Keeping honeybees is a lot of fun if you don't get stung. So how do you reduce your risk?
Honeybees generally only sting when they are threatened. Swinging wildly and slapping at the bees is a threat. This is a hard instinct to overcome but if you concentrate and follow some simple techniques, you will find yourself fascinated with the colony of livestock before you.
Invest in a good protective suit. You will see people go with out gloves or in only a veil, but I don't recommend this especially for beginners. Beginning beekeepers need the confidence that comes with not worrying about stings. My favorite protective gear is a complete unit: overalls with elastic at the ankles and wrists, a zip on veil/hat combination that has additional flaps to cover where the zippers meet, rubber boots that go well up under the pant legs and long gloves with elastic openings that cover my arms over the suit all the way to my elbows. I have not been stung while wearing this gear. It's not built for fashion but it does keep the bees away from my vulnerable skin.
Mask the Alarm Pheromone
Opening the hive is a threatening act, an intruder has come to rob them of all their hard work.
Use smoke any time you open the hives. Spend some time learning to light your smoker and keep it going with a thick, cool smoke. You do not want to shoot flames out the spout of the smoker, but you do want a steady quantity of smoke. Smoke masks the alarm pheromone that the guard bees give off to alert the hive of the intruder.
When you begin to work in the hive, gently blow a few puffs of smoke into the hive entrance and wait a minute or so. Then open the top cover and again, blow a couple of puffs into the center of the inner cover. Then you can take the inner cover off and waft a couple of drafts over the top of the frames.
Lastly, work deliberately and confidently. Plan what you are going to do before you open the hive. If you are going to inspect two brood boxes and look for the queen, have a plan for how to approach this task. Know where you are going to hang the frames you remove for inspection and where you will set the top brood box while you work in the bottom one. Have a helper, also in full protective gear if you need help moving boxes. Keep your hive tool ready in your pocket so you do not have to leave the area searching for equipment. If you are working with a partner, talk through each step out loud so that each know what the other will be doing.
Keeping bees is a wonderful hobby. A little care of your colony will reward you with sweet golden honey, beeswax for crafts, and increased pollination of your crops.
Yes I have been stung but only when I got in a hurry and wasn't careful. I only have a localized allergic reaction, so stings for me are a temporary nuisance. Mostly I feel bad for the worker bee who gives up her life for my carelessness.
For some ideas on how to treat a sting if it happens, buzz on over to our blog, Mews From The Farm, for a post on reacting to bee stings. Our website, Five Feline Farm, is where you'll find more about this Central Illinois hobby farm I call home.
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