This year I’m dividing the gift ideas for beekeepers into categories to make searching a little easier. With one exception, all the items on the list are things I use myself, and they have received my seal of approval. Some of the items are inexpensive “stocking stuffers” and some are more expensive, but each can be used time and again by a beekeeper.
- Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley: This is the book to read if you want to understand swarms and swarming. Although swarms may seem random at first, Honeybee Democracy clearly explains the highly organized maneuver of colony reproduction.
- The Buzz About Bees by Jurgen Tautz: The Buzz About Bees takes you inside the beehive and explains how bees work and how the colony operates. In spite of the title, this is not a children’s book. Outstanding photographs throughout.
- Simple, Smart Beekeeping by Traynor & Traynor: This is an excellent beginner book with top-notch illustrations. If there is someone on your gift list who is new to beekeeping, Simple, Smart Beekeeping would be a great place to start.
- The Bees in Your Backyard by Wilson & Carril: After people start to keep honey bees, they invariably become aware of all the other bees in their backyard. The Bees in Your Backyard will help answer their questions and identify many of those bees.
- Bee Brush: Bee brushes are especially soft so you won’t injure your bees. Still, learn to use them properly and brush up, not down.
- Hive tool: The standard hive tool that comes with beginner kits is definitely not my favorite. The only hive tool I use is the one with a J-hook on one end. I couldn’t keep bees without it.
- Swarm Commander: This is my go-to swarm lure. Although it may seem expensive at first, catching just one swarm will more than pay for it. Just spray Swarm Commander into a swarm trap or bait hive and wait. My first bottle returned a total of eight swarms.
- Essential Oils: If you like to use essential oils as bee supplements and attractants, 100PureEssentailOils.com has many types at reasonable prices. I’ve purchased from them many times with no problem. My favorite bee attractant is anise oil.
- Everclear: Unlike isopropyl alcohol, pure grain alcohol is non-toxic. When I’m cleaning propolis from things that don’t need it, including my skin, I prefer the non-toxic stuff. Everclear can be found at most liquor stores and, depending on your state, is available in 151 or 190 proof. You can also use it to make your own swarm lures from dead queens.
- Sugar: Beekeepers need sugar for a variety of reasons, including candy boards, syrup, queen corks, and fondant. Whenever sugar is on sale, I stock up on fifty-pound bags of plain white refined sugar. It may sound like an odd gift, but a few fifty-pound bags would certainly be memorable.
- Ratcheting tie-down: I use tie-downs to strap my hives together rather than a brick or stone. I also use them for moving hives on a hand truck or a pickup truck, and I even use them to strap my ladder to a tree when I’m inspecting a swarm trap. I like the kind without hooks on the end (called endless loop tie-downs), but they are harder to find.
- Propane Torch: I love a propane torch for lighting a smoker because it is fast and efficient. Don’t forget to give a canister of propane along with it.
- Smoker Pellets: Whether you use a torch or not, KwikStart Smoker Pellets make lighting any smoker easy, and they give off lots of cool, white smoke.
- Organic Beeswax: People often want a source of organic beeswax to brush on their plastic foundation to lessen the amount of pesticides in the hive. This pure beeswax can also be used for cosmetics.
- Uncapping Knife: If you extract your honey, a good uncapping knife is indispensable. This stainless steel version is sharp and has a nice feel to it.
- Honey Sieve: For getting wax debris and bee bits out of your extracted honey, this double stainless steel sieve works well.
- IR Camera: This is the new must-have gadget for beekeepers. You can get attachment cameras like the Flir that work with iPhones and Androids. All winter long the infra-red photos allow you to see exactly where your colony is, how big it is, and whether or not anyone else (like a mouse) is living in there too. (In case you were wondering, this is the one exception. I’m hoping to get a Flir, but I don’t have one yet.)
- Broodminder-TH: Using Bluetooth technology, the Broodminder-TH allows you to monitor both the temperature and humidity inside your hive with a glance at your smart phone.
- Broodminder-W: This ingenious scale weighs your hive once every hour for six months before you need to replace the button battery. The information is sent directly to your smart phone.
- Microscope with Camera: Until I got a microscope, I didn’t realize how handy they can be for beekeeping. With a power of just 400x you can do your own Nosema testing, you can see bee anatomy up close and personal, and you can gaze at the remarkable architecture of pollen grains. Most modern microscopes come with cameras that attach to your computer so you can save and share your images.
- Paint Strainers: You can usually get two sizes, one or five gallons, that are designed to fit inside plastic buckets. They are great for straining honey, liquid wax, or even paint. You can find paint strainers at stores like Home Depot, or at Amazon.com.
- Double Boiler: Nice to have for melting wax. Don’t go for an expensive one, though. They will be pretty much useless for anything else after the first melt.
- Crock Pot: Another excellent way to render beeswax. As with the double boiler, though, it’s best to have a separate one for melting wax. These get messy in a hurry.
- Bee Suit: I especially like the Natural Apiary bee suits. They carry several different weights, but the most inexpensive one has served me well. My favorite is the camouflage print. I’ve had fewer stinging incidents with the camouflage (don’t ask me why) but the best part is that wax/propolis/bee poop/and honey stains hardly show. White and other colors are also available.
- Bug Baffler: This two-piece lightweight suit is made of fine mesh often referred to as “no-see-em” netting. Although not as durable as a cotton suit, I like the Bug Baffler for quick jobs in the apiary, especially on hot or humid days. For some reason, I’ve never gotten stung through this suit. I think there is something about the netting that confuses the bees.
- Velcro ankle straps: I like to use these when I’m wearing jeans. They keep the little angels from crawling up your legs.
- Hardware Cloth: Hardware cloth of various dimensions is always useful around an apiary. I use #8 (eight holes per inch) most frequently for things like bottom boards, inner covers, ventilation ports, robbing screens, and queen cages. Ten-foot rolls are available.
- Electric Drill: Every beekeeper needs either an electric or pneumatic drill and a good selection of drill bits and attachments, including screw drivers and hole saws. Building stuff for the bees is one of the best parts of beekeeping.
- Fluorescent Green Spray Paint: for those beekeepers who like to trap drones for mite control, this is an excellent way to mark those frames for easy removal. Look for spray paint at Home Depot or other hardware stores.
- Yellowjacket Traps: The best traps are made with pheromone lures that attract wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets but are completly unappealing to bees. My favorite is the standard Rescue! trap. The traps can be used many years by adding fresh pheromones that can be purchased separately.
- Butterfly Net: I use a butterfly net for catching bees for identification, trapping and killing hive predators such as wasps, and even removing honey bees from inside the house. A long handle is good for bees trapped in skylights. Butterfly nets come in all sizes and prices. One good source is the Educational Science Online Store.
- Seeds or seed mixtures: All beekeepers love seeds and are always looking for just the right thing to plant for their bees. You can buy individual varieties such as cosmos or borage, or go for a seed mixture designed for your local area. I like Wildseed Farms for good regional mixes.
- Flowering trees or shrubs: Need to feed a crowd (of bees)? Try planting a bee-friendly flowering tree or shrub such as cherry laurel, black locust, or California lilac (Ceanothus). Be sure the tree is adapted to the local area.
- Native Bee Condo: Enthralled by honey bees? All the other bees are interesting too. A simple mason bee condo is fascinating to watch and is a unique addition to any garden, large or small.
I hope this list will give you some ideas for yourself or your favorite beekeeper. Most of these items are not beekeeping necessities, for sure. But they are fun to have and sometimes make your beekeeping life easier.
Honey Bee Suite
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