- HIVES: Langstroth, Warre, Top Bar
- EQUIPMENT: Smokers and Fuel, Beeswax Collector, Cap Scratcher, Uncapping Knife, Hive Tool, Frame Perch, Bee Brush, Honey Harvester, Follower Board, Mite Collector
- CLOTHING: Suit, Veil, Gloves, Ankle Protection
- FUTURE OPTIONS: Nuc Box, Refracometer
- Beginners Checklist of Costs
Hives and equipment are a significant investment, which have long-term impacts on the success of the hive and the enjoyment of the beekeeper. When choosing a hive, it is important to take into account the necessity and cost of any additional equipment needed as well as the initial cost of the hive and any potentially recurring costs associated with a given hive style.
When selecting a hive, it is also important to consider the amount of time and beekeeper interaction needed for each hive style in comparison with the amount available. Include in this personal enjoyment that can be derived from interacting with the bees and each particular hive.
Langstroth hives are the most commonly recognizable by the general public. They resemble a stack of boxes or drawers and contain frames in which the bees build wax. Frames are available either with premade foundation or foundation-less.
The hive stand is an angled piece of wood that provides a landing spot for bees just outside the entrance. Many beekeepers don’t use a hive stand as they’ve not seen bees actually land on it.
Langstroth hives have either a solid bottom board or a screened one. The screened one also contains a piece of sticky board, which many beekeepers find helpful in pest management.
Supers are the large boxes most associated with Langstroth hives. Depending on the size of the super, it can hold either eight or ten frames. In cold climates like New England, bees will need at least two ten frame supers full of wax and honey to survive the winter.
In this hive style, some supers (and their corresponding frames) are meant for brood and others for honey. This separation is a convenience for the keeper, but is irrelevant to the bees.
Frames come either with premade wax foundation or without. In both cases, the bees are expected to build their own wax within the confines of the frame. Some keepers use frames with the premade foundation in an attempt to show the bees where to build their own.
Langstroth hives have two covers: an inner cover and an outer cover. The inner cover has a top hole and an entrance hole and is reversed from warm weather to cold. The outer cover can either be flat across the top or a telescoping cover, which fits inside the inner cover and over the sides of the top super. The added protection the top cover provides is often preferable in harsher climates such as those found in New England.
- More common: often easier to find a mentor and equipment at local supply stores
- Interchangeable parts (everything is the same size and can be moved from one set-up to another)
- Use little horizontal space
- Possibly greater honey production
- Vertical set-up creates a chimney effect which helps with ventilation
- Relatively easy to move
- The 10 frame size is wider than natural bee habitats
- Storage area necessary for unused supers
- Inspections are quite invasive and disruptive to the bees
- Chemicals are more prevalent
- Foundations force bees to build cells a particular size: less natural for the bees
- Frames are heavy compared with other hive styles
- Physically demanding
- Bees want to move down, not up as Langstroth hives demand. This can potentially cause problems with over-wintering
For the beekeeper who’s handy with tools, unassembled Langstroth hive kits can range from $150.00 to $200.00. Fully assembled starter kits range from $300.00 to $400.00. These prices reflect the hive only, not all the necessary accessories, which can add up quickly.
Langstroth hives are best used in commercial beekeeping focused on honey production. They may also be appropriate for hobbyists willing to invest significant funds.
Warre hives look similar to Langstroth hives, but instead of adding supers to the top, they’re added to the bottom, which enables bees to move downward as they would in nature. Traditionally they’re a top bar system, not a frame system, but some suppliers offer frames as an option.
Specially designed to work with the quilt to filter air through the hive and remove moisture. Wet/damp conditions are dangerous for bees, especially in cooler climates.
The quilt is filled with sawdust and works in conjunction with the roof to absorb and disperse moisture from the hive.
Similar to supers in Langstroth hives, but smaller and stacked from the bottom. This means the whole hive must be lifted each time a new box needs to be added.
