Before Getting Your Bees: Tips and Tricks

I want to be a beekeeper, how to start?

Today, let’s continue our beekeeping lessons with tips before getting your bees. You should keep in mind some important bee farming equipment that we are going to outline below.

No smoker without fire

The smoker is a really important beekeeping tool. It helps to keep the bees calm and gentle while you work on the hive.


  • Guard bees give off an alarm pheromone when you open the hive. The smoke masks this pheromone so the bees remain calm while you inspect the hive.
  • A smoker consists of a fire chamber, a tight-fitting lid with a spout, a bellows and a heat guard.
  • Use a dry fuel source to get a fire started in the fire chamber. Keep a store of dry fuel with your smoker, and have some extra fuel on hand to top up when using the smoker.
  • It is important to use a fuel that does not create hot smoke or toxic fumes, so avoid using anything containing plastic, thick oils, hair, paper or feathers.
  • These are some appropriate fuels for your smoker:
    • Dried pine needles are a popular choice.
    • Clean Hessian is popular with commercial beekeepers as it stays lit for a long time.
    • Angophoras, Stringybark, Tea tree bark, Cypress pine, wood shavings, dry lawn clippings. Dried out flowers such as roses, sunflowers, daisies, zinnias.
    • You can also use herbs like rosemary, mint, sage, basil, lavender, oregano, fennel, dill. Some people like to add dried citrus peels.
    • Commercial fuels are also available and can be produced from pulped paper, wood pellets or compressed cotton.
  • Be careful when handling your smoker, hold it by the bellows and avoid touching the fire chamber when lit. If you need to open the lid while it’s in use, use a hive tool or pliers.
  • Be careful where you light your smoker, keep away from any potential fire hazards.
  • Use your dry fuel to get a fire started in the fire chamber. Use the bellows to get a fire going and make the surfaces of the smoker warm.
  • When the fire has gone down to embers in the fire chamber, fill the chamber to halfway with extra fuel, puff the bellows and close the lid.
  • Ensure that there are no flames or sparks coming out of the smoker. The smoke should be cool.
  • If you do have fire coming out of the nozzle, open the smoker and pack the chamber with extra fuel.
  • Keep some water on hand on when using your smoker, and avoid using it in very windy conditions.
  • Make sure the fire in your smoker goes out safely when you’re finished using it. You can pour water into it, or keep it in a fireproof container and let it burn out.

bee smoker

Please be aware of fire regulations in your region. For example, in Australia, some states permit the use of bee hive smokers in times of total fire ban when the registered beekeeper has a written permit.

Suiting up

As a beekeeper, you will almost certainly get stung at some point. Wearing proper protective gear is essential as a beginner beekeeper, and that’s where your beekeeping suit comes in.

beekeeping suit

  • Read up on beekeeping safety and first aid (read HERE)
  • Always wear your beesuit when starting as a beekeeper.
  • Bees only sting when they feel threatened and stinging causes them to die. How gentle they are depends mainly on their genetics.
  • Don’t wear dark colors or strong scents when close to bees – they might mistake you for a predator!
  • Get a suit that fits comfortably over your clothes, and allows for a good range of motion. It’s also helpful to have a suit with pockets.
  • Wear boots that cover your ankle, and use the stirrups and thumb loops if your suit has them.
  • Completely close all the zippers and velcro on your suit to ensure there are no gaps where bees can enter.
  • If you have a mesh veil, keep it away from your nose; a baseball cap under the hood can help with this.
  • Use gloves when you’re starting off and getting to know your bees.

Tool of the trade

The J-tool is a really useful and versatile piece of equipment – here are some basic tips on how to use one:


  • The tool has a sharpened chisel end and a levering end. You can use it to clean, scrape, lever and lift the various parts of your hive.
  • Make sure you keep your hive tool clean to avoid spreading pathogens from one hive to another. You can use a disinfectant wipe when going from hive to hive, or use soap and hot water for a deeper clean.
  • Before you open a hive, put your bee suit and veil on. It’s safest to wear gloves, especially if you’re new to beekeeping.
  • The inner cover of the hive may be stuck on with propolis, the bees’ natural glue. You can use the sharpened chisel end to separate it from the bee box. The propolis can be quite strong, so get in under each corner of the cover to break it, then gently lift off the cover.
  • Before you take out any frames you’ll need to break any substances that are holding them together, which could be wax, burr comb or propolis.
  • Use your smoker to clear some space to work in. This can help you avoid crushing any bees on the frames.
  • Check for anything that’s holding frames together, and gently cut it away on both sides using the chisel end. If you don’t cut these bits away, you might damage the comb when you lift out the frame.
  • Once the frames are clear, use the J-shaped end of the tool to lift the frame. Put the J underneath the end bar of the frame, and use the next frame as leverage to gently lift the end of the frame out of the box. Hold it up with your fingers, and use the J-tool to lever the other end of the frame upwards so you can pick it up and lift the whole frame out with your hands.
  • The chisel end is great for scraping away unwanted wax or propolis off a surface. To avoid digging into the wood when cleaning, hold the flat end on top with the sharpened end pushing against the surface.

use the J-tool

Sealing your hive

Q: Which paint or varnish should I use on my beehive?

A: Many beekeepers use oils such as Tung oil (also known as China wood oil), however, we have found when finishing with oils in wet climates that mildew (black mold) can grow on the surface of your hive. While this will not affect the structural integrity of your hive and should not have any impact on your bees, this may not be the look you were anticipating.

It can be a challenge keeping wood outdoors looking like new, especially in wetter climates. If you wish for your hive to stay mold free and to maintain the natural timber look for as long as possible, we suggest you go to your local paint store and ask for a finish that will last outdoors.

beehive paint
Summer apiary with several bee hives in farm garden

When choosing a finish you will be faced with the choice of natural or non-natural finishes. If you go with a less natural finish we recommend you leave the inside of the timber boxes unfinished to keep the internal wood natural for the bees. However, if you’ve got a Flow Hive it’s advisable to coat the inside of the window covers to stop these from expanding excessively in wet weather.

If the finish has a strong smell it is recommended to leave it a few days before installing your bees.

It’s important to note that we have had limited success in treating hives with varnish. If the treatment you are using is not breathable this can result in moisture from inside the hive affecting the external finish and producing mold or discoloration under the surface of your timber treatment.

Aside from mildew, wood outdoors will naturally turn to grey. If you want to prevent your hive from greying, paint stores will recommend a finish with a tint. The tint helps shield the wood from UV which is what turns the wood grey.

Painting your hive with outdoor paint is a great option for protecting your hive from the weather. This will also give you the opportunity to get creative with your designs.

Painting hives with at least two coats of good quality exterior paint gives the longest and most effective protection.

These bee keeping tools are necessary to increase your success. However, you do not need to buy all new stuffs at the beginning, but look for used beekeeping supplies from some bee supply companies or stores nearby.

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Originally posted 2020-08-11 16:35:28.


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