Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lesson Eight: Equipment Needed To Keep Bees

As you prepare to keep bees, several tools will make it much easier. Of course, you could do without the tools and probably get by, but these tools have become the best friend to the beekeeper.

Let me start by sharing what I feel is ABSOLUTELY essential, and then I'll talk about extras that just make the job easier.


1) Hive Tool
2) Smoker
3) Hat & Veil


When I first started keeping bees I really didn't understand what the big deal was regarding the hive tool. Beekeepers talked about it like a carpenter talks about a hammer or tape measure. Now, nearly a decade and a half later, my hive tool is my best friend in the apiary.

By the way, APIARY is a fancy word for where you keep your bees. It is pronounced like: a-pea-airy. Our actual business is called Long Lane Apiary, but since many people aren't familiar with what an apiary is, we go by Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. Back to the hive tool.

A hive tool is between 9-10 inches long. I prefer the 9" hive tool. The 10" tool just seems too long and clumsy for me. It looks at first like a small carpenter's pry bar. But, it is a hive tool. You will not find them at the local hardware store or at the local home supply center. You may think you don't need one or that another shop tool will work, but take my advice, get a hive tool! One of my workers preferred to use a screw driver until I realized he was tearing up the hives. You'd better get two or three hive tools if you are like me, and lose them so quickly.

Here's what the hive tool looks like:

The shinny end is mostly used for separating the hive bodies and supers. Bees gather propolis and use it as glue to keep their boxes tightly together. When inspecting your hive, you will need to use this hive tool to separate stuck-together pieces.

The hooked end of the hive tool is used mostly for scraping off the propolis. It is important to scrap off as much excess propolis as you can to prevent build up and to keep a cleaner hive.
Notice the small hole in the hive tool. This is for pulling out nails if needed. Of course, you'll find many more helpful uses for your hive tool, but these are everyday uses.


I would not want to keep bees without a smoker. Some brag that they don't smoke their bees, but, to me, this is not practical. Okay, first, why blow smoke in a hive? We do it to calm the bees. The idea is that smoke causes the bees to gorge themselves on honey, which makes them less likely and almost unable to sting. For one, they are busy eating, and they become so full, they are unable to bend and sting. It really does work! Trust me, this is not a tool you'll want to be without.

We'll cover how to enter a hive in a future lesson, but for now, let me give a brief explanation on how to smoke your hive. Use pine needles, burlap or corn cobs as fuel for your smoker. Of course, you can use other items such as wood pellets, large saw dust, dried grass or mulch too. Make sure that whatever you burn has not been treated with chemicals as this could kill your bees. When approaching your hive to open it, blow a couple of puffs of smoke into the front opening and wait at least 3 minutes. Then, remove the top cover and gently blow a few puffs of smoke into the entrance hole on the inner cover. As you begin removing the inner cover, blow a few puffs of smoke under the inner cover and between the frames as you lift off the inner cover. It is a good idea to wait a few minutes after blowing smoke into the hive as this gives the bees time to eat and relax.

Smokers are hot! They are metal, and lots of beekeepers have a perfect impression of a smoker bottom melted into their truck bed liners. I have one! I use an army ammo can now to put my smoker in when I am finished using it. It prevents fires, and prevents me from burning up something like my truck.

When lighting your smoker, do not pack it full, then try to light it. Load it lightly, and add fuel as it starts burning good. Be careful that the flame coming out of the opened smoker does not burn your hand or burn a nice size hole in your protective gear (experience speaking here)!!

Also, do not squeeze the smoker billow hard when smoking your hive. Gentle!! If you squeeze too hard, you may send fire into your hive. This is not good for the bees, and could set your entire hive on fire. Smoke only please!

Smoke does not hurt the bees. And you'll get good enough to know how much to use after a few tries. The smoker is good too, in case you get stung, you should blow smoke around the area of the sting. Bees are attracted to the scent of a stinger as a target, so by smoking the sting area, you neutralize this scent. Don't waste your money on expensive smokers! You're only blowing smoke!! A $30 smoker is all you need and works well.

Okay, I admit, I have worked my bees without a hat or veil. And I also admit I have been stung on the face too. That's one place I don't like to get stung. And you could lose your sight if stung in the eye ball. And, if you get stung on the lip, you will look like Donald Duck for 2 days! Wear a hat and veil at all times.

