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Getting started?

I was able to meet a couple aspiring keepers at our last meeting at the Central Beekeepers Association. If you're interested in beekeeping, and in the central NB area, this is a great place to start! If you're not in the area, finding a group like this is a good way to ensure you have the local knowledge, mentors, and tools available to help you succeed. Many of the questions from these new members we're basic, but valid. Things I asked as I was beginning my addiction... I mean journey. Questions like: What do I need to get started? Are bundles of equipment worth it? Should I buy used equipment? Where can I find bees?


While it can be very overwhelming, let's see if we can break it down and start with some basics:


Equipment


I'd recommend starting with Langstroth equipment. Why? Well, if you buy a nuc from an established beekeeper, chances are, it will be made up of frames built to fit this equipment. It is also the most widely used equipment and thus the most common and easily available at your local beekeeping store. (We'll touch on used equipment later) Lastly, if you have a mentor, they will likely be using this equipment as well and if your hive needed a boost, and this person was nice enough to allow a frame or 2 of brood to be transported to your hive, it will be easiest if the same equipment is used.


So, what is a Langstroth hive, and how many boxes should you consider getting?


The Langstroth hive has been used since its creation in the 1850's. There are good reasons for this, but that is a whole other blog. The basic design of the hive allows beekeepers to grow the housing with the colony as needed, while allowing for easily removable frames for inspection and variable entrances for the various seasons. A Langstroth hive generally consists of:

  1. Bottom Board

  2. Brood Chamber (1 or 2 boxes)

  3. Queen Excluder (sometimes not used)

  4. Honey Supers (variable number and size but often medium supers are used)

  5. Inner Cover

  6. Outer Cover

So, should you buy these used? Yet another question of debate among beekeepers.

While you can, I wouldn't recommend it for your first hives. It's cheaper, yes, but the previous owner may not know what caused their bees to either die or leave the hive. Was it disease? If so, how serious? Starting with clean equipment means you can remove several unknowns from the equation as you work with your girls. If you do purchase used equipment, be sure to clean them up well.


How about those starter kits?


Well, is it cheaper in the long run? Yes. Will you use it all in the first year? Sometimes no. Many come with honey supers and queen excluders that you may not use until the following year. If you have a place to keep them the savings could be worth picking up a bundle. Sometimes, if your local beekeeping store also sells nucs, and you're a first timer, they may have other bundles with a nuc etc.


Ok, another question I get, and received that night was, "Where can I find bees?"


A good question, considering without them you just have a nicely painted box. This is another reason to join a group. Many of the members of that group will likely be splitting their hives in the coming spring. They may not need them, and some will likely sell the nucs they make. I started this way. We purchased a hive from my mentor that we split the first year. If memory is correct, he even helped with an extra queen when one failed.


With all that in mind... how about a simplified list?

What you need?

How many?

Why?

Bottom Board

1 per nuc ordered

Used as the foundation to stack supers onto. Various forms are available but keeping it simple is fine. Grab a solid bottom board and get used to working with the bees. You can always experiment later.

Brood Chamber - Often a deep super, and sometimes 2 deep supers

minimum 1 per nuc ordered, possibly 2 if you want to have 2 full supers for brood and winter feed storage. (Many start this way) If you choose to have a single box brood chamber, you'll still want a 2nd box as the hive grows. Adding it will give them space, and a place to store honey for either you or your bees to consume.

The initial deep will sit on your bottom board and house your nuc when it arrives. Your nuc will come with 4-5 frames so you will want to add frames and foundations to fill your box.

Inner Cover

1 per nuc ordered

I'd recommend a deep inner cover. These are great for adding wood shavings over winter as insulation. This will sit directly onto your brood chamber, unless you have honey supers on, but on your first year, that isn't anything to worry about.

Outer Cover

1 per nuc ordered

This sits over top of the inner cover and is your roof. It's usually wrapped in metal, and is large enough to shield the front top entrance from rain and weather.

Frames and Foundations

You'll want a total of 10 frames and foundation for each box you are planning on using.

Each box you have will hold between 8 and 10 frames. This just depends on the size box you choose. Many start with 10 frame boxes. Again, it's just common. There is no real wrong answer here. These will form the foundation your bees will build on.

Entrance Reducer

1 per nuc ordered

This will likely be used more in the fall, winter and spring than the summer. This small block of wood reduces the large entrance at the bottom of the hive, making it easier to protect, and prevent gusts of cool air in the winter.

Hive top feeder

1 per nuc ordered

This will be used to give your bees a boost. Your new nuc will likely not be as strong as a full hive for a few weeks. Giving them sugar water will help keep food readily available while they begin to establish.


You'll use this again in the fall for winter feeding.

Medium or deep Super

1 per pail feeder purchased

This one is optional in some cases. You'll need this if you purchase a bucket hive top feeder. If you pick up the more expensive feeders with a wooden rim, this isn't needed. Place the feeder over the hole in the top inner cover. This box will go above the inner cover and allow the outer cover to sit nicely on top.

Hive tool

1 (minimum)

If you work in construction, you know the hammer is a staple for anyone on the job site. Well... This is your hammer. You'll use it every trip to the bees. I recommend one with a J hook on the end. They are great for pulling out frames.

Smoker

1

Without making this box loaded with too much info, smoke helps the beekeeper by preventing the bees from sending signals in the hive. Using it will make inspections much nicer.

Suit/Veil

1 per person

If you are nervous, grab the suit. If a veil works, I'd recommend them. Summer is hot. You're going to be working with bees in 30C weather with a can of fire next to you. Get what you feel comfortable in.

Gloves

1 pair per person

There is a great debate of gloves or no gloves for beekeepers. If you want them, get a pair. If not, that's ok too. Being comfortable is most important.

Bee Brush

1 per person

This brush is a tool used to sweep the bees off of a frame if needed. It's hairs are gentle and should prevent them from becoming too upset in the process.




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