Over Hill and Dale: The Quest for Beekeeping Equipment

assembled frames
This is what 100 assembled frames looks like.

Since it was too cold to work outside, my wife and I made the long trip to the bee supply store yesterday. There are only a few in the state, so we had to drive two hours.  On the way home, we picked up supplies for our chick brooder and more bags of soil at Tractor Supply. We made it all the way there without using a single mile of Interstate highway.

The drive took us up and over mountains, all around twisty-turny backcountry roads, and through some pretty valleys where colorful wildflowers and trees were in bloom. We passed cows and horses, goats and sheep, and fields that looked like they were recently plowed. Our ears popped multiple times. It was a pleasant drive.

We even stopped for lunch at an old-fashioned diner. Unfortunately, the food was not as good as I would have hoped. They had “help wanted” signs up, and I’m guessing their best cook is still home collecting unemployment checks.

When we got home, we loaded up the stove and started the fire. The house had dropped to 63 degrees after we didn’t stoke the fire this morning because of our expected absence.

More Bee Equipment

Between the hive bodies and supers, I bought fifteen bee boxes. Two of the deeps I plan to turn into swarm traps as soon as possible, as it is the beginning of swarm season at our mountainside location. I bought 180 frames and plenty of plastic foundation. I also bought bottom boards and inner and outer lids. (If you don’t know what any of these hive components are, check out our guide for new beekeepers on how to set up your first hive.)

To save money, everything was unassembled and unpainted. I will assemble at least four hive bodies and 40 frames over the next few days. Then I will need to prime and paint them. Looks like I’ll be getting plenty of painting experience (sigh).

I figure this will be enough equipment to get through this year and well into or possibly through next year. It’s important to have more beekeeping equipment than you need at the moment. For example, if a hive looks like it wants to swarm and you need to split it, you must have enough spare parts to create a new hive right then. If your swarm trap catches a swarm, you need to transfer them into a hive. Always have a spare hive ready to go, just in case.

I use medium hive bodies for my honey supers. Having plenty of these on hand is important, too. For example, what if conditions are right and you have a big nectar flow in the spring or late summer and your bees start producing honey like crazy?. You will want to add new supers. If you don’t have enough supers on hand, you won’t be able to harvest all the honey.

Building Your Own Equipment

I looked into building my own equipment, and it takes six feet of a 1×12 board to build a deep hive. If you buy three eight-foot 1x12s, you have just enough wood to build four deep hive bodies. Go price 1x12s on Home Depot or Lowes and I predict you will be shocked at the cost. The cheapest 8-foot 1×12 I found was almost $20. I could buy unassembled boxes for about the same price as I could buy the raw lumber, especially if I didn’t buy the premium grade boxes. So I saved myself the sawing and bought the boxes.

I also looked at buying assembled hive bodies, supers and frames. I saved several hundreds of dollars buying them unassembled. Sure, I have to do the work myself, but that’s work I can do when the weather is bad. I have a bottle of Titebond 3 wood glue, a pneumatic staple gun, and a brad nailer, so it should go quickly.

A Bonus: Free Kindling

There was a sign outside the bee supply store that said “Free scrap wood.” I asked about it, and they are giving away the thin pieces of wood that are left over from their operation. They were happy to give us this scrap wood, which we will use for kindling. They offered us six large boxes. We settled for two. I would have taken more if it had been autumn, but we expect our fire building to taper off this spring.

Scrap wood for kindling
Scrap wood for kindling

In any case, it was an unexpected bonus and makes me more likely to buy my bee supplies from them again next year.

The main photo with his post is what 100 assembled frames look like.