This Christmas season you might just find you have a beekeeper, or a beekeeper wanna-be on your shopping list. And since you don't know a whole lot about bees, beekeeping and what they use and need, we're here to lend a helping hand.
Beekeeping equipment can't be had at your local Sears or Wal-Mart, so either you know about a nearby beekeeping supply outlet, and there probably is one, or go online and see what's available there. One way to find if there's a local outlet is to find a local beekeeper. Bee Culture's web page has a service we call Who's Who, which will put you in touch with beekeeping groups in your state. Find the nearest one and touch base to see if there's something local.
If there's not, and that's a good bet, google one of these national companies, or all of them, to see if you can find what you are looking for...try Better Bee (NY), Brushy Mountain or Miller (NC), Mann Lake or B&B (MN), Dadant (IL), Kelley (KY), Rossman (GA), Blue Sky, Simpson's or QueenRite (OH), GloryBee or Ruhl (OR) -- or simply put in 'beekeeping supplies.'
You will find many small, local companies this way so try them all. But there are also suppliers that are specialists and don't handle everything for everybody, and may not even show up when googling bee supplies, though most advertise in the national Beekeeping journals. Send me an email and I'll send you a sample magazine to browse.
One thing to keep in mind about online shopping are the freight costs...you may find a widget you want for less money halfway across the country, but the freight will kill you.
OK, now you know where to look, what do you get that beekeeper in your life?
Let's start with the beginners...those enthusiastic, passionate and eager starters who don't have bees yet, but plan on getting started next spring. My advice, first off, is to get a gift certificate, because that just-starting-out beginner doesn't even know what he or she wants yet. Yes, they need a hive, bee suit, good books, hive tools of all sorts, and certainly bees...but what they end up with may be very different than what you get them, and if they don't know, how could you know?
You may have to ask a question or two to see if they already have anything, but that's OK. Or ask one of their friends, or spouse, and see if you can find out.
Books are always a good investment, and there are a couple of kinds, of course...good reference books, and good how-to books. If you check bee suppliers, Amazon and your local bookstores, you will probably notice that most of these feature only three or four books that everybody else does...that should tell you something.
Because I am just a tad prejudiced I tend to favor the ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture as a good reference book. There's nothing else like it, really, that's up-to-date and full of information. Check it out if that's the kind of book you are looking for. It is available in many places, and for a variety of prices.
As far as a how-to for a beginner, several come to mind...for inexpensive, try Starting Right With Bees, or First Lessons in Beekeeping. For more expensive, and more information, try The Backyard Beekeeper, or Beekeeping For Dummies. These, too, do well, and offer much more information. I'm pretty sure your beginner will be investing in several books in the next few years so no matter what you choose, it will end up being one of many.
There just aren't many books for the experienced beekeeper any more. Amazon has a few titles but they are dated. One, another, which I tend to favor only because it's the only one like it, strictly focuses on producing, harvesting and processing artisan and varietal honey. Called the Honey Handbook, it's not out yet but will be right after the first of the year. You can preorder it in most bookstores or online.
But there's more than books for the beginner. There are tools that all beekeepers need more than one of. Like paint brushes for painters. All suppliers sell hive tools, usually three or four kinds, sizes, shapes and colors. Every beekeeper should have three or ten of these because they are so easily lost. And they are cheap. Consider hive tools, but don't worry too much about which kind because they are all useful. Maybe shy away from the real expensive models because no matter how much they cost, they all get lost.
Smokers, too, are needed by every beekeeper, and there are several varieties available. Know that all smokers are not created equal. If you insist on getting one look at the biggest you can get, not the smallest...then compare prices by companies. Lean toward the more expensive models, no matter the style you choose, because with smokers you get what you pay for. My favorite is one with a slanted cone shaped nozzle rather than a rounded top, but that tends to be more habit than anything else. But if in doubt, think again about that gift certificate. In fact, this technique works for nearly every tool you might consider.
Note that nearly every supplier sells a Beginner's Kit. Save your money. They look good and you may think you have solved all your problems with one purchase, and if you compare prices you'll see that if you had to buy all the parts and pieces separately you would save some money. But right off, you don't know which direction your beginner is going to go...assembled or not, eight or 10 frame, full bee suit or skimpy veil, big smoker or small, and do you already have the book they send along with the kit? No, beginner's kits are not for gift giving.
Say, what about a magazine subscription? There's two out there...Dadant's has one, and ours is the other. You know where I stand, but there really is a difference. Ours tends to be more for beginning and sideline beekeepers, the other one, The American Bee Journal, tends to lean more for scientific and commercial beekeepers. But really, they are more alike than not.
What about the already-beekeeper? More of the same is good advice here because they have already chosen the kind of equipment they like. The boxes they keep bees in wear out and need replacing. And it you take a quick peek you can see what size they use...and there's three...to keep it simple: big (called deeps), medium (called, ummm mediums) and small (called shallows). If you don't have a clue, you can never go wrong with an already-assembled medium or two or three, but if you can, check first.
Hive tools, smokers (get one that looks like the one they have now, only get the big one), good leather gloves, a beesuit like the one they wear everyday (it may just be a veil and helmet), some of the emergency smoker fuel... all will come in handy sometime, even if they don't use them routinely.
Consider too candle and soap making supplies for the crafty beekeeper...who knows, you might get something back down the road.
Something most folks don't ever think about is a year's membership in their favorite beekeeper's association, be it local, state or national. No beekeeper ever knows it all and every beekeeper will benefit from attending a few meetings during the year.
One thing not mentioned...bees. If you know a little about this subject you can find your local bee supplier and get a gift certificate for a package of bees, or maybe just a queen or two for next spring. The tricky part of this is what kind of bees does your beekeeper use...just like dogs and cats and cattle, there are different races of bees, and they are used for different things. That's why, again, a certificate might be a good idea.
Well, these are a few ideas of what to get the beekeeper in your life. If you're really stuck and really want to help out, send me an email with a bit more information about your beekeepers and maybe I can help.
In any event, enjoy the trip through all those on-line catalogs (you can, by the way, call each supplier and get a real catalog, if that makes you more comfortable).
And no matter what you end up doing, you'll learn a lot more about keeping bees than you thought, and you'll appreciate much more what your beekeeping friends do.
Learn to make the scrumptious lemon beehive cake above. Photo courtesy of Williams Sonoma
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