The Essential Guide to Buying Your First Hive
Buying your first hive has never been easier. Read the tutorial on this page (updated 2019), or click the image below to receive this information as a PDF guide.
This guide was inspired by questions from hundreds of new beekeepers buying their first hives. If you have more questions after reading this, feel free to email us at email@example.com. We specialize in helping new beekeepers get started. We have 25+ years (and 4 generations) of experience. We’d love to help you get started too.
This page will tell you the basic, essential equipment you need to get started with beekeeping. There are lots of things available to purchase in the beekeeping industry, but guide lists the minimum amount of tools that you will need to be successful.
Every beekeeper has unique opinions about beekeeping. We will try to differentiate between science and our own opinions. We often come from the perspective of a commercial beekeeper, and realize that managing a few hives leaves more time and energy to devote to each hive.
- We believe in producing and selling equipment made locally, in Utah or the USA.
- We believe that sustainable hives are those that thrive without adding chemicals to control honeybee diseases and pests. We recommend chemical treatments as a last resort after testing and monitoring diseases carefully.
- We believe in beekeeping with natural comb and in increasing genetic diversity as ways to help manage honey bee colonies.
We have created a variety of learning resources:
Bee Classes Page. This includes PDF beginning beekeeping lessons and updates on local and online classes.
The Honey Company Blog. This resource will keep you updated on current beekeeping issues, product reviews, honey recipes, and beekeeping tutorials. We often use customer questions for blog post topics. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question of your own and we may answer with a blog post.
Social Media. This is the hub for all of our notifications. We post often with beautiful photos, the latest news on local bee classes, new videos, blog posts, and interesting bee articles. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
YouTube Channel. This channel features videos of beekeeping classes and projects, and is growing. Subscribe today!
Newsletter. Sign up for our newsletter to get beekeeping updates several times per year.
Recommended Beekeeping Book. Beekeeping in Northern Climates with Honeybee Diseases and Pests and a DVD from the University of Minnesota Extension Bee Lab for around $30.
Basic Items Needed to Start a New Hive
Here are the items you will need to start your first honeybee colony. We’ll break down each item to give more details and help you make decisions on how you want to manage your bees.
- A Honeybee colony, including worker bees and a queen
- A Beehive with boxes, removable frames, lid, and bottom board
- Protective clothing (Bee Suit or jacket)
- Bee Smoker
- Hive Tool
- Beekeeping Gloves
- Hive Stand
- A way to extract honey
There are several ways to obtain a honeybee colony. The easiest way to start a new colony is to buy the bees as a “Package” or a “Nuc” (“Nuc” rhymes with “Luke”). Our customers can order bees from January to April each spring, and then pick up the bees on designated days in April or May.
Beekeepers can start new colonies by
- Purchasing a package or nucleus colony
- Getting a start from a neighbor beekeeper
- Catching a swarm
- Finding someone selling an established hive in local classified ads.
The last 3 ways may be less expensive, but will require some extra work and experience. For this guide, we will focus on starting a colony with a package or a nuc, as these are the most common way to start industry-wide.
A Package of honeybees comes with two or three pounds of bees and a queen in a temporary cage. Worker bees are measured by the pound and funneled into the cage from existing hives. The queen comes in an separate, smaller queen cage. There is a can of sugar syrup to feed bees for a few days.
Beekeepers pick up their packages on a set date, then install them in the hive that evening, and can return the cage for recycling. Packages come from California to Utah by truck on a specific date in April. They need to be installed in a hive within 24 hours of the pickup date, as bees left too long in the package cage will die. Beekeepers need to feed sugar syrup to newly hived packages in the spring to prevent them from starving.
2-Pound Package: This size is industry standard, and contains about 6-7,000 worker bees. They are less expensive and are enough to start a hive.
3-Pound Package: Many beekeepers like 3-pound packages as they have more worker bees to get the colony started. They contain about 10,000 worker bees.
There are many factors involved in how well a package will do. Good weather and good management are more important than package size. The number of bees you start with has the least to do with success or failure.