Notched to create bee entrance, the bottom board does not sit on the ground, but instead on specially made legs (cinder blocks work in a pinch.)
- Very low maintenance
- More self-regulating
- Can be done with frames or with top bars (though Warre himself preferred top bars)
- Generally thought to be as close as man can come to reproducing bees’ natural habitat
- High success over-wintering bees
- Supers are added to the bottom. More akin to nature, but a little more cumbersome for the beekeeper
- Somewhat more expensive start-up costs
- More physically demanding
- Requires storage area for unused supers
- Less common: can be a little more difficult to find a mentor and supplies/parts
Introductory Warre hives run between $250.00 to $330.00. Accessories and other equipment are fairly inexpensive.
Hobbyists and others interested in helping the bees, particularly those with a good back or access to equipment for lifting heavy hives to add new supers underneath.
The roof covers the bars and can be used to hold insulation during winters in cooler climates. It can also be painted white or black to hold or reflect heat depending on the climate.
Typically bars are beveled. The bevel encourages bees to build their comb straight along the bar without cross combing. Bars fit snugly into the hive body, but leave the exact amount of “bee space” for bees to move around all edges of the comb once it’s built and no extra for them to environmentally control.
Unlike Langstroth and Warre hives, top bar hives have only one hive body, which is horizontal rather than vertical. Frequently, hive bodies will have a plexiglass window and shutter. The shutter is left on most of the time because bees prefer darkness, but the window is a fun way for the keeper and any neighbors or other guests to get a peek at the bees without disturbing them.
Unlike the Warre and Langstroth hives, the bottom board on many top bar hives can be lowered in hot months to allow for additional ventilation. Once lowered, a piece of sticky board can be laid on it to assist in mite management.
Legs can be made to fit the beekeeper’s height or any other specifications and also serve to keep the hive off the ground and out of reach of raccoons or other honey-seeking critters.
- Low start-up costs
- Easy on your back and body
- Frameless design is more akin to nature’s way
- Inspections are non-invasive and tend not to upset the bees
- No foundations or frames: chemical free and bees are in charge of deciding how to build their comb
- Hive products typically sell for a higher price
- Simple design and construction: the handy beekeeper can replace parts if needed
- Horizontal hives can be set at a height appropriate for the keeper and do not get taller
- May require more frequent inspections if bees are prone to cross-combing and the beekeeper wants them not to do it
- Popular belief is that they produces less honey
- Not all equipment is standardized…yet!
- Can be harder to find a local mentor. If you’re willing to work via email and social media, it gets easier (Note: I’ve mentored several people via email and would be open to doing so again.)
- Specific technique for handling bars during inspection to avoid dropping and smashing the wax
- Additional space cannot be added beyond the sides of the hive
Handy beekeepers can build a top bar hive themselves with free plans (http://www.bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm) and only the cost of materials. Beekeepers who’d prefer to keep clear of the hammers and nails can purchase a ready to assemble kit for $400.00 to $500.00. As with the Warre hive, additional equipment and accessories are quite inexpensive.
Backyard beekeepers and hobbyists who are more interested in helping the bees than in making a profit. Also ideal for anyone who has a bad back or other physical challenges but still wants to keep bees for pleasure.
Some beekeepers, particularly those who use hives with more invasive inspections like the Langstroth, opt to smoke their bees in an effort to make them more docile and receptive to the intrusion. Prevailing theories are that the smoke masks the pheromones bees normally use to communicate and also serves as a warning. In nature, smoke means fire and bees prepare to move the hive’s entire contents to a new location. The smoker itself is typically made of either copper, galvanized steel or aluminum.
There are a wide variety of fuel types, but bees seem to prefer some better than others. In general, anything that burns and produces a good smoke will work, but it needs to be chemical free. Burning chemicals are hazardous to both bees and humans. Beekeepers list pinecones and needles, punky wood, straw, dry corncobs, and peanut shells among their favorite fuels. It may take some experimentation to determine which fuels work best with the bees in a particular bee yard.
