Be Safe

Ann Harman

By: Ann Harman

For You, Your Guests and Your Bees

Beekeeping is fun but it is much more fun if all goes well. However we, as humans, do manage to get ourselves into difficulties even when trying to do something right. Let’s go through some things that you can do to make sure when you are leaving your apiary you can say “That was a great time in the beeyard.”

First, before you enter the apiary, check over your clothing, including your protective clothing. Let’s start at the bottom. No flip flops! Bees do not always stay up in the air, flying about. Sometimes they fall off a frame you are handling and land, unseen, in some grass. If they crawl onto a bare foot in flip-flops and you get stung you can be certain you will be surprised. One result could be your dropping the frame you had in your hands. Now you have quite a number of unhappy bees – everywhere. In the air, on you, on the ground.

So wear some shoes, ones that are comfortable and easy for walking around. Light colored sneakers are a good idea. Now look at your socks. Black socks, especially fuzzy ones, are, to a bee, a predator that needs to be chased with a sting. White athletic socks are cheap and need to be a part of your beekeeping wardrobe.

Never think that you can go into your apiary without at least a veil. At any time of day, whether cloudy and dull or chilly but sunny all you need is one bee, who decided to fly, to collide with you. She knew where she wanted to go, but you didn’t. Bee collisions frequently result in a sting.

A sting in the eye can result in damaged vision or blindness. A sting inside the ear canal can lead to swelling and ruptured eardrum. Such permanent damage can be prevented by wearing your veil. You can substitute regular clothing for some of the special bee clothing. However the jackets and coveralls sold by the equipment suppliers have been designed to prevent wandering bees from entering. Bees are quite clever at finding a way into your clothes. If you should find a bee inside your veil stay calm. Put down your hive tool and smoker and immediately leave the beeyard. When outside and not in a flight path, it is safe to remove your veil – and the offending bee.

You can now safely replace your veil and continue work. However as soon as you have finished beeyard work for the day it is important to investigate just how that bee was able to get in. Check all fastenings, including the Velcro® ones so the bee invasion will not happen again.

You can look through the clothing offered by beekeeping equipment suppliers. They have a huge selection: coveralls, suits with veils, jackets, leggings, trousers, sleeves, helmets, hats, separate veils, gloves of all kinds and more. So there is no excuse for not being comfortably and safely dressed for bee work. Choose the various pieces of clothing carefully – they should be loose-fitting but not baggy. You need to bend comfortably but not be awkward. Beeyard work is actually a bit messy. You encounter sticky honey, beeswax and very sticky propolis. Fortunately bee clothing is washable and it should be washed frequently. Those beekeepers in African bee territory should wash their clothing and even veils very frequently to prevent buildup of dried venom that could lead to allergic reactions.

Find the one(s) that are right for you.

Make certain that your laundry detergent does not leave your beeyard clothes smelling like a flower garden. Bees are very sensitive to odors. After all, floral odors tell the bees where to find their food. Bees will not only be attracted to your clothing but also to you. Shampoo, aftershave, bath soap, hand and body lotions and perfume can carry a message to the bees that you need to be carefully searched. “That delicious flower nectar and pollen is there somewhere,” is what the bees are sensing and trying to find. There is no point in batting them away. Such actions indicate you are a threat, an aggressor. Their defense is to sting. You can have happy working bees if you choose odors wisely.

Your most important tools are your smoker and your hive tool(s). More about the hive tool later. The smoker, although extremely important when working with your bees, is the one item that can get you into trouble. It’s HOT! Although there is a protective cage around the sides, the bottom of it gets hot. If you need to set your smoker down on something where will you put it? The flat metal top of a telescoping cover can be safe. But a garden hive has a peaked roof. You can have a flat piece of cement block in your beeyard as a rest for a hot smoker.

Your smoker will develop a coat of creosote on the inside of the top and at the rim where the top fits onto the body. These areas can be cleaned with a wire brush so that the top always fits down tightly. The fuel inside is smoldering and can burst into flames if spilled out and exposed to more air. So the top must fit firmly.

Always use caution when setting down a hot smoker.

Your choice of smoker fuel needs to be considered. Some beekeepers gather pine needles or other dry foliage while others purchase fuel from equipment suppliers. Recently beekeepers have discovered wood stove pellets for smoker fuel. They are easily lit and do produce nice smoke. However, they are loose inside the smoker and can fall out of the smoke spout if the smoker is tipped. If any are smoldering they could be a fire hazard. In drought conditions and in fire hazard areas liquid smoke is highly recommended. Some of the equipment suppliers have it. It is mixed with water and used in a plastic spray bottle.

