A last-minute gift for a special beekeeper

If you want to buy a gift for a special beekeeper, make sure it is something he or she can actually use. To do that, you need to consider the personality of the recipient. For example, I’m pretty much disinclined to things that advertise my bees. I like to keep my hives off the radar, so I avoid things like signs, bumper stickers, and t-shirts.

Also, if your recipient has top-bar hives, for example, don’t give him a piece of Langstroth equipment. If you know nothing about beekeeping styles or hardware, it may be best to ask. Like any gift, thinking it through carefully will lead to a better result.

Books are always welcome and most beekeepers read everything they can get their hands on. But here again, make sure he or she hasn’t read it already. Unless you know the one they want, go for the more recently published editions.

Beekeeping gifts can range from the inexpensive (but extremely practical) to very expensive and less practical—and everything in between. This year, the following items caught my attention as possible gifts.

Gifts for a special beekeeper

  • The tool I’m most fond of is my Flir thermal imager. I have the one that fits on my Android phone, and I use it constantly. It tells me how big the cluster is and where it is. In addition to beekeeping, it has many around-the-house uses. Great tool.
  • Solar-powered motion detectors come in many designs. Beekeepers find them useful for keeping away nighttime predators that are looking for a quick meal of bees or honey. Some types can be fastened to hive stands or fences, some can be attached to the hive itself, and some come with stakes you put in the ground.
  • How about a Bee Gym? The Bee Gym is a small plastic device that goes inside a hive and provides a place for bees to groom. It has wires and flippers that bees rub against in order to remove Varroa mites. How many mites does it remove? I don’t know, but I’m setting up a test hive with a viewing window so I can watch the bees in action. It sounds like a fun experiment.
  • This year I became quite a fan of Bee Smart Design’s ultimate robbing screen. In fact, I put them on all my hives proactively, and didn’t have any issues with yellowjackets or robbers since they went on. Rumor has it that reducing robbing and drifting can reduce mite loads. Who knows?
  • Also new from Bee Smart Designs is the cappings slicer. Instead of removing cappings with a knife or making them gnarly with a scratcher, the slicer makes nice neat work of the process, resulting in less damage to the combs.
  • In my opinion, Guardian Bee Apparel makes the best bee suit on the market. I speak from experience here, and now it is the only bee suit I wear. The zip-front veil makes all the difference in convenience and comfort.
  • If your beekeeper has issues with lifting or standing, the Valkyrie Long Hive might be the answer. The hive was designed especially for those who have physical limitations, but it’s a great design for anyone. Best, honey bees thrive in them.
  • A honey refractometer is another highly useful tool that many beekeepers don’t have. A refractomer reveals the moisture content of honey, especially important for honey that will be stored for long periods or sold. Be sure to get one that has a scale specifically for honey.
  • Flower seed packets for the 2018 growing season are available now. You can buy regional mixes, mixes designed for a variety pollinators, or mixes specifically for bees and butterflies. I’ve had good results from Botanical Interest’s Save the Bees mix and Eden Brothers The Bees Knees pollinator seed mix.

And now the books:

  • If kids are on your list, Rosanna Mattingly, the author of my go-to bee biology book, has written several books for kids. Honey Bee: The Sun Being explains how a honey bee transitions from house work to field work, and how the colony depends on her to bring home the essentials. Side bars explain bee biology. And Gran’s Bees explains the relationship between flowers and bees in the garden. Both books are available from Beargrass Press. And while you’re there, don’t forget to order a copy of Honey-Maker: How the Honey Bee Worker Does What She Does.
  • New books on the list include The Small Hive Beetle by Wm. Michael Hood. Published this year by Northern Bee Books, this volume takes you through the introduction of the small hive beetle into North America, its biology, and its economic impact. It has a extensive section about control measures and recommendations for dealing with the beetles, as well as a complete reference section.
  • New from Penn State University Press is Where Honeybees Thrive by Heather Swan. The book is a compilation of stories about bee people and their quests to understand the honey bee and secure its future as well as our own. Well-written and thought provoking, the book is a pleasure to read.
  • Beekeeping Without Borders: Apiculture in Italy and France at the Dawn of the European Union by Malcolm Sanford examines the development of apiculture on both sides of the Atlantic, focusing on both the similarities and the differences. Sanford interviews both beekeepers and bee researchers to examine the development of cross-cultural apicultural science.
  • Just like I used to hoard the bite of cake with the most icing, I had to save my favorite bee book for last. Without a doubt my choice book of the season is Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Bees and the Fight to Save Them by Paige Embry. This book, published by Timber Press in Portland, Oregon is a pleasure in every way. The full-color photos are gorgeous, the text is written with passion and humor, the volume is heavy in your hands, and I even like the way it smells. Okay, I admit being in book heaven.

    Like me, the author travels the countryside in search of native bees and listening to anyone who will teach her about their hidden lives. The book begins with a nod to the honey bee but quickly segues into the life and times of those silent populations that keep our ecosystems functioning, even mentioning my two forever favorites, Nomia melanderi and Oregon’s tickle bees. Embry searches for answers about what is happening to our native bees and why, and interviews those people who are trying to save them. Her enthusiasm for bees in infectious, and I know this is a book you will love.

    I have not yet finished reading, but I promise a full review before the February 7 publication date. But I wanted to include it on this list because it would make a great gift—just stuff the preorder notice in a sock and you’re good to go. Both Kindle and hardback editions are available for preorder now.

Happy shopping!

Honey Bee Suite

Note: This post contains affiliate links.


  • Can’t wait for the ‘bee gym’ review! Healthy bees are happy bees. Great gift ideas. I think the children’s books would bee great reading, especially for new bees! I may purchase them for myself.

  • Rusty,

    Thanks for some great ideas here to treat myself also! It took time to put it all together. The links are ideal.

    Thank you for all the learning you provide all year long and wishing you a happy Christmas and New Year.

    Look forward to next year’s articles.

    Anne Marie

  • Ok Rusty, I want everything on your list! BTW I use the Ultimate Hive Covers and love them.
    I can plug one more item…this year a slightly modified hive tool appeared at my local bee supplier and on Amazon. It has a pry “hook” that is straighter and longer than the usual sort and which works far, far better. It is also a bit narrower on the blade end so scraping frame tops in place is much easier. I love it!!!

  • Bee Gym is a UK product, less expensive through if ordered in quantity even when sent Stateside, and especially less if ordered in UK / Europe. Thats what a member of our local beekeeper club did (Washington state USA) — bought at least a dozen and sold em fast.

    Gonna have to order the book on native bees, read some of the preview available on the Amazon page hard to quit even though the preview skips pages.

    Thanks thanks thanks

    Glen B

  • Thank you for all these ideas! The bee gym sounds both funny and interesting — I’ll give it a try next year. And my husband bought me an infrared camera as a birthday gift, since I’m an engineer 😀

    Can’t wait to look at my bees in infrared! I won’t really see them, but at least I’ll know where they are…

      • The 6th was my birthday and the Flir was my present. Well, except we haven’t actually bought it yet, my husband puts things off and off and off so what I “got” was “let’s buy that for you” rather than the thing itself! But soon, sooooon. I am so excited!

        In the meantime, I have been satisfying myself by peeking into the hives from underneath, through the open screen and slatted racks. Seeing bees there tells me the cluster is still at the bottom of the hive and I consider that good news, right? Incidentally, 4 hives have no reaction to this that I can discern but the 5th (which was always the hottest during inspections) shifts into loud, angry buzzing and lots of girls turning around to face me within seconds even if I’m very very still so I think I’m going to leave them alone from now on. It can’t be good for conserving their energy.

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