In this post, I will go into the tools you use to do the actual beekeeping – your beekeeping gear. The idea here is to give you an overview of what you need to get in order to start this exciting hobby. This post is part of an ongoing series that you can find here. Check back frequently for more!
Just how dangerous are Bees?
Before we go into the protective gear let us talk about the actual dangers of being stung. Unless you are alergic, bee stings are not that much of a big deal. They hurt, as they should, after all the bee doing the stinging is trying to defend her home.
That means if I get stung it is my fault (which is a good thing to keep in mind). The pain will subside soon and while there might be some swelling it will pass within a few days. I have mentioned the “bite away” stick that I tend to carry while at the bee house, but that is personal preference.
Bees, like all other living things, are influenced by their environment, and some days they are grumpier than others. Approaching storms tend to rile them up, for example. That is why, as a general rule, I wear my protective gear whenever I am dealing with open hive boxes.
A garment, usually a jacket, that comes with a headpiece that offers complete protection of the head. Imagine a fly screen in front of your face. Since it is black, it does not obstruct your vision much. The veil part is usually attached via zippers and a velcro strap to make sure that no opening remains for the bees should they try to infiltrate you.
In my opinion, this is the most important piece of beekeeping gear, although some beekeepers I know do their thing without it. Depending on the bees you have and other conditions usually outside your sphere of influence (like the weather), you might get away without a veil. I prefer to wear one.
As important of your beekeeping gear as a veil is a pair of good, sturdy gloves. Most are made of leather and extend to the elbow for additional protection. Make sure you get some that fit you fell so you retain the best motor control – lack of it can get nasty if you drop a comb.
Of course, you can work on a hive without gloves. If you have peaceful bees and the weather is calm, you should not have a problem with that. Also, getting stung in the hand is a lot less annoying than getting hit in the face. Either way, it is good to have gloves on hand, literally and figuratively, just in case.
The hive chisel is a piece of metal with a straight end and a bent one that flares out toward both. Look at the picture, because my description does not do it justice. It is, in my opinion, the most versatile tool in all of beekeeping – second only to the bee, if that is a comparison I am allowed to make.
Its main use is to pry apart pieces that the bees have “glued” together using propolis, which is not for nothing calles bee glue (or hive dross). The bees use this resin-like substance to seal small openings and encase foreign objects inside the hive. If you have a colony with a strong tendency to slather everything with propolis (and we will talk about bee products at some other time), you will be hard pressed to separate lids, hive boxes or the combs themselves without the hlep of oyur trusty, prying hive chisel.
Over time you will find that while all the following tools are optional to an extend, the hive chisel is what you want to have on hand at all times. And while it may be a simple piece of metal, I would recommend buying one for the sole reason that I am not a big metal worker. Although one day making my own from damask steel has a nice ring to it. Also, while yes, you can use other tools to do the same job, screwdrivers included, I would recommend treating yourself to a proper hive chisel when you get your beekeeping gear together.
The second most important tool comes into play when you want a clear view of a comb – to check on the brood status, to find unwanted queen cells or to clean combs for honey harvest. This brush is thin and long enough to cover a comb with a single pass.
It can also be used to gently remove bees whenever the are in the way. A good example are bee gatherings on the lip of an open hive box, where they would be crushed if you put another box or the lid on. So instead, give them a shove with the brush. Whether they land inside the box – home – or outside where they can easily crawl back inside through the flight hole, either option is better than being smashed.
Like the hive chisel, I do not think that a bee brush is a good candidate for DIY. You can probably make due with other brushes for a time, but this tool is pretty inexpensive and works rather well, with the length and flex of the bristles perfect for beekeeping, that you should probably get a proper one.
If you have seen beekeepers check on their hives, you might have seen them use a smoker of some kind. This is probably the most controversial “tool” listed here, and I know beekeepers who work without one and do just fine. The idea here is that the smoke calms the bees down. At the very least, it prompts them to start filling up their honey bladders in case there is a fire and the colony needs to evacuate.
A smoker is basically a can, usually with an insert for easier cleanout. The insert has holes in it, and the can comes with a hand-operated bellows to blow air into the can. After starting a fire (I use old egg cartons), you add some wood pellets for longevity and dried herbs for the actual smoke. (Do not expect any incense-like experience, though). The can has a lid with a finnel-like nose, and by operating the bellows you can blow smoke where you need it to go – usually over the combs in the hive box you just opened.
Whether smoke has a place in your beekeeping philosophy or not is for you to decide. I am using it, and based on my experience it works without ill effects. The honey does not taste any different, and the bees can take it just fine. Of course you can overdo it, but unless you go haywire for hours, there should not be a problem.
Again, buying is probably cheaper than making one. And since there are some safety issues attached to this one, I would go with buying a smoker any day. If you chose to add one to your beekeeping gear, what I would recommend you do is to also get a flat stone surface to place the smoker on just to be on the safe side.
Want to know more about Beekeeping Gear?
Those are the basic “tools of the trade” for beekeeping. At least the way I have been doing it for years. If you have questions about beekeeping gear in general or any tool in particular feel free to ask. Either via the comments here or on social media. And if you know of different tools that are being used elsewhere I would love to hear about them as well.
Thanks for checking out my site, and as always, remember to Be(e) inspired!