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Beekeeping Equipment

Be aware – taking up beekeeping is not cheap.

Do not be seduced by those apparently serene beekeepers who need no protective clothing and go at it in their sandals and an old onion bag. Bees are easily irritated as a rule, in fact their only tranquil moments are experienced as eggs.

In addition:

  • They are horribly attracted to the human foot;
  • They know where your eyes are;
  • They are never, ever hampered by emotions.

So trust me – if you are seriously thinking of taking up beekeeping, get proper equipment and build your confidence inside it.

The bare essentials are as follows – you can look up the prices yourself –  links at the bottom of the page:

  • Beesuit – a full suit gives the beginner a sense of security but half suits are cheaper. There is a whole range of styles and prices to choose from but as in all things – you get what you pay for;
  • Gloves – Some prefer thick leather gloves but Marigolds are better – you’ll kill fewer bees and they’ll stay calmer as a result;
  • Smoker
  • Hive tool
  • Bees
  • Full beehive – floor, brood box, queen excluder, two supers, crown board, roof plus frames and wax.
  • Feeders – 1 rapid, 1 slow.
Bee Hives

Even if the option of purchasing an established colony of bees including the hive is chosen, there will be swarms to house and you will have to make a decision about which type of hive to use.

Choosing which type of hive to use is like getting married – get it right from the start and stick to it. If you’re unfaithful later, it will come back to bite you and you’ll regret it.  Not all hive parts are interchangeable and you’ll end up in a right mucking fuddle.

In this country the two main types of hive in use are the National and the Commercial. National hives are slightly smaller and much lighter to handle but they are more difficult to build. Commercials are very heavy but they are easy to make. Which is the best for this climate is a debate for the pub.

It is possible to operate using National brood boxes and Commercial supers or vice versa but it would be inadvisable to have both National and Commercial brood boxes on the go – sooner or later that becomes a nuisance.

New or Second Hand?

Hives are available new or second-hand or can be made relatively easily and cheaply by all but the accident-prone or manually inept but be aware of the beespace. New hives are more expensive but they come disease-free and with a longer life-expectancy. Old hives are cheaper but, again, the beekeeper should be aware that disease could be lurking in old hives. A pertinent question to ask the seller would be – what happened to the bees?

It is recommended to flame the interior of old hives with a blow lamp as a way of sterilising but some diseases, such as American Foul Brood (AFB), have tough resistant spores which can survive for up to 40 years and could be tucked out of reach in tiny crevices. If such was the case then these spores could germinate and infect your lovely new bees at a later date. This would be more the case with brood boxes but second hand supers would hold less risk. For brood diseases anyway.

If you do decide to go for second hand boxes, make sure you check they are waterproof and bee and wasp proof. As hives age they tend to give out at the joints and small gaps appear. The metal sheeting of roofs can split at the corners or be otherwise ruptured.

If you are reasonably good with wood it is a good idea to buy a good, brand-new, flat-packed hive. That way you will know what the best looks like, you can copy it and the dimensions will be correct.


Hives are available in cedar, deal or plywood.

  • Cedar is durable so hives are indestructible by the weather and need not be treated.
  • Deal is cheaper but unlike cedar it is not durable and hives need to be treated with a wood preservative (one without insecticide) or painted.
  • Plywood is the cheapest but my advice would be – avoid it. Marine ply is extremely heavy. The other stuff will very quickly succumb to the climate however carefully you paint it.
Polystyrene hives

I bought a few of these.  I found them relatively cheap. They came flat packed but slotted together very easily and didn’t need to be glued or anything. They do need to be painted but 2 coats of deep green gloss has lasted for at least 5 years now.

They have advantages and they have disadvantages:

  • Relatively cheap
  • Flat packed but slot together very easily with no need to glue or nail. That’s not so silly as it sounds – they are very dense and will take a nail so long as you don’t ask much of it.
  • Lovely and warm for overwintering or drawing wax and heathering.
  • Great for supers where little manipulation is required.
  • Not as strong as timber.
  • Cannot be scorched to sterilise eg AFB etc. Instead, you need to scrape clean then scrub with a strong household soda solution.
  • They won’t take much scraping, there are weak places which show wear quite quickly.
  • Not great for manipulation – the frame lugs sit flush and get propolised so less good as brood boxes.
  • The Varroa floors are not great – having a rather small mesh area but you could always use a timber one.

I would buy more polystyrene supers but I prefer wooden brood boxes.

A word of warning – whichever hive you buy – don’t go knocking up all those frames before you need to or the foundation will go all hard and the bees won’t draw it properly.

Some Suppliers The biggest supplier in the UK. This is the best place for cedar hives and a great range of hive types too including top bar. Not cheap but remember – cedar is forever.  Hives come flat packed and slot together with no trouble at all – a joy to assemble. Free delivery on orders over £100 if you live in the UK or have an address in the North that you can use if you live in Ireland. Ultra efficient Danish supplier – great for poly hives – all types including National. Best price for Apideas and parts. Website has an English language version and their service is excellent. Paul O’Sullivan is based in Sandyford, Dublin.

Irish Bee Supplies Jim Carroll is based near Ardee, Co.Louth.

Park Beekeeping in London is always worth a look. Friendly service always and free advice. Cheapest Neopoll but the carriage will destroy you. Ask for Godfrey. – Sherriff bee suits for the best bee suits you can buy. Not the cheapest but you get what you pay for.

Click here for the full list of Irish Beekeeping suppliers from the Irish Beekeepers Association website

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