For some, the need to start up a smoker is one of beekeeping's more tiresome tasks. To solve that need, the Bee-Z-Smoker may be an option. This smoker uses a heating unit, a small fan and rechargeable batteries to offer "push button" starting of the smoker. This reduces the mess and makes for an easier process to create smoke. While not low in cost, a smoker is a commonly-used tool and this may be justified for some.
- Calmer bees
- Bees believe their hive is in danger from fire and prepare to move the entire contents
- Often difficult to light and keep lit.
This video has some helpful tips.
Bee smokers range in price from $35.00 to $40.00, but can often be purchased used for closer to $15.00.
Beekeepers with more aggressive bees, commercial beekeepers, and beekeepers with an anaphylactic allergy to stings can all benefit from using a smoker.
A beeswax collector is simply a bucket or other small container the beekeeper can use to hold wax they remove during hive inspection. Bees put wax in places they think it needs to go, however, some beekeepers, find it is in the way and remove it at each inspection.
- Very inexpensive
- Prevents wasting wax
- Removes wax bees intentionally built
Nearly free. Any bucket or container will do. A bucket is nice because it can hang from the hive by the handle, but it isn’t necessary.
Any beekeeper removing wax during hive inspections will benefit from having a collection container. Beeswax is valuable. Saving it means the beekeeper will have that much more of it to use in making products or for sale.
Cap scratchers are used to lightly scrape the caps of honey comb to aide in extraction, particularly if an extractor or crush and strain method are not being used.
- When used properly, causes minimal damage
- Proper technique is required or severe damage to the comb can occur
Prices vary a lot based on materials used, anywhere from $5.00 to $20.00.
Beekeepers looking to extract large amounts of honey without using an extractor or crushing the comb.
This heated knife is used to remove all caps from honeycomb prior to placing comb in the honey extractor. This is typically only needed in hives with frames such as the Langstroth or Warre if the frame option is exercised.
- Makes the process of honey extraction from framed comb easier
- Requires electricity
- Use with caution: can cause burns
This video shows the process.
Heated version range from $100.00 to $140.00. Non-heated version can be obtained for $20.00 to $25.00.
Beekeepers using a honey extractor to remove honey from framed comb.
For hives using a frame system, the hive tool looks a lot like a putty knife on one end and a crow bar on the other. For top bar systems, the hive tool looks like a large flat butter knife. In both cases, the hive tool is used to loosen the frame or bar so that it can be removed for inspection without damaging the wax.
- Easy to use and non-invasive
Hive tools for frame systems run about $5.00. The hive tool for top bar systems is significantly more at about $25.00.
Every beekeeper needs a hive tool appropriate to the hive type being used.
This device is incredibly handy for any beekeeper using a frame system. It’s quite common for keepers to set frames leaning against the hive during inspection and then knock them, killing bees and damaging the comb. It is useless in frameless systems. The frame perch attaches to the outside of the super and provides arms in which the frame being inspected can rest.
- Prevents damage to bees and comb during inspection
Typically made of metal or rubber-coated metal, frame perches cost around $20.00.
Beekeepers using frame systems will benefit from this clever device.
Many beekeepers use a bee brush to remove bees from comb during harvest as well as from clothing. Queen breeders may use the brush to remove bees from queen cells. Using proper technique is necessary to avoid harming the bees: more flick of the wrist than brushing hair.
- Removes many bees at once
- Using too often or incorrectly can harm the bees
Not quite as inexpensive as the wax collector, bee brushes typically cost $5.00 to $8.00.
Any beekeeper who feels it would be a helpful tool in the apiary.
Honey Harvester (Frames)
For frame systems, a special extractor is recommended to harvest honey. The extractor works like a centrifuge, pulling the honey out of the combs as it spins. To do this, frames are placed on the arms inside the basin of the extractor. In more affordable models, the spinning action is done manually by either a crank or push system similar to a salad spinner. In more expensive models, the spinning action is achieved using electricity. Some electric models are also programmable. In frameless systems, a different method of extraction is used.
