How NOT to Get Stung Tending your Bee Hives and Honeybees
Written by a 2 year veteran beekeeper who has studied this carefully!
Everyone wants to know this when taking the plunge into bee keeping. I did.
If you want to know what I have learned, read on. My experience (or lack of it) is as follows, so you can decide how much weight to give it my advice! I am not an experienced leathery-skinned beekeeper who wears no protective equipment. A mere 2 years ago, I was just like most of the population, intrigued by bees, but not sure if I could be a beekeeper.
I hankered after bees for 11 years ever since I read "Grow it" by Richard Langer. There was something magical about how honey could appear if you looked after these creatures and gave them a home, and that packages of bees could arrive in the mail.
For the last decade my husband has been saying,''No you can't have bees, you'll lose interest, and I'll end up looking after them''. The possibility he may have been right, along with my underlying avoidance of being stung by hornets, wasps and bees restrained me until we got our acreage. Then I couldn't wait for bees any longer.
So 4 years ago, I got my hands on every bee book I could and went straight to the ''Avoid getting stung Chapter''. 2 years ago, I got my first bee hive. The advice must have worked because I never got stung once the first year despite harvesting 37 pounds of honey. It wasn't til last year when I had handle the bees in less than ideal conditions that I knew how good the advice was.
First of all HOW TO get stung! A painful account from first hand experience.
Last June, I got my first stings from my own honey bees after 14 months of owning them. It had been a hot spring unlike the last year and I had no idea my bees would boil over so quickly in the spring, filling all their brood space with honey. When the brood space is filled, the queen becomes agitated and the bee hive begins to swarm to find a more spacious home. When a beehive swarms it is a great loss to the beekeeper.
I had gone to the backfield to visit my bees the day before as I thought they needed honey supers put on the beehive to store the honey. There were lot of honeybees crawling around on the front of the beehvie. They call it a beard, but it was more like big bushy eyebrows, but it was obvious to a newbie that something wasn't right.
So I put on the shallow honey box with supers on the top of the hive. While doing that I realized the top brooder box and most of the second one (of the 3) was full of honey. No room for the queen to lay her eggs, hence swarm status! I didn't really stir them up just took a couple of frames out on a 29 degree day and saw they were loaded with honey.
So I spent that night watching my bee DVDs (and falling back in love with the creatures) to see what to do and how best to do it. I had to steal the honey to make more room for brood. And do it right away. That's what the nice man said.
I got up early and it had to be done that day because it was supposed to thunderstorm. So at 9 am (Mistake #1 as the bees were still home) when it was sweltering 28 degrees Celsius (Mistake #2), about 200 degrees C with my gear on (went with thin underclothes under my suit as I was so hot yesterday Mistake #3). Mistake #4 was insisting in carrying on despite strong winds and clouding over (Mistake #5 bees don't like storms coming etc). And the clincher was Mistake #6, trying to steal a heavy box of honey in broad daylight when they were stinging mad.
There is a sound a hives makes, a frequency of the hum that generally says they are going about their business and they are content. If you even notice a higher louder more insistent pitch. Reschedule.
I felt the first sharp sting under my arm through the thick white cotton. I talked to myself, told myself the bees needed me and I was helping them even if they weren't grateful. I kept calm and continued my hot work. I kind of lost track around 8 stings as they flew up in clouds and crawled on my hood and gloves. I strategically arranged some nice new brood frames. I shut the hive up, and left my leaden box of honey nearby with top and bottom board in place.
Making sure I had no stinging hitchikers (best done by checking your reflection in front of dark tinted windows), I retreated to the soothing A/C of my truck. I had 5 welts on my front I could find when I got back,12 overall. It wasn't that bad, it was like an extra-sharp mosquito sting, I think I was so absorbed in the work I was ignoring them.
That night, I retrieved 7 loaded deep supers from the honey box proper and brushed the remaining few bees off the honey by the light of my headlights. Itchy, but content I had averted a swarm disaster, I had my bonus stash of early dandelion honey to console me.
The moral of the story is pay attention to your bees, don't procrastinate and have your bees where keeping an eye on your beehives doesn't invove a full blown expedition with smoker, hive tool and frames. While beekeeping comes with it's risks, follow the suggestions, and it will help reduce the risks of being stung.
I will honestly tell you, after my first year of bee keeping I was slightly disappointed I hadn't been christened by the bees, even when stealing the honey, just ever so slightly disappointed. By end of the second year, I was happy the first had been so easy.
How to cut down on the chance of being stung!
Work with the bees when they are content, when the weather is fine
- Best when the Bees are not too hungry-in late spring reserves are low
- Ideally when Honey Bees are not too Hot-best under 25 celsius here in Ontario
- Weather not too cold and Windy-more bees will be in the hive
- Weather not too wet-more bees will be in the hive
- Not changeable or thundery weather-again more bees will be in the hive and agitated
Work with the honey bees when there are fewer in the hive
- Around noon on a fair weather day is best as most of the workers will be out gathering honey
Wear proper protective gear and equipment, thick leather gauntlet gloves that tuck in your suit and attached mesh hood.
- Light coloured is best-as dark cloth makes you look like a dark shadow like a big bad bear coming to rob their hive
- There are slippery material suits for more aggressive bees so they cannot get a grip on it
- Leather gloves thick enough the stingers won't go through, take care brushing them off as you can activate the stingers after the fact, even on the honey frames if a bee was killed there.
- I usually wear thick fleecy pajamas under my suit and ''rubber-band'' a couple of folded paper towels to my forehead to catch the sweat rolling off me.
- Use a smoker, not too much, just a puff to disorient the bees and wait half a minute for them to take a bit of honey and leave the hive
Watch your behaviour yours and theirs
- Make all your moves slow and deliberate-do not jar or knock the hive or frames while handling them, bees don't like vibrations
- Don't shout, run around or breathe on them, they think hot CO2 breath is from something that wants to steal their honey or eat them
- Be kind to the bees, use a paintbrush or something, brush off any that may be crushed when you put a box down or a frame in, also they can smell the dead bees and get agitated quicker
- Don't run away (no matter how strong the urge), they can fly faster than you can run and they will chase you
- Some strains of bees and hives are more aggressive than others so be aware you can requeen or replace to achieve a more gentle hive
- The good news is, they will get used to you, the pitch of the humming will seem higher in the beginning but after 2-3 visits they will know you
If you are curious and think this is something you might do.....
There is relevant information available. Getting started in such a different area is daunting. It took me 11 years to take the plunge. Not having a mentor is difficult, and it is better if you know someone who can help. But getting a good DVD and Reading Resources program gives you the confidence to go ahead after years of wondering, "Can I do it?" and "Am I Brave enough?". If you are really intrigued by all this, you are ready! Click for more information here on setting up Bee Hives