Packages can be installed into any type of hive, while nucs are limited to deep Langstroth boxes.
Nuc (Hive Nucleus)
“Nuc” is short for hive nucleus and rhymes with “Luke.” A nuc is a 5-frame starter colony of honeybees with a queen. The 5 deep frames contain worker bees, drawn comb, pollen, honey, a laying queen, eggs, larvae, and sealed and emerging brood. Nucs do not include the beehive boxes.
**We recommend nucs for beginning beekeepers.
We want customers to succeed at beekeeping. This year’s nucs will come from our over-wintered colonies. We divide the colonies and feed the colonies while they grow onto 5 frames.
With nucs, there is less risk as a new beekeeper for the colony to die in the spring. The first six weeks of a colony’s life can be tricky to manage, as Utah spring weather patterns are unpredictable, and new beekeepers lack experience feeding bees. With nucs, we care for bees through this initial feeding time, and you limit the risk of colonies starving.
Our nucs need to be installed in deep Langstroth hives only as they come on deep frames.
Here is how our nuc pickups work. Beekeepers pick up their nucs on one of our set pickup dates, usually on Friday evenings in May.
At the pickup, you will transfer the frames of the nuc, one at a time, into your own deep hive. We want beekeepers to inspect their new colony during the transfer. You will be able to use your smoker and protective clothing to see eggs, the queen bee, comb, honey stores, etc. New beekeepers often appreciate having an experienced beekeeper there when they make their first hive inspection. You can also make sure the colony is thriving with a healthy queen before you take it home.
You will transfer the frames in the daylight, when there are fewer bees at home. Then you will drive the hive home after dark, when all the foraging bees are home. There will be some waiting time between transferring and moving bees. You are welcome to stay and ask questions, or to leave and come back.
Feral Queen Bees
Something unique to our company is our feral bee project. Stan Moulton found isolated feral honeybee colonies in Southern Utah that have been living in the cliffs without human intervention for years. We think they may have originally swarmed from some agricultural projects in the area.
Over time, the honeybee industry has selected and bred honeybees exclusively for honey production. In this process, we’ve lost some of the bees’ genetic resistance to disease.
There is a movement in the beekeeping industry to bring back some of these missing gene expressions that may still exist in isolated populations. We hope that doing so may re-introduce some of the bee’s natural abilities to overcome disease. We are still working through this process and hope you will join us in testing out this theory. Our preliminary results are promising.
CLICK HERE to learn more.
All of our packages and nucs come with a queen from the feral bee project. People drive from all around the Western U.S. to try our bees. We do not ship queens at this time.
Locally-Produced Deep Hives
We are not selling beehives in 2019.
Most years we build and sell new, assembled, unpainted hives. Equipment is made in Utah, from trees grown in Utah, by Utah woodworkers. (If Utah wood is unavailable, we source it from the Western USA.) Woodenware is available for local pickup in Spring City, UT and may be pre-ordered and delivered at bee pickups. Equipment is made to order.
Types of Hives
There are many types of hives out there, however, we recommend that new beekeepers start with a standard Langstroth hive. We’ve found that bees don’t mind what type of hive they live in. They just want to produce honey and offspring. We choose then, based on ease of use for the beekeeper.
First-time beekeepers will be most likely to succeed with a Langstroth hive. After your first couple years, it can be fun to experiment with different hives, like the intermediate-level top bar hive.
Boxes are the structure of the hive. They are called “Hive Bodies” or “Supers,” depending on their location in the hive. Beekeepers start a honeybee colony in one box until frames are about 80% full, then stack another box on top.
**We recommend purchasing 3-4 deep boxes per hive.
Beekeeping boxes come in deep, medium, and shallow. We use and sell deep boxes exclusively in our operation because it is more efficient for us. It makes all equipment interchangeable and means fewer pieces of equipment to handle and store.
Some beekeepers prefer medium boxes for their lighter weight, (which will be easy to find from another company if weight is an issue). I personally can’t lift a deep box that’s filled with honey, so I don’t. What I can do is lift individual frames a few at a time. I can also lift a half sized, 5-frame nuc box full of honey, which is equivalent in weight to a medium box.