- Ensures nearly all honey is extracted from comb and is able to used
Least expensive models go for $500.00. Prices sky rocket from there based on number of frames it can hold and the use of electricity.
A must for commercial beekeepers. While it certainly makes life easier for hobbyists using a frame system, it can be cost prohibitive and there are other, more labor intensive, ways to harvest honey. It’s also possible that hobbyists will have less honey to harvest.
Honey Harvester (Frameless)
Also known as the crush and strain method, this type of honey harvester is used for frameless systems and can also work with frames if the beekeeper cuts the comb out of the frames. It works by crushing the comb with a potato masher like tool and allowing gravity to pull the honey through a strainer into receptacle beneath the one in which the comb is crushed.
This video gives a quick tutorial.
- Not effective for large batches
A beekeeper with some DIY skills can make their own for around $25.00. Otherwise, the setup pictured can be obtained for just under $100.00 (Please note: I am in no way affiliated with Gold Star Honeybees, nor will I profit from any purchases made.)
Beekeepers extracting honey in small batches or using a frameless hive style.
When introducing new bees or during times of dearth, it is often necessary to provide sugar water or other food for the bees. Feeders come in different styles depending on the type of hive. In general, they’re placed outside the hive entrance, but in most top bar hives, the feeder can be placed inside the hive and separated from the bees by a follower board. Langstroth hives also have sections that can be added for feeding in the hive. Which feeder the beekeeper uses has a lot to do with environmental factors, the bees’ preferences, and budget.
- Provide food when bees may not be able to find enough
- Relatively inexpensive
- If over-used, bees can become dependent and fail to forage
Basic feeders go for between $1.00 to $5.00. More robust systems can be upwards of $20.00.
All beekeepers adding a new package of bees to the hive or who live in areas prone to drought and food dearth.
Follower Board (Top Bar Only)
Follower boards are specific to top bar hives. They’re used to close off part of the horizontal space so that the bees don’t get too spread out too fast. As the hive expands, the follower board is steadily moved to create a larger space for the bees.
Some top bar hives have two follower boards. One is solid and the other has a hole. A feeder can be placed on the empty side of the follower board with the hole and to provide extra, non-liquid, food in the winter, a fondant can be attached to the solid follower board and placed just behind the honey stores.
- Provide appropriately sized space for bees as the hive size grows
- Aides in hive management and feeding
Typically follower boards are included as part of the purchase of a top bar hive, but they can also be purchased separately from some retailers for less than $15.00. Again, a handy beekeeper could make their own.
All top bar hive beekeepers will benefit by using at least one follower board.
Mite Collector (Screen Bottoms Only)
For hives with screen bottoms such as top bar hives or certain Langstroth hives, the sticky mite collector board is instrumental in pest management. As pests and other hive debris fall through the mesh screen bottom they collect on the sticky board.
The vigilant beekeeper can count the number of mites and determine the average of how many mites fell from the hive on a daily basis. Assuming the number is relatively low, there is no need to treat for the pests. Top bar beekeepers have the option to treat mites without chemicals by using powdered sugar. Dusting (corn free) powdered sugar over the bees makes them feel dirty. As they bathe to remove the sugar, they also remove the mites.
- Enables mite monitoring
- For beekeepers using chemicals to treat mites, monitoring lowers the chemical load in the hive
- Requires monitoring and vigilance on the part of the beekeeper
Pre-sized board can be purchased for $10.00 to $20.00, but a handy and creative keeper can improvise a solution without much trouble at all. Some pre-sized ones are also preprinted with grid lines to assist the keeper with mite counting.
All beekeepers using foundationless hives who desire to keep the chemical load in their hive low or nonexistent.
