Particularly when you are starting out, most beekeepers recommend establishing at least two hives. Many things can happen to a hive in the course of a season. To avoid potential disappointment (and to possibly double your honey production), it is a safe bet to order enough supplies (e.g., supers, frames, nails, covers, etc.) for two hives.
There are number of places you can purchase equipment. Several are listed here.
Below is a list of essential equipment for getting started.
For a novice beekeeper, the easiest way to get bees is to order them as a package. A package is a small wooden box (about the size of a shoebox) with approximately 10,000 bees in it and a caged queen. Later hives can be established by buying nukes or by capturing swarms. But packages are the easiest way to begin. You will need one package of bees for each hive, and they typically range in price from $75-$100 each.
The first thing you need to decide is what size supers you want. Supers are the boxes (which you can purchase built or else nail together yourself) that hold the frames. Tradition has long been to use “deep” supers. However, some argue that the weight of a deep super full of honey is difficult to manage and recommend using “medium” supers for ease of use.
If using deep supers, you will two or three per hive. The bottom super will primarily be used for the bees to establish brood, while any additional ones will hold the honey you leave behind for over-wintering stores and what you extract for yourself.
If using medium supers, you will want at least five per hive. The bottom two will serve the brood, the middle one or two will be for over-wintering stores, and the top one or two will be for the honey you extract for yourself.
The most common practice is to use ten frames per super. Some use only nine (with a spacer) to give the bees more room to move, but ten is standard. When ordering, consider how many supers you have. If you are ordering three deep supers, you will need thirty deep frames PER HIVE (sixty total for two hives). If you are ordering five medium supers, you will need fifty medium frames PER HIVE (one hundred total for two hives).
Unless you are a veteran beekeeper trying to create natural comb honey, you are going to want to have some sort of foundation within your frames for the bees to build their comb. The easiest to use for a beginner is beeswax-coated plastic foundation. You will need one sheet of it for every frame. So, again, if you have thirty deep frames per hive, you will need thirty deep foundation boards per hive. If you have fifty medium frames per hive, you will need fifty medium foundation boards per hive.
Most beekeeping supply companies will indicate what size nails you need for the supers, frames, etc. Buy extra.
Kelly’s Frame Nailing Device
This is a nifty little device for putting together frames. Unless you are a carpenter, nailing together the frames will likely be the most time-consuming part of your first year as a beekeeper. This device, available through the Walter T. Kelly company, costs around $20 and is well worth it.
The smoker is what you will use to calm your bees. Buy the biggest, most expensive one you can find. The last thing you want to have happen is for your smoker to die out on you in the middle of a mid-summer honey inspection. Look to spend around $30-$40.
These are multi-purpose tools for separating supers, lifting frames, and dozens of other purposes. Buy two or three. They cost $5-$10.
Cover + Inner Cover
You will need one of each of these for each of your hives. Covers are typically made of aluminum, while inner covers are some sort of mortarboard. They run about $20 apiece.
This is what you place your supers upon and where the bees land. Again, you will need one of these per hive, and they run around $10 each.
This is what some beekeepers use to ensure that the queen does not lay any eggs in the supers from which they intend to draw honey. It is not absolutely necessary in that the queen will typically build a natural border of honey above her brood. But it can be helpful. If you choose to use, you will need one for each hive, each costing around $11.
There are dozens of feeders out there and dozens of theories on which are best. Craig Cella has talked most of us into using a Bobwhite waterer (for poultry). They cost around $5, hold a gallon of syrup, and can be purchased through the club.
Veil and Half-Jacket
When starting, it is a good idea to have some sort of veil/jacket combo for when you check your bees. Some people later opt out of using a veil, but it is always good to have on hand. These range widely in price, but plan on spending at least $50.
Some beekeepers don’t use gloves at all, as they find it easier to manipulate the frames with bare hands. However, they are still good to own. They typically run around $10.
The Hive and the Honeybee
This is an outstanding book and an invaluable resource for beginner and veteran beekeepers alike. You will use it in every season.
Extra Stuff That Some People Buy (useful but not absolutely necessary)
Used to remove bees gently from frames of honey
Centre County Beekeepers are largely split on whether or not to apply chemicals to their hives. Some apply them heavily to avoid diseases, mites, etc. while some do not apply at all. Some typical chemicals include Fumagilin-B for the control of nosema and formic acid for the control of varroa mites.
Extracting equipment can include an uncapping knife, an uncapping tub, and a hand-cranked extractor. Some people feel that a bee escape (which costs about $3 and snaps inside of your inner cover) is indispensable, at least in the early extraction months of June and July, for getting the bees out of the honey supers without using chemicals.There are a number of people within the club with access to some or all of this equipment, so it might not be necessary to purchase these items your first year (e.g., an extractor can cost anywhere from $350-$1,000+).