You will need 3 deep boxes for an average Utah summer. Bees will need the bottom 2 boxes as their food storage for winter and the third box will contain honey for the beekeeper. It can be handy to have a fourth deep box.
If you go with medium boxes, 5 medium boxes have the same volume as 3 deep boxes. You will also need 50 frames to fill those boxes.
You may want to paint the outside surface of the boxes to protect them from the elements. Use any type of exterior paint, varnish, or other finish. Do not paint the inside of the box, as bees will cover the wood with propolis, an important part of their disease resistance.
There are 10 frames to a standard box. These also come in deep, medium, and shallow to match the box. Deep frames are 9 1/8″. Bees build wax comb on frames, with hexagon-shaped cells. They use the cells to raise their young and store honey. Frames can be used with or without foundation, or a sheet of plastic or wax stamped with hexagons and used to support wax comb.
The industry standard is to use frames with foundation, and we use some frames with foundation in our operation. We also use foundationless frames because we think it has health benefits for the bees to have clean, new wax. It allows bees to build smaller or larger cells, as they desire. It also helps us harvest comb honey.
When we want to use foundationless frames, we drill holes in the side bars of the frame, and add two removable dowels, making a horizontal support in the frame. We call these middle bar frames.
We do this because new comb in a deep foundationless frame may buckle under the weight of bees and honey. Middle bars help support this weight. In the past, beekeepers used to string wires in the frame to support the comb. This took a lot of work and then there were wires in the comb.
Our bees have used middle bar frames for raising brood and storing honey. We use it to cut honeycomb for retail or in a honey extractor.
If you want to make your frames into middle bar frames, WATCH THIS VIDEO.
Our favorite middle bar frames can be used four ways:
1. With plastic foundation. This is the industry standard.
2. Foundationless. The chamfer along the top bar will encourage bees to build wax comb in the center of each frame and the middle bars will support the weight of the deep comb.
3. Foundationless with burr comb. Bees will eventually build burr comb in the hive. You can use it to prime them to draw comb on a new frame. Wedge the comb between the middle bars, hexagons pointing up, and bees will build from there.
Middle bar frame with pieces of burr comb sandwiched between middle bars
4. With wax foundation. Place wax foundation in grooves in the top and bottom bars and sandwich it between the middle bar dowels. Dowels will support the full comb weight. We don’t recommend wax foundation, as sometimes it can be contaminated with disease spores and pesticides.
5. The industry also sells plastic frames with foundation as one piece. It is sprayed with a thin layer of beeswax to attract bees to build on it.
Special Considerations for Foundationless Hives
You will need to check foundationless hives every couple days at first and correct off-frame building by cutting and moving comb back into the center of your frame with your hive tool.
We recommend alternating frames in the hive: one frame with foundation, then one foundationless frame, followed by another frame with foundation, etc. We found that when we put all foundationless frames in the hive, there were times when bees go rogue and build off the frame. When the bees do this, it is difficult and messy to remove frames. When we alternated frames with foundation and foundationless, they built in straighter lines, and working with the frames is much easier. Once all the combs are drawn out, you won’t need to do this again for that hive.
Foundation is a thin sheet of plastic or wax stamped with hexagons. It fits in a frame and gives bees a guide to build comb. The plastic foundation needs to be sprayed with a thin coating of beeswax to attract bees to build on it.
There is one lid per colony. It fits on top of the hive.
Lids come in two main styles, migratory, or telescoping. Migratory lids fit flush on the sides of the box and usually have a ventilation hole for winter. Many commercial beekeepers use these because they are less expensive and it is easier to put hives on a truck, right next to each other. The ease of moving them is why they are called “migratory.”
Telescoping lids “telescope” over the edges of the box, covering all of the edges of the top of the box. We need to use an inner cover with telescoping lids (otherwise, bees glue the lid to the hive and you can’t get it off.) Inner covers also help vent moist air in the winter.
