The Needed, The Useless, and The What-you-didn’t-know-you-needed-but-can’t-live-without
Feb 3, 2022 – Dawn Kemph
I think that I’m one of the newest beekeepers given the honor to write for the Paulding County
Beekeepers’ Club, and I had to ruminate a good deal about what I should write on. I sure as heck don’t know nearly as much as John and Victor. I usually defer to them for advice. Finally, I landed on things
that I have found extremely useful as a newer beekeeper, because if it could be screwed up or messed
up, I’ve probably already done it. So here is your chance to learn from my mistakes, as far as
Bee Suit – You’re going to want it Trust me. There is nothing more heart pounding than holding a deep hive body and having some little girl sting you in the neck. I have never had to grin and bear it as much as that day. I made it. I didn’t drop the hive body, no sir. But boy did I hustle about 50ft off to figure out who the heck had stung me. See, I was working hives for the first time in one of those hats and veils with some gauntlet gardening gloves, with my jeans and a sweatshirt. Figured the guys I saw on YouTube worked less, so what’s the worst that could happen. Needless to say, I was on my favorite beekeeper supply website before I left the bee yard ordering a full suit. I know, I know… the old timer beekeeper you buy your bees from said you don’t need one. But trust me. There are days your bees will be just as sweet as can be and you could go in there with no gloves and no veil and be fine to work your hive. But if you have a day where they don’t want you there, good luck. You’re going to want a suit and with it being Georgia, I highly recommend a vented suit, it’s a life saver in our heat and whenever there’s even a gentle breeze it blows right through and helps keep you from passing out.
Gloves – Your going to want some! Again… There is nothing like getting stung in the hand while you have a frame full of bees and god help you it’s the one with the queen on it… ask me how I know. I know, there are all sorts of people out there working their bees without gloves and they’re fine. Great! You are not as good as them, you are just starting out, and I promise you are going to want something on your hands between you and your bees. And don’t worry, no matter what size you choose the small is never small enough. I had to attempt to shrink mine with hot water and tossing them in the dryer. It worked a bit, but wasn’t enough. They’re still big and I still like to have them on when I work my bees. While we’re talking about your hands, please remember to remove your rings before you go work your bees. Any time you get stung, wherever you get stung is likely to swell, even just a bit. And if you get hit in the hand, you’re going to have a hard time getting that ring off later. And yes… I had fun with this one at one point too.
Hive Tool – I know… you’re thinking “duh” But hear me out, not all hive tools are created equal. That little one that comes in your kit, you know the one; it has a flat side and a curved side, it’s usually painted red. That one is fine and dandy until you get your hands on a J Hook Hive Tool. Dude! I’m telling you this joker not only makes getting hive bodies or frames apart easier but the J end is fabulous for lifting frames out just enough to where you can get a hand or handle on them. Naturally I got the pink tool. I will advise that you attach some sort of tether from it to you, I dropped mine into the hive and it went clear to the bottom board. After that I had it on a zipline tether to my suit and that worked very nicely.
Frame Handle and Frame Hanger – I first used both of these when I was out at my mentor’s bee yard and it sure does make doing an inspection a whole lot easier. The handle lets you grab a frame in the middle of the box and pull it out and the frame hanger gives you somewhere to set that frame after you’ve looked at it. It also is a great way to have something hold your frame for you to take pictures of each frame (I’ll touch on this later), so you can look at them longer later.
Smoker – yes… I’m just now getting to this piece of equipment. So here’s the deal on the smoker. I have one. I use it regularly. Do I feel that it’s necessary for a hive
inspection? Well that depends on the time of year and the length of time I’m spending in each of my hives, as well as which hives I’m handling. Either way, you should have one in your kit and you should know how to use it and keep it lit. The reason I say the use of this piece of equipment depends is if I’m handling a hive that is known to be a little testier or down right rotten, I want my smoker going really well so I can settle those rotten girls down and get them to dealing with something else rather than trying to kick me out of the hive. The flip side of this is when I need in the hive in the winter, and I know all my hives are going to be a little meaner (there is nothing meaner than a winter bee) just because they have to protect their stores, I’m not going to use the smoker as the way the smoker works is that is causes the bees to think their “treehouse” is on fire so they gorge themselves on honey so they can leave in the event the fire destroys
their tree. Well, it’s winter, there’s so few resources out there that I don’t want them wasting their honey
on a smoke threat, so I’ll forgo the smoker and just be as quick as I possibly can be.
