On the farm, we went from wearing full bee suits with face masks to wearing bikinis. You may wonder how we made this transition, especially if you are a beekeeper still suiting up like you are headed for a space walk on Venus. This blog will go into the details of how we systematically shed the gear for a cooler, much improved version.
I crack up thinking about the time I wore regular garden gloves beekeeping. They were Atlas brand knit gloves, with the rubber fingers and palms with fabric on the backside of the hands. Those bees honed in so fast on my exposed flesh and stung me right through the tiny holes in the knit fabric. My hands were so swollen, it felt like I had mickey mouse hands.
I wasn’t wearing my leather bee gloves because they had shrunk and no longer fit me. Honey and humidity are brutal on leather gloves rendering them ill fitted and quite stiff. Gloves are bulky and get saturated with honey and kill so many bees with their awkwardness. Just imagine trying to put a 1,000 piece puzzle together with mittens.
Bees are pretty crafty and can manage to find any weakness in your bee suit armor. Even with the extra precautions of rubber bands around your sleeves and pant legs to keep the bees from crawling in. Not to mention, the duct tape at any hole or fabric gap. Now imagine such a suit with a bee or two having breached your well planned security.
I think the bees know what is going on here and they are trying their hardest to sting you in your tin-man-like suit. It’s an invitation for them to get in, as if to say, “Oh boy, is this going to be a fun challenge!” Also, clumsy attire makes a clumsy beekeeper. This leads to dead bees. Bees aren’t too happy to see their sisters getting needlessly slaughtered.
The gloves were the first thing I let go of. At first, I was a little apprehensive about not wearing any and I would gingerly hold the hive frames hoping none of the bees would crawl on my exposed skin and sting me, or so I thought. One day, I’m embarrassed to say, I even cut off the index fingers of an old pair of gloves and wore them on my finger tips calling them my “bee fingers”.
What I found out was that bees can crawl on you and nothing is going to happen. I don’t even think I have ever gotten stung intentionally by a bee on my hands since I’ve stopped wearing gloves. Oh, I’ve gotten stung but only because I accidentally squished a bee with my finger, or brushed my hand by a bee flattening her to the side of the hive. If you do these things, they will defend themselves and release their stingers.
The next to go was that dreadfully hot, one-piece bee suit. I opted for regular, light-colored pants and long-sleeved shirt. I still had on the boots, hat and veil. The long sleeve shirt eventually turned into a t-shirt and shortly fell by the wayside to a tank top.
Soon the boots and socks became a pair of crocks (the style without the holes in the top and sides). My bee helmet became a favorite hat with a mosquito net you can buy at the camping section of an outdoor store for a few dollars. Most of the time, the net is up and only when I get some aggro guard bees does it even come down. A lot of the times, I don’t even wear a hat.
My style of beekeeping changed dramatically as well. I often count the number of bees that I accidentally kill. Most of the time, it’s none. I work with them in a way that we are a team. It’s not my agenda to get in there take all the honey and leave a mess with dead bees everywhere.
Of course, there are those days where the bees will tell you today is not the best day. They could be sensing some weather, who knows, but when they start bumping you in the head, it’s time to close up and move on to another hive or call it a day.
The oddest thing is that they seem to appreciate that I changed to a kinder, caring beekeeper and they also changed to a kinder, caring bee. Now, I believe they know that my intentions are good.
I keep them from having too many pests. I manage their DE beetle and mite trays; I take care of any over population of fire ants; remove excess honey so they have more room to do what they like to do best-gather it. (Nothing like a whole bunch of bees bored to death with nothing to do but hangout outside the hive.) A whole myriad of helpful things I do for them.
In turn, I get the joy of working with them, not getting stung and enjoying their amazing gifts like honey, pollen, wax and propolis.
The younger girls on my farm became so comfortable in the hives watching me dress down that they started to wear their bikinis. In Hawaii, it’s summertime year round, so inevitably at some point they are going into the water.
I urge every beekeeper to have faith and start removing your cumbersome bee gear one at a time, which ever makes you more comfortable first. In the end, you will wonder why you ever bothered wearing all that stuff. Become one with the bees and I guarantee you that it will elevate you to the next level.