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Beekeeping Options

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Too Many Choices

I realize many people simply want someone to tell them to do "a" "b" and "c" and it will work for them. I also realize that in the context of a beginner this may be the best directions you can give, but on the other hand I have never appreciated that kind of "one size fits all" advice and have always preferred to know what my options were. Perhaps I overwhelm the newcomers with too many options, but on the other hand I don't feel I can say there is only one right answer when there really isn't. Perhaps I should leave out the things I've left behind, but I have an assortment of things I'm still using and it's difficult to say that one is better or worse than another when there are appealing things about them all.

Beekeeping Philosophy

Some of those options are related to your philosophy and your energy. In these examples I will assume you want to get to natural cell size or small cell size and no treatments. So, for instance, if you just can't handle the idea of plastic, then there is no point in considering Honey Super Cell or Mann Lake PF120s or PF100s or PermaComb or PermaPlus as options. You may as well just limit yourself to wax 4.9mm foundation or foundationless. But if plastic does not run contrary to your view of life, the PF120s will save a lot of labor over building foundationless frames, and a lot of cost over Honey Super Cell. So knowing you have that option might be helpful to you in making your choice.

Time and Energy

More on the energy and time front, if you have the energy and time, I like to cut my frames down to 1 1/4" instead of the standard 1 3/8" but it takes time and energy and tools. So I have a lot of Mann Lake PF120s that are standard width and probably will never get time to cut them down.

Feeding Bees

This also carries over to feeders and other things. For instance, having hive top feeders that hold five gallons is nice for feeding an outyard in early fall, but is also expensive. Feeding hives in my back yard can work fine with bottom board feeders (that cost me nothing) and more frequent trips. Having these options doesn't mean one is better than the other, but one may fit your situation better than the other. Buying feeders for 200 hives is not practical for me so I feed my outyards when necessary, with dry sugar in empty boxes. This saves me buying feeders, making syrup and save the bees having combs full of sugar syrup and me having to keep track of that so I don't harvest sugar syrup. Is that the best solution? It seems to work well for me, but may or may not work well for you.

Take your time

My point is that options, in my opinion, are good, but they also sometimes create a lot of overwhelming decisions for a new beekeeper who has no frame of reference for those decisions. One good step is grow slowly in your beekeeping and don't invest too heavily in anything that is special equipment until you've had time to test it thoroughly. Most beekeepers have wasted a lot of money on equipment they eventually didn't use. Of course part of this may be to see what you can get by without, instead of trying out everything on the market. For example, feeding with an empty box and dry sugar is much cheaper and less investment than buying hive top feeders.

Choices I recommend

So, if you want to minimize your choices and maximize your success I'll distill things down to what I would recommend with only a few choices:

Eight Frame Mediums

To minimize injuries from lifting and make life simple, buy all eight frame medium boxes. Pick a manufacturer who is reasonable in price and shipping to your location.

Plastic Small Cell Frames

If you don't mind plastic, buy all Mann Lake PF120 frame/foundation so you don't have to learn to (and find time to) build frames, wire foundation etc. These have been the most successful at getting small cell comb right off the bat in my experience. If you don't like the idea of plastic, then use foundationless. Certainly foundationless is the most appealing to me as you can't get any more natural than that. I would buy the wedge top bar frames and rotate the wedge 90 degrees so it makes a comb guide.

Bottom Board Feeders

I would buy solid bottom boards and covert them into bottom board feeders. There is no reason to spend a lot of money on feeders if your management plan is to leave them honey instead of feeding and only feed in emergencies.

I would make those feeders the style with no entrance and a plug for a drain and build simple top covers with top entrances to eliminate skunk, mice, grass, snow and condensation issues.

Large Smoker

I would buy a good smoker. A large one. Large ones are easier to light and keep lit. Smaller ones are harder to light and keep lit. I would light the smoker anytime you are going to do more than just pop the top and I would light it most of the time even then if there is a dearth or any other reason to suspect they might be defensive. Don't oversmoke them. Make sure it's lit well and put a puff in the entrance and after you open up a puff across the top bars. Put the smoker down and leave it unless they start to get excited.

Jacket with Veil

I would buy a good jacket. If you have heat issues at all, an Ultra Breeze jacket would be my first choice for protective gear. If you only have a hive or two and don't have a lot of heat issues, then a simple jacket with a zip on English style veil will do. Beeworks has some nice ones. Buy it two sizes too big.


I would wear standard leather gloves and tuck them into the sleeves of the jacket. They will be easier to get on and off than the long ones and cheaper to buy.

Avoid Gadgets

I would avoid all the gadgets out there as they will be superfluous and expensive. I like the Italian Hive tool from Brushy Mt. I would skip the frame holders and the frame grips and etc.

Avoid Extractors

I would especially avoid buying a new extractor if you only have a few hives. If you find a good price on one, by all means pick it up, but buying a new one is a waste of money.

Useful Gadgets

Of the gadgets out there, I have enjoyed a queen muff as it's a way to do things like mark a queen or release attendants without the queen flying off. A hairclip queen catcher is helpful as is a marking tube. I like the "Ready Date" nuc calendars as a way to keep track of the status of a hive. If you have outyards and haul a smoker around the smoker box from Betterbee is a safety item worth having. You can put your smoker in it and not have to worry about catching your car on fire.

Michael Bush

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Copyright 2009 by Michael Bush

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