Hats are usually plastic and are modeled after the popular pith hat. I like real pith hats from Vietnam, so I use real ones. They are a few bucks more than a cheap plastic one, but it is just my preference. Here at LONG LANE HONEY BEE FARMS we offer both plastic and real pith hats. Here's a picture of what we sell in our start up kits.

I wear my pith hat all day. When I'm not working bees, I remove the veil. The pith hat is a great sun blocker. Here I am after working my hives, cooling off in the front swing with my pith hat on.

Both the plastic and real pith hats provide total protection from the bees, not to mention they keep ticks out of your hair if your hives are beneath some trees. (Hives should be placed in direct sunlight at all times!)

An occasional stray bee can sneak in beneath your veil. I wear my veil without tying it off, so I do find a bee inside with me maybe twice a year. What do you do then? First, you do not panic. She is not in there to kill you. She wandered in by accident. I advise those who help me to never take off their veil in the field. The first instinct is to rip off the hat and veil to get the bee out. However, that sudden movement with a now exposed face and head in the middle of an apiary is not a good combination. Here's what I do. I face the sun, tilt my head back. She will move toward the sun on my inside veil, and I simply squeeze her between my fingers. The veil is flexible enough that I usually squeeze from the outside, but you can always slip your hand under your veil inside and squeeze her.


Spray bottle, frame puller, frame holders, gloves, boots, etc. I don't like to wear gloves. I get stung more with gloves than without, because a bee will innocently climb up into my glove and I'll not know it and pinch her enough to get stung. Without gloves, I can better feel the bee and know where they are so as not to pinch one. If I do wear gloves, I use a very thin leather glove. I prefer pig skin gloves. A stinger can get through, but it does provide a lot of protection.

Again, the plan is to work your bees in such a way as to never get stung. I'll cover that in a future lesson too.

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K9Trainer said...

Since you're on the topic of BEEING (heh) stung, what do you think makes some people more prone to getting stung than others? Is it their natural pheromones accidentally mimicking calming bee pheromones, or triggering bee aggression pheromones? Is it cologne or perfume or scented shampoos? I've always wondered. My stepfather can be 5 feet away from a hive doing nothing and get stung, but I used to sunbathe right in front of our hives and the girls never bothered me at all.

Henni Penni said...

I am not a bee keeper. However we do have bees near our orchard for pollinating. I am in the foothills of NC. We had a mild winter and early spring. This past week two of the hives swarmed onto a peach tree about 8 feet in front of the hive. After a couple of tries the first swarm was gathered into a new hive. While that was going on I observed the bees on the second hive were gathering on the front of their hive and commented to the beekeeper that I wondered if they were going to swarm. He felt they were but had to proceed to another swarm and another location. I walked back to my house and was gone not more than five minutes. When I returned the bees that had gathered on the outside of the second hive were no longer there. But I could not see them. I walked around the orchard and spotted them pretty high up in our pear tree about 20 feet in front of the original hives. Okay this is the point to this lengthy post. As the beekeeper was gathering them, he found a triangular piece of honeycomb attached to a limb about the size of a folded dollar bill. Now I thought that was strange that the bees would produce a comb in the tree. I assumed the bees I found in the pear were the same bees that swarmed from the second hive. But since he found that comb I wondered if maybe I just stumbled upon another swarm maybe from wild bees. Or maybe even if one of the two hives had swarmed more than once. I just thought it strange and the beekeeper said he had never seen that. I would love to hear your thoughts about this. One more thing. About a week before these two hives swarmed my husband and I were outside. I was at the barn near the hives and he was outside our house about 200 yards from the barn. I hear alot of buzzing. I finally realized that I was hearing a swarm of bees but could not see them. My husband did and he saw they were flying from the barn area toward our house high in the air. He tried to follow them but could not keep up once they went over a wooded area. Just thought I would throw that in so you would have as much information as I knew about the bees around our home. I would love to become involved, but I react to insect stings and I am reading and researching while weighing whether I want to proceed with the craft. Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you.

Henni Penni said...

I would love to read and think everyone could learn alot from your responses to all the questions on your blog.

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Unknown said...

David, my husband and I have always been fascinated with beekeeping and farming fresh honey. I didn't realize that a hive tool is only about 9 to 10 inches long. It was also interesting to read that a smoker is used to calm the bees. If we end up doing this, we'd need to find a place that can sell the necessary beehive supplies. Thanks for sharing these tips and pictures.

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