Queen Catcher – hear me out on this one. There are times you want to be able to put your queen to the side and know where she is and not have to have an entire frame out of use or play with the manipulation you’re doing. Trust me. There is going to be some time you’re going to want it. The most memorable times I needed mine was when I had two queens in one hive and I needed to be able to cage one and get her out of there quick before the other killed her. Yes, it is rare but it does happen. I took the larger queen who I saw was laying and caught her in the cage to be able to move her before she went and killed her daughter. I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on in there, the laying pattern looked good to me, but I was able to toss her and some frames (about 3 frames of brood/food and 2 empty drawn frames) into a nuc box, so I could judge her laying pattern on a closer basis. It paid off since the new queen I had seen in the original hive turned out to be a fabulous layer, and the original older queen had started to be a drone layer. You may not use it every time you’re in the hives, but you’ll be glad you have it in your pocket when you do. (Queen Cages or press in frame cages are good for the above reasons as well. I’ve used all three.) Extra boxes and nucs – You can never have too many boxes or frames to fill them It will never fail that your hive will decide they are going to swarm the moment all of your hive equipment is in use in the yard. It’s almost a guarantee. I always keep at least one nuc box available per 4 hives I have for this reason. It’s even better if you have several options of equipment available, but I know storage is at a premium in most households and not everyone has the luxury of having a bee shed. Storage gets creative when you start acquiring lots of equipment.
Queen Excluders – Last year I thought I would be super smart and use my queen excluders to prevent swarming in the spring by putting the excluder between the bottom board and the first hive body. Makes sense right?
queen can’t leave, hive can’t swarm. Well, what I failed to remember is that drones can’t fit out the queen excluder either. The pile of dead drone bodies in the hives was a bit ridiculous, and needless to say, the genetics that I was hoping to get passed around for my splits, did not happen. Doh! So yea, lesson learned on that one. I did not have a huge problem with my queens laying in my honey supers, so the only reason I had purchased them was swarm prevention.
Plastic entrance feeder – the one that looks like a pipe. I never could get mine to work right or had a bottle or jar that fit it. I know the theory is that any CocaCola bottle will fit on it but the idea of giving 2L of syrup to one hive at a time seems like it’s just asking for a robbing situation. Plus, the balance never seemed to work right. While we’re talking entrance feeders, I actually made bottom boards that had a entrance feeder gap at the back of the hive to allow me to feed weaker hives and not have to worry as much about a robbing situation. It has been a great idea and has worked out well in the two hives I’ve done it to. I think I’ll end up cutting gaps in the back of all my bottom boards for this reason. And when the feeder isn’t in the
hive I have the gap covered with several layers of duct tape.
First item that comes to mind of useless kit equipment is the Bee Brush. You want to make your bees mad? Use the brush on them. You’re better off using a branch with leaves, or a large feather you found in the yard than the bee brush. I think I’ve actually lost the one that came in my kit and I have yet to replace it
You want to make a mess of your first harvest, use this joker. It can be handy in hard to reach spots on the frame where your knife doesn’t get to, but a regular fork works just as well.
I have a good eye for space (it comes from my “day job”) so I never felt the need for one of these. I can easily space 7 frames in my 8 frame boxes without help from this tool. Some beekeepers love them, I just have not had a use for one in going on three years.
I have never used mine as the majority of my frames are the plastic one that are all one piece. The wood frames I do have I let the bees make their own natural comb on and run wire or fishing line through the empty frame to help give it some support when they build their comb.
Plastic Outer Covers – you know the “insulated” ones
I have one and could not get that joker to stay on my hive without having to strap it down. I’ve kept it
because in the event I need another outer cover, I have one, but I just have not found it to work very
well for my situation.
All items below are available from Home Depot
Duct Tape – Bro!
If you’ve lived in the south for any length of time, you know that a lot of problems are solved with duct tape. I’m not talking the new pretty patterned kind (though I guess you could get the pretty kind if you
wanted), but the “get’r done” silver duct tape. You will find all sorts of uses for this. I’ve patched the veil on my bee suit mid inspection with it. I’ve covered gaps in between hive bodies with it. I’ve also taped entrance reducers in place to keep them from being pushed around or taped screens onto fronts when I think there is robbing going on. The uses for the tape is endless in the bee yard.
