The bee bag

Beekeepers toolbox

Beekeepers toolbox

I’ve seen some wonderful examples of well-organised solutions to transport ‘stuff’ to and from the apiary. A place for everything and everything in its place. The ‘tool tidy’ trays are popular with some beekeepers and Thomas Bickerdike has previously blogged about his Rolls Royce box of goodies. The majority of these are boxes built by enthusiastic amateur beekeepers with demonstrably better DIY skills than I have, though some are available commercially (the one shown here is from Heather Bell Beekeeping Supplies in Cornwall for about £50). Some are even craftily based upon a 5-frame nuc box … though what you do with the contents should you have to use the nuc box is not clear.

However, these rigid containers always seem to have certain limitations to me. If they’re big enough to contain what you might need they’re likely to be cumbersome and awkward to carry. If they’re small and eminently portable you’ll probably end up with additional stuff in your pockets. And if they’re open-topped you’ll inevitably trip over a trailing bramble one day and spend the rest of the afternoon on your hands and knees looking for your queen clipping scissors in the long grass … and kneeling on a “crown of thorns” queen marking cage which you’d also dropped.

Which is really a paragraph-long excuse for my rather less sartorially elegant solution …

Bag lady man

Busy bee bag ...

Busy bee bag …

For years I’ve used one of those 20p ‘bags for life’ from the supermarket. These are nearly indestructible, at least semi-waterproof and reasonably capacious. If you’re happy to wear a beesuit you will, by definition, not be self-conscious about your appearance (“Does my bum look big in this?” Damn right). Therefore carrying a bulging bright blue polypropylene bag emblazoned with “Every little helps” should cause no embarrassment at all.

These bags are great. Cheap enough to replace without a second thought when you melt a hole through it with the smoker. Available more or less everywhere. Flexible to accommodate odd-shaped bits and pieces. Small enough to be convenient but big enough for the extras needed when grafting for queen rearing. Comfortable to carry. Wipe clean. I could go on …

Ice cream container

Ice cream container

To provide a bit of internal order and coordination I use ice-cream containers to house the essentials, organised into boxes labelled ‘Daily’ and ‘Queen stuff’, indicating the usual role of their contents. This also means there’s less stuff to pick up should the bag contents be disgorged across your apiary. I recommend you take some time and care sourcing these containers … for example, you really should try Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream (though the container it comes in is wholly unsuitable being waxed cardboard). The best I’ve found is 2.5 litre Lidl Gelatelli vanilla … the box is excellent and the contents aren’t bad either.

An additional box carries the things needed for grafting larvae, but this only goes into the bag when I’m queen rearing. A similar box is useful for offcuts of brace comb or propolis, though I usually end up squidging it into a lump and putting it into a plastic bag en route to the steam wax extractor.

A bag for life ...

A bag for life …

So, what’s in the bag?

The daily box contains the sort of things that might be needed on any visit to the apiary – this includes drawing pins, a magnifying glass, drone brood uncapping fork, queen excluder scraper, digital voice recorder, sample collecting tubes, pencil and/or pen, yellow Posca marking pen, tin foil and matches.

The queen stuff box contains the items that specifically relate to handling, marking and introducing queens, but excludes the things I use for grafting. So, this box contains Fiskars dressmaking snips (for queen clipping), blue, white and metallic pink Posca marking pens, queen marking cage, a variety of queen introduction cages (JzBz and Nicot), paperclips and a clingfilm-wrapped lump of queen candy.

Most ‘bags for life’ will easily accomodate two of these Lidl Gelatelli boxes end-to-end, with ample additional space underneath or down the sides for the following essentials:

  • newspaper for uniting colonies … no staples makes it easier to use
  • spare hive tool … the ‘in use’ hive tool is kept in the apiary in a bucket of soda, together with a small ‘Kitchen Devil’-type knife for a variety of uses
  • spare gloves
  • a squashed egg box or two … the smoker-free smoker
  • a couple of hive straps and a block of foam … for moving hives in an emergency
  • a bee brush … though I don’t remember the last time I used it and usually use a handful of grass to gently remove bees from a frame

Finally, there’s space on top of the Lidl ice cream boxes for the smoker, a blowtorch and a camera which I always take to the apiary.

Two things that don’t easily fit into the bag are the L-shaped hive entrance blocks I use on my kewl floors and smoker fuel. The former I usually leave in the apiary for use when needed and the latter gets its own bucket that stays in the car.

Why all those Posca pens?

I’m colourblind so just use white and blue pens on alternate years for queen marking. I find the red and green pen colours virtually indistinguishable and almost impossible to see in the mass of bees on the frame. The yellow is visible and very rarely gets used for queen marking but is useful to write notes on the hive roof, or mark frames as necessary. The metallic pink pen is used to mark queens going into an observation hive.

Bee bag and hivebarrow ...

Bee bag and hivebarrow …

though they may have stopped making this as I’ve not seen it for a few months.

14 thoughts on “The bee bag

  1. Emily

    I also use bags for life – easier to carry on the bus. Thanks for the unexpected icecream tips!

    1. David Post author

      There are much better ice creams, but usually in hopeless cardboard containers. That Lidl stuff is the best combination of ice cream and container I’ve yet found.

  2. Calum

    Hi great ideas! I have reduced down my bee bag to a small 7*14*24cm box.
    It contains queen marking pen, old film roll capsule of thumb tacks, lighter, queen clasp, thyme oil for uniting, larvae tool, queen cell cups, 2 queen cages, chalk for notes on hives, a pen, hive record, frame wire for one frame , mini hive tool, and 5 segments of egg carton stacked in each other and a snuff box for propolis. Transport strap and a bottle of water go in the backpack along with my favorite hive tool. Each site has its own smoker. Can I send pics of a bee house or 3

  3. Chris

    I’ve gone through various iterations. I now use a medium plastic toolbox with items needed to hand in the top tray and other items below. I tend to gather equipment for a particular purpose into strong ziplock bags and drop them into the toolbox according to my tasks. One or two bags of kit are always carried because they contain items to deal with emergencies.