Telescoping Lid, Flow Hive design
Either type of lid can have a flat or pitched roof.
We prefer a migratory-style lid with a ventilation hole, which helps to circulate air. With the ventilation hole, you shouldn’t need an inner cover, which is a separate piece of equipment used with telescopic lids, which fits surrounds the top of the box on all sides. The migratory style lid is the most basic type of lid available. It’s durable and functional. (Top R and L photos)
We also like the garden-style lid with a pretty pitched roof. (Bottom L photo)
The bottom board is located under the bottom box. (Bottom R photo) It creates an entrance to the hive. There is one per colony. We use solid bottom boards, rather than screened. Solid bottom boards are less expensive and, with screened bottom boards, there is a risk of a cold air draft chilling the brood. A screened bottom board makes it more difficult for bees to control the temperature of their hive. A screened bottom board can be a part of your mite monitoring program, but it’s not effective at eliminating mites from the hive. For us, giving bees the ability to regulate hive temperature is greater than the advantages of a screened bottom board.
In the beekeeping industry, we have lots of specific terminology. A “package” is a small cage of bees with a queen that we can use to start a colony. A “kit” is a group of items that beekeeping supply companies bundle together to make it easier for their customers to buy a new hive.
Kits may include bees, a hive, tools, a bee jacket, or honey extracting equipment.
Protective Clothing can range from a hat and veil, to a jacket, to a full body bee suit. Your choice will depend on your comfort level around the bees. You are going to get stung if you keep bees. It’s part of the experience.
The hat and veil is the least expensive option and offers the least protection. It usually either tucks into your shirt collar or has a drawstring that pulls tight, then crosses in back and ties around the waist. Wear a hat and veil with your own thick clothing (long sleeves, pants, and boots) for additional protection.
A beekeeping jacket offers more protection, especially from the waist up. Wear a jacket with long pants and boots. This is cooler in the summer heat and is easier to put on and take off. Bees tend to enter your clothing at the waistline or pant cuffs. Tuck in your shirt and pant legs for added protection.
A full bee suit offers the most protection, covering you from head to ankle. Wear them with boots to protect your ankles. Suits come in a variety of fabrics, from (stingable) breathable mesh to heavy-duty canvas fabrics. They are the hottest and most difficult to put on and take off, but you probably won’t get stung wearing one. When our children were young, we made sure they wore a full bee suit. These days, they can choose what they’d like to wear.
We own more than 20 bee suits, but Stan’s go-to is a jacket like this one pictured below. This jacket is no longer on the market, but we wanted to include it so that when you shop, you can look for some of these features.
- Veil has mesh all the way around for better sight lines.
- Veil mesh is thin fiberglass or wire so it is easy to see through.
- Beekeepers can unzip and push back the hat for driving or a drink of water.
- Pull-on style has fewer zippers, with less fuss and fewer holes for bees to sneak in.
- Long length and elastic waist prevents bees from stinging at the waist-line.
- Elastic at sleeve opening
- Easily slips on and off
- Made from heavy-duty materials. This makes it less “breathable,” but bees are less able to sting through it.
Some bee veils have plastic coating on the screen, which makes it difficult to see small things like eggs. Seeing eggs is critical to making sure the queen is healthy in your hive. We noticed the plastic coating on some of the bee suits on Amazon. Look at a beekeeping supplier like Mann Lake, Dadant, BetterBee, etc. to compare prices and quality. It is also easier to see through dark screen than light-colored screen.
Bee suits are extremely hot in the summer, especially when you wear a layer of clothing underneath. It’s part of beekeeping to experience summer heat. They make mesh bee suits, but bees often can sting through them.
Bees that are calm in the spring and summer become more agitated in the fall when we harvest honey. This is the time you will want the most protection.
Protect your feet and legs, especially at night. Bees crawl instead of fly when it is dark. They tend to sting more when they crawl.
Wear closed-toed shoes and long pants when you go beekeeping.