Waterproof Post-It Notes
So it’s not near as pretty as painted rocks or bricks to help denote at a glance what is going on in a hive, but those jokers are good. I use them to remember mite counts on a hive when I do a count. I like being able to quickly compare this test vs the last test so I can start making a plan on when I’m going to treat and what I want to treat with. My long range goal is to have “treatment free” bees, which is a completely different topic, so to reach that goal I need to know which hives are doing a better job of combating the varroa mite on their own when they aren’t being treated. I can easily see on my notes on the top of the hive which ones are doing a better job and which ones are struggling. I know, you can just take a sharpie and write on the lid, but I like something that I can eventually remove. So far these notes have stayed on for 6+months in all sorts of terrible Georgia weather.
Yup… you read that right, a digital luggage scale like what you buy from Amazon to make sure that your bag isn’t over 70lb before you go to the airport. I take the hook end and put it under the back of the bottom board and lift until the weight “locks”, or stops changing, and then record the weight (I use something like Excel on my phone so I can have a graph over time to track the hives). ((Side note: The weight you record is the “half weight” since half of the hive is still resting on the hive stand. I don’t
bother with the math of the “full weight” as I am consistent with measuring on the half.)) This has been
a SUPER handy trick to help me know which of my hives are gaining or losing weight going into, and
through, winter. While I did lose one hive to starvation/freeze this year, I can look at it’s starting weight
in November when I started tracking and know it was a hive that was struggling to put on weight to
begin with, so it wasn’t a complete surprise to lose that one. I was surprised when one of my hives was
putting on weight by the first of February and that other hives were still over 30lbs (60lb “full weight”).
Rigid Tool Blower – looks like a miniature leaf blower I bought this so I could quickly clean out my truck bed and my wood shop equipment, but it quickly ended up in the beekeeping kit. It is a great tool to blow off those girls that have decided they’re going
to ride into the house with you on your suit. I also found it immensely helpful to get bees off frames and out of honey supers when it came time to harvest. Yes, you create a lot of bees in the air, but that never bothered me much. I know I came inside with a lot fewer bees than if I had attempted this with a brush or just the smoker.
Double Screen Bottom Board
Bob Binnie uses these in his operation a good bit. I was on a kick building my own equipment last year and I figured, what the heck, why not. I have the screening and a bottom board I’m not using, let’s give it a try. So I’ve made two and I love them. so I won’t go into the many uses and reasons why this should be in your kit, I just know that it’s helped me make earlier splits on super strong hives. This winter has been a weird one and I had drones showing up in hives on February 1st which is about a whole month sooner than I have seen them in previous years. That being said, I’m planning to make splits by the end of February and with the night temps still being low, I know that I’m going to need a double screen to help the hives stay warm enough to survive. A double screen board also allowed me
to save space on my hive stand as I only have so much room I can expand. It allows me to go “up” as
Krud Kutter – your beekeeping laundry helperI don’ t know about you, but I get all sorts of wax, propolis, honey, and whatever else grime on my suit when I’m out working my bees. Eventually my suit started looking more Georgia clay tanned than the white of when I bought it. There was no amount of washing it (without the veil) that got it clean. Then someone recommended Krud Kutter on another beekeeping group on Facebook. That stuff got my suit almost looking brand new again. I haven’t used it on my gloves yet, but those are about to be tested here in the next couple of weeks as the layer of goo on them is getting ridiculous (and yes, I do put them in the fridge/freezer and then break off the
Battery operated fan – y’all it’s hot in Georgia
I have two types. I have one that sits on the ground or on my cart and moves air in my direction and I have the neck fan that I can put inside my suit in the veil. The first is fabulous, even if my bees can’t seem to leave it alone and get sucked into it on occasion. The second one, keep your hair tied tightly back, I had one of those fans suck a loose hair into it and man did that hurt, not to mention I risked
burning out the motor in the tiny fans. Whichever way you go, I highly recommend having some way to attempt to stay cool. It never seemed to matter what time of day I went out to work my bees in the summer, it was always hot, and I was always drenched in sweat in my suit.
I know this was a long list of items, but I’ve tested all of them out, or not, as the case may be. I’m hoping that maybe I can save some of you the struggle I went through to get the right kit together that works for you. The one thing I did not list, but can’t stress enough, is the importance of a GOOD mentor. I was able to mentor with a wonderful gal who let me come out, right as the world was shutting down in 2020, to play in her bee yard and learn how to go through hives with her. Having a mentor who
has multiple hives that you get to go through 5 – 15 hives each time you’re out there with them is the best way to learn to be a beekeeper. You see so many different situations and get to see what is normal, what is exceptional, and what is struggling over and over and it can make the difference of making it through your first year keeping bees. Good Luck, and Bee Good