in my SUV, and there have been many times when I have been able to do some emergency bee work using just the smoker, and the screwdriver from the vehicle’s toolbox.
Smoke Calms Bees – No Smoke – No Hope
A bee smoker calms the bees. The smoker has a firebox, in which you place the fuel, and a pair of bellows that blow air into the firebox. The smoke then pours out of a spout into the hive. A good smoker has a reliable set of bellows. The firebox gets hot – I only buy smokers that have a protective “bumper” built around the firebox. This stops you from accidentally burning your leg or making a hole in your bee suit with a hot smoker.
If your smoker is low quality, it will tend to go out easily, and the bellows will not blow properly. It is easy to make something that looks like a smoker. It is more difficult to make something that looks like a smoker and works as a smoker. In this regard, I will give you advice on how to buy a good smoker. Once you know what you are doing you can play around with cheap smokers, but when you start, spend some money on a good smoker.
What Happens If The Smoker Goes Out?
We use a smoker to calm the bees. If the smoker goes out, and you need to calm the bees you will be unable to do this. They will then get angry and sting you, things nearby, and just be unpleasant. It is better to avoid this by buying a good smoker that does not go out easily.
Bee Veil/Bee Suit
It is very important to have a good quality bee suit. If you are moving bees at night or performing a complex bee removal, a full bee suit is excellent. It provides full-body protection. If you are just casually opening a hive, a jacket top bee suit, or even just a veil that slips over your head is fine.
Depending on your bees, and how experienced you are, will govern how quickly they can get angry. I would recommend that while you learn, you start with at least a jacket bee suit – preferably a full bee suit. As you get experienced, you can decide when you just need a jacket or a veil. More on that in a bit.
Fire Extinguisher and Ammo Box and Things To Light Smokers
I have looked at a lot of kits online, and none of them have these two super important parts in the kit. So before we look at kits, we will look at this. A bee smoker makes sparks, and these can start fires. With fire comes risk and liability. A fire extinguisher shows intent to minimize risk. Have a fire extinguisher in your kit.
I know a beekeeper who started a fire that caused a forest fire that caused losses of over US$100 million. This had a bad effect on his life.
I would suggest a good quality extinguisher such as this one. It is serviceable and made out of steel, not aluminum. Some of these no-name brand things that you can buy are made of aluminum, and they sometimes explode. Avoid them.
Why An Ammo Crate?
I like to have a metal ammo crate to put my smoker in. My one was from a local military base, but you can also buy these online as above. The reason we use this is that it stops the smoker from starting little fires in your vehicle.
It is a good idea to put a box of matches in a tin can in your ammo crate. Matches often save the day when cigarette lighters fail. A good old-fashioned Zippo is a great investment, as these work in windy conditions. I normally just have a Bic lighter in my kit as well. The Zippo, matches, or Bic will light the smoker. There is nothing worse than driving for an hour to get to your bees and you cannot get the smoker alight. I have actually used the cigarette lighter in my car to light the smoker on one occasion. It can be done.
Hive Tools and Other Gadgets
There are lots of other nice gadgets that make it easier to work a hive. A hive tool is such a device – I always lose mine and end up using a screwdriver again, but they are useful while they last. We will have a closer look at associated gadgets when we review a few kits that are available.
Beekeeping Starter Kits
I have looked online on Amazon and found there are a lot of kits that sell a cheap bee suit and all the other stuff – I cannot find a kit which has a suit I would buy, hence I will recommend the following. Read my logic.
I have bought thousands of bee suits over the years. This is because I have run training programs and bought suits for our trainees. We have bought suits from all over the world – some were cheap, some were less cheap. What I learned is that there are people who lead the market, and people who copy those. The copies are always worse than the originals.
Mann lake has been in the game for a very long time (more than a century) and I have had the good fortune of acquiring some of their equipment over the years. They are market leaders. This is a beesuit that I bought from Mann lake ten years ago. Somebody stole it, and I will have to hunt that person down and find them. Really a very good suit.
When we look at a bee suit there are some very important things to check. First is the zipper. A zip is actually a very complex piece of engineering. Bad zips don’t work. If you buy a cheap bee suit with bad zips, you end up with no bee suit – the zip opens. Take a look where the zips are and think about what will get stung…..
My general rule is YKK zips. Or some similar level of quality if there is such.
The veil – you get cheap bee suits, and the veil is made from that useless material they use for making Ballet tutus. This stuff burns with one spark. The cheap mass-produced bee suits save cost by using bad veil material.
The Mann lake bee suit I showed you has a gauze mesh – the mesh is dark – this means you can use it in sunlight and still see. It will not burn. If you have white gauze it will pick up light and you cannot see in bright sunlight. Then you bang your head on trees, trip and drop hives, and so on. So the black gauze is very important.
The material – bee suits work hard. Tears and rips allow bees to get in. Hence a good bee suit is made from white denim-like material that does not tear. A bad bee suit is made from stuff that rips easily. And a really bad bee suit is made from polyester – which melts with sparks. The Mann lake bee suite I had was made out of a very good quality rip and flame resistant material.
We have had a look at the bee suit. This is for hard bee work. I enjoy having a simple bee veil (I leave one behind the seat in my truck). This is for light hive work when the bees are calm. It just stops you from getting an accidental sting on the eye or nose. Beekeepers should get stung. But it is better to avoid face stings, as it just makes you look like a moron for a few days.
I would recommend buying a veil-like this as well as a suit. Keep both, and learn when to use each.
Smoker and Tools
I actually have this exact kit. I bought it through a different vendor but it is the same kit. The smoker is of acceptable quality, and works, providing at least half an hour of good cool smoke on a proper charge of fuel. The hive tool is ok – this is definitely not a Mann lake hive tool – but given how easily you lose these things I tend to buy inexpensive hive tools. I have lost a few expensive hive tools over the years, and it just makes me sad to think about that.
We are moving into a new era of advanced materials. Hence you can choose between a state-of-the-art modern hive, using advanced materials, or a standard wooden hive.
Standard Wooden Hive
When we look at a wood hive, the important thing is the quality of the timber and the quality of the workmanship. You get cheap hives which do not have proper joints to hold the box together. These give trouble.
This is a good entry-level hive. The timber quality is good, the joints are tight, and the construction is neat.
Advanced Material Hive
I see that this field has opened up a lot in the past few years and there are many hives but I have not tested all of these. My great fondness for Apimaye products is based on the quality – I have some of their products and the build quality is just exceptional.
We have covered how to get bees here.
I hope this has helped you decide what to buy. Based on the mistakes I have made over the years, I have been able to share with you the experience I have gained from this. I hope that this helps you have a lot more fun with keeping bees than I did when I was learning what not to do! Please share if you enjoyed the article.
Read more about: How Much Does It Cost To Start A Bee Farm?
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.