You will probably want an extra bee suit or two so you can show your hive to friends and family. It’s a fun part of beekeeping to share your passion.
Bee suits are usually white with a dark screen across the face. Some say that angry bees tend to fly towards dark colors, perhaps because bears’ sensitive areas (eyes and nose) are dark-colored. White is also cooler in the summer. The color of your bee suit is flexible. Don’t be afraid to buy pretty/handsome bee suits if you’d like to.
A bright white bee suit is a sign of a new beekeeper. It becomes stained with bee scat over time.
Most bee veils are hand-wash only. Sometimes we can detach the hat part from the suit and wash the suit in the washing machine. You can wash the veil part in the bath tub with mild soap if needed.
The bee smoker is an essential beekeeping tool. We’ve tried more than 20 different smokers and find that the 4×7 inch smoker with a guard and leather bellows fits our needs best. It is small, and therefore less expensive, and the leather bellows are more durable than plastic ones. The guard helps prevent fires. We purchased a smoker most recently from Mann Lake HERE.
Rather than purchasing smoker fuel, we use old burlap sacks. We bought coffee bean sacks from the local farm store and they have lasted for years.
Hive tool. This is used to pry open the lid and remove frames. You will need one every time you get into the hive. We like the standard hive tool. It looks like a mini crowbar. It’s nice to have a spare hive tool. HERE is a link to Mann Lake’s hive tools.
We like leather bee gloves with a sleeve attached. Some bee gloves come with mesh ventilation at the wrist. Bees can sting through ventilation mesh, so we prefer the solid kind. HERE is a link to some nice beekeeping gloves. You can make your own bee gloves by adding a sleeve to a pair of leather work gloves.
This is to feed bees when there is no nectar flow or honey stores. There are several styles. We use the Barn Hive or a division board feeder, sometimes called a “Pro Feeder.” You can find it HERE. It replaces a deep frame inside the box. You can buy them with or without caps and ladders. We recommend getting caps and ladders because it will avoid drowning as many bees. We’ve exhausted the topic of feeders on our YouTube Channel.
Most people place the bottom board on some type of hive stand to preserve the bottom board and level the hive. We use standard shipping pallets and place 4 hives per pallet. Some people use cinder blocks or purchased hive stands.
A Way to Extract Honey
If you have an good year, or even just an average one, your bees will produce honey. You will need a way to extract that honey from the hive. The most common way to do this is with a centrifuge extractor. You could also harvest and eat the honey comb, or use Flow frames.
For extracting and bottling honey using our DIY system, see Lesson 10 of our Beginning Beekeeping Series.
There are several local businesses that will extract honey from your frames for a fee or a portion of the honey, if you’d prefer not to invest in the extracting equipment yourself.
HERE is an extraction kit that Mann Lake offers. We look for American- or German-made extractors, but this would work and gives a good price estimate. Extractors start at around $300.
For extracting honey, you will need
- An extractor to spin honey out of the frame.
- A strainer, to remove bees’ knees.
- An uncapping tool, like a hot knife or scratcher. We use a scratcher to keep the honey “raw.”
- Honey containers, like mason jars.
- A honey bottling tank. We use a food grade 5-gallon bucket with a honey gate for bottling and straining.
- A place to store wax cappings, like a second food grade 5 gallon bucket.
Flow frames are a new option for extracting honey. The advantage is that you can extract honey right from the hive using their tube system without purchasing an extracting system. And they are pretty cool!
The disadvantage of Flow frames is that they are expensive. A set of flow frames can cost more than an extractor. Beekeepers can only extract honey from the flow frames themselves, but bees store honey throughout the hive. To consume liquid honey stored in traditional frames, beekeepers would either need to own an extractor or forfeit the honey. Therefore, it would be more efficient to spend money on a good-quality extractor than on Flow frames.
We hope you have enjoyed this guide. We also hope our many years of experience can aid you in your beekeeping goals. We can offer you unique products, sustainable hives, and we are doing our best to save the country’s honeybee population. If you have future questions, please contact us on our Facebook Page or send us an email at email@example.com.
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