As a person that went through starting beekeeping I thought I would share my thoughts, observations and recommendations. I got free equipment from someone who wasn’t using it anymore, so I took what they had. However after my experiences after the past three summers I have the following observations and recommendations for those who are looking to start out.
Nuc vs. Package
A Nuc or nucleus hive is 4 – 6 frames that have cells of honey, eggs and brood. There is a queen and workers that are working these frames. So what you have in effect is a very small hive. A package is a box where bees are sold by weight (usually 3 lbs) along with a queen. These bees can come from many different hives and the package is not a cohesive whole. When you attempt to install them in your hive there is a chance the queen will look for another place to live and take the bees with her. This happened to me with 2 packages. I recommend getting the nuc as the bees are much more likely to stay in your hive. Another distinction is in a Nuc the workers are from eggs laid from that queen, a package they come from other queens/hives. One drawback is I have only known of Nucs being sold locally so you have to find a beekeeper willing to sell you one, whereas you can get a package sent to you from elsewhere (yes they are shipped via USPS).
Hive Type – Top Bar vs. Langstroth
In my research I like the idea of a top bar hive better, however local support is almost non-existent. And getting a nuc (my preferred method of buying bees) for a top bar hive is not going to happen. Therefore my recommendation for a new beekeeper is to go with the common Langstroth style hives, with the following caveats.
Hive Body – Deeps, Medium and Shallow – Hive bodies are available in different heights and are described as deep, medium and shallow. Deeps are 9-5/8″, mediums are 6-5/8″ and shallow is less 5-11/16″. It is a common practice to have one or two deeps on the bottom and then mediums or shallows on top. The hive bodies on top (sometimes called Supers) are generally where you harvest your honey from. You have to have frames that match the height of the hive body. If you have a single hive body height then all of your frames will be interchangeable, otherwise you have to have extras in each size.
Hive Body – 8, 9 or 10 Frame – Historically Langstroth hives have held 10 frames. Some beekeepers started putting on 9 frames in the hive, spacing them out equally. This means the bees build the cells out further and you get a bit more honey per frame and hive body. You also have the option of an 8 frame hive body, which is narrower so it only holds 8 frames.
My Recommendation – If you do not have any hive bodies or frames I recommend getting all 8 frame mediums. To start with one hive you would need 4 bodies, 32 frames, bottom board and top cover. The Walter T. Kelly Company has this as a bundle for about $180. As your hive grows you will probably need at least two more bodies and the frames to go with it. You will also need to find a local beekeeper that can provide you with a medium frame Nuc. Otherwise you will need to order a package and put it in your medium hive bodies, or you will need to get at least one deep hive body to put the Nuc in. A deep full of honey can weigh about 100lbs, thus my reason for going with 8 frame mediums which should cut that in half. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be straining when I’m moving a box full of stinging insects.
For other equipment I only use a veil, a smoker, hive tool (or pry bar) and a bee brush. This can all be had for about $100. For gloves I just use the blue nitrite gloves, you can get a box of 100 for a few dollars. So you are talking about $400 to get into beekeeping.