The beekeeper’s suit is a critical component in protecting against stings. Although it typically consists of pants and a jacket, some keepers opt for only the jacket portion. They’re always white in color because it is less threatening to the bees.
Protect beekeeper’s arms and legs from potential stings.
Jackets with the veil attached range from $80.00 to $150.00. Full coveralls without the veil attachment can be purchased for about $45.00 and with the veil for about $75.00.
Unless the beekeeper is concerned about stings or otherwise desires leg protection, only the jacket and veil are an absolute must. Price differences are mainly related to manufacturer and their particular pricing structure, no notable differences in functionality exist, though without testing each one it is impossible to know if quality differences exist. As with anything, use best judgment.
The beekeeper’s veil, unlike a wedding veil, covers the entire head and attaches to the beekeeper’s jacket, usually with a zipper. They’re also available as a standalone item that attaches around the shoulders.
Protects beekeeper’s face from stings and prevents bees from getting caught in keeper’s hair.
Standalone veils are fairly inexpensive at $15.00 to $20.00.
Beekeepers who are comfortable with the possibility of stings on the legs and body may be comfortable with using the veil and no other protection, but beginners should wear at least the veil and jacket.
Beekeeping gloves are usually made from thick leather with cloth cuffs that reach nearly to the elbow.
Prevent stings on hands and fingers and prevent bees from entering the bee jacket through the cuffs.
Gloves usually cost around $25.00 a pair.
For beekeepers who have an anaphylactic allergy to stings or who are particularly concerned about hand stings, these are a must.
However, they do limit dexterity and make it hard to know if bees are about to be crushed while working in the hive. They also tend to run a little large, so keepers with small hands may have difficulty finding gloves that fit. An alternative option is to wear latex or nitrile gloves. They’re thick enough to prevent most stings without impeding dexterity or tactile sensation.
Ankle protectors look like bottomless socks with elastic loops on the bottom.
This optional accessory keeps bees from finding a way in the beekeeper’s pants through the cuff. High boots serve the same purpose. Alternatively, cuffs can be duct taped closed.
$35.00 for a pair.
For hobbyists, skip them. Not only is it cheaper, it’s also less gear to struggle with. Going out to the hive is supposed to be fun, not an exercise in battling clothing!
In addition to the basics, there are a lot of other accessory items available. Some may be more necessary than others depending on the beekeeper’s area of focus and interest.
Nuc boxes are typically used for splitting a Langstroth hive or increasing apiary size. They’re also used in queen rearing. Nuc’s are relatively inexpensive at about $40.00 and may be a worthwhile investment for a more advanced beekeeper.
A refractometer tells the beekeeper the exact water content of the honey once it’s extracted. For hobbyists who aren’t looking to make a profit from their honey or are more interested in helping the bees, this tool is unnecessary, but for folks with the $360.00 to spare who want or need to know the water content, this tool is invaluable.
For each of the hives discussed, this table represents estimated and rough start-up costs based on typical pricing and some assumptions regarding what would be included in initial purchases. It is intended as a guide only, not a hard-and-fast standard. Shopping around and considering starter kits have the potential to reduce these costs.
Items in red are optional and could be subtracted from the total if the beekeeper opts not to use them at the outset. Items listed as --- are not used in that particular hive style.
Smoker / Fuel
Bee Suit and Veil
TOTAL (No Options)
TOTAL (With options)
Beginning beekeepers have a lot of decisions to make about hives and equipment. There are a lot of factors to consider with this decision, including budget, desired outcomes, and time to invest in the bee yard. Each beekeeper needs to take these factors into consideration. Although beekeeping is not a cheap hobby, there are options that require less initial investment and handy people may be able to create some of their own equipment or tools.
Beekeeping can be immensely fun and rewarding, but it does require the beekeeper to be responsible and proactive about the bees’ living quarters and caring for both the hive and its inhabitants.
AUTHOR: Sarah Woodard
24. The Backyard Beekeeper 3rd Edition by Kim Flottum 2014 Quarry Books