    Being an Australian, where bushfire consciousness is drummed into us, my smoker is carried separately in a galvanised bucket. It lives there when lit unless in my hand or on a metal hive roof. The bucket also carries the hive-tool in use and sometimes other things. Everything else stays in the vehicle, except that vital item I’ve accidentally left in the shed…

    1. David Post author

      Hi Chris
      The galvanised bucket is a good idea for the smoker, particularly when carrying it about in the back of the car. On really short journeys I sometimes hang the smoker on the outside of the passenger window – something I’ve seen bee inspectors do when moving from apiary to apiary. However, I’m fortunate in being very close to my home apiary and able to keep a separate smoker in the bee shed (where it always sits on a metal hive roof) so I rarely have to carry a lit smoker about. I’m usually happy to loiter in the apiary until the smoker is cool enough to transport it safely.

      I’ve yet to see it dry enough that there’s any chance of a bushfire in the UK (!) but I have seen pictures online of beekeepers with burnt out cars. It’s wise to be careful …


  4. calum

    I also forgot a clear plastic 15l bag. Excellent for making up improvised swarms – also folded up in the backpack. Blow up the bag, insert frame of bees holding the neck of the bag and the frame lug in one hand, give your clenched fist a good slap and heypresto a bag full of bees. Repeat 3 times with frames from different hives and you have an artificial swarm in a jiffy.


    1. David Post author

      Hi Calum
      What an excellent idea. Easier to judge the numbers of bees rather than shaking them into a nuc box when they run up the sides, hide under the frames etc.

  5. Ray Clayton

    Hi David,
    On a completely different tack have you heard about this device – see

    It is a small device placed in the brood chamber which monitors brood temperature , moisture and also weight of the hive and can be read on a smartphone app by bluetooth.

    It’s an american idea and probably has more relevance in cold climates and for hobby beekeepers who worry about their bees.

    I have never heard of it before until listening to an american beekeepers podcast and wondered if anyone in UK has any thoughts about it.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Ray
      I’ve not heard of Broodminder but there’s an equivalent (and probably others) called Arnia. I know one or two people who have them. There are a few good resources on the web discussing hive auto-monitoring, including one or two threads on SBAi (the excellent Scottish BKA online forum). Inevitably these tend to be more active during the winter season as we suffer to varying degrees with the ‘shack nasties‘. I’ve got a half-built Arduino-based thing that does multiple temperatures and humidity … the start of the season resulted in it going onto the back-burner again, but I hope to do a bit more with it this winter. I’m particularly interested in comparisons of hives inside and outside my bee shed. The shed offers significant protection and I know the bees cluster later. From relatively little experience (one season) I reckon they were about 2-3 weeks ahead of colonies headed by sister queens in the same apiary located outside. I’d like to get some real numbers to support this rather subjective impression I currently have.

    2. Mike

      I’ve had the broodminder scales and temp/humidity sensors on a hive for a few months now. I think it’s a great product. The data is very interesting – I can clearly see the weight change as the bees leave and return every day. The temperature changes throughout the day too and I think I can see when they’re clustering and when they’re active. I noticed a (not well insulated) hive at 100% humidity and sure enough there was condensation under the crown board. I’m hoping I can use it to tell when they need some extra feed over the winter and spot when they start rearing brood again.
      The hardware seems well designed and easy to install. I did have one T/H sensor stop responding and they sent me a replacement as well as telling me how to simply repair the broken one. So now I have an extra on to monitor the apiary outside environment as well.
      The only things that really let it down as a product are the quality of the app and the website. The website in particular is very poor at displaying my data and mixes up data from internal and external sensors. This wouldn’t be a problem if there was a way to export the data into something else but there seems to be a bug with that function right now. My biggest concern is that development may have stalled as there have been months of “we’re hoping to fix that soon” but not much action. I hope we see something to re-assure us soon.
      I’ve posted some of my experiences to the boodminder form here:

      1. David Post author

        Thanks Mike, interesting stuff.
        Do you know if the data gets from the sensors to the website/servers? If so, and if it’s being stored in a logical and accessible manner – both not insignificant issues – it may be possible to extract the data independently for further use. Some of these applications use an sqlite database backend which is pretty easy to query.
        The internal/external sensor mixup is a pretty fundamental error though … 🙁

        From my reading of the website the data transfer is by Bluetooth. Impressive if they can get the battery life they claim as well as regular data transfer. However, short range only, so you have to visit the apiary to get the data. These sorts of monitoring systems are of interest to beekeepers with remote apiaries, perhaps saving them unnecessary visits … or possibly forcing them to visit the day in late May when the hive weight suddenly drops by 4kg as a prime swarm departs!

        1. Mike

          It’s bluetooth to the smartphone app and then uploaded to the website from there. The app is supposed to be able to email the data whereever you want as a csv file but that function seems broken for me. A download option on the website has been promised for a long time too.
          One of my suggestions was to add an scheduled upload function to the app. Then I could leave an old phone connected to a solar charger hidden somewhere close by to do the remote upload. Since I already have an old iphone 4 kicking around it would be a pretty cheap solution.
          I’m almost at the point of decoding the bluetooth messages so I can pull the data out directly. Shouldn’t take long with the copious amounts of free time that I have.
          Then again Arnia looks like it works out of the box.

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