If your beeyard is not at your home are you going to drive home with a lit smoker? Remember, even after putting the smoker out, the bottom can still be hot. Fortunately one of the equipment suppliers has a metal carrier for a hot smoker so it can be carried safely from one beeyard to another. Do you have a safe place to store your still-hot smoker when you have finished work? It can be put on a flat piece of cement block.

The beeyard is an active place. You will be opening a hive, removing frames, carrying various pieces of equipment – lifting, stretching, bending, twisting. “Beekeepers back” is a common complaint. However, many tools, and even hives, are available to help prevent injury and make hive work easier, more enjoyable for you – and the bees, too!

Your most important gadget is your hive tool. Today the equipment suppliers have many sizes and designs. Hive tools are not expensive so you can try several styles to find the ones you prefer. Learn to make use of a hive tool to raise a frame end, to move a frame gently. Bees that get bumped get angry; bees that are squashed release alarm pheromones that trigger other bees to respond. Look at all the gadgets that can help you prevent stinging attacks. Use your hive tool to loosen a frame. Then a frame grip can be used to lift a frame up. A frame holder hung on the side of your hive will help keep the frames in order for replacing and also prevent damage. 

An effective DIY hive stand made with cinder blocks and treated wood.

A hive stand is essential, both for you and for your bees. Hives set on the ground can lead to damp conditions and rotten wood. It is much easier for unwanted pests and predators to enter the hive, upsetting the bees and possibly you when you open a hive and encounter an unwanted snake or a mouse with a nest. These critters can cause a bee colony to become nasty from disturbance.

A hive stand, at a comfortable height for you, will make hive manipulations much easier. Equipment suppliers have a few designs but their height may not be suitable for your height. Cement blocks come in many shapes and sizes so you can construct a stand at a height friendly to your back.

When you first purchased your present hives did you consider the weight you would be lifting? Lifting a weight and then twisting your back can lead to some very painful back problems. If you have a fairly sedentary life style such as working in an office then a planned program of exercises could be helpful.

Hives and hive parts come in a variety of sizes. What do the bees want? A dry cavity of about 40 liters is nice but the bees are adaptable to size of parts and shapes. Today eight-frame size instead of 10-frame Langstroth is very popular. The deep depth is handy for large commercial operations because handling is mechanized. The medium depth for brood chambers and honey supers means all equipment is interchangeable. That’s economical too! Would bees be happy in a hive made up of only the shallow size? Certainly! Shallows, full of bees or honey are also lighter weight. Some beekeepers have chosen the top bar hive as being back-friendly. However in cold climates it may be an impractical style.

Did you plan your beeyard too small when you set it up? Consider how easily you move around in it, especially when carrying something such as a full honey super. In bear country an electric fence is necessary. You need enough room between you and the fence to do your necessary bee tasks. Although you turn the electricity off when you enter the apiary, you still want to have plenty of room to move around. Fortunately many bear fences are easily enlarged.

The ground surface of your beeyard needs thought. You can certainly have grass throughout but that will need to be mowed and trimmed. The bees need free flight from their entrance, not blocked by tall weeds and grass. You need the freedom to walk around without stumbling over hidden rocks, lumpy soil and lost pieces of equipment. Bees do not like emissions from gas engines nor do they like their hives or hive stand being whapped with trimmer strings or blades. If you chose grass and it needs attention always wear your veil and, if you can, mow and trim in the evening when bees are returning to their hives for the night.

A few beekeepers try to work at night by using lights covered with transparent red film. Although the bees do not see well enough to fly, instead they crawl around when outside the hive. A dropped frame of bees results in many crawling bees on the ground – and up into your trouser legs and over the surface of your clothes. It is possible to have many more stings from unseen bees than in daylight when bees are actively flying.

Your beeyard is not a trash dump. Scraping wax and propolis is part of beekeeping but the scrapings should be put into containers and removed from the beeyard. The wax can be collected and cleaned. Broken pieces of equipment left lying about can be stumbling blocks. Spilled honey will attract small hive beetle as well as other pests. Spilled sugar syrup can start robbing, particularly during a nectar dearth.

A good toolbox is very useful. Let’s see what items should be in it. Your cell phone should be carried always, especially if you are in an outyard away from home. You are outside in sun and hot weather so drinking water is essential! Put sunscreen on before getting dressed for bee work but carry some with you. Your method of record keeping is important. You will never remember details (which hive had a poor queen?). If a colony is particularly nasty with bees attacking you, and you live near African bee areas, noting that behavior means it is essential to keep monitoring that colony. That is where keeping records is important.

When your friends find out that you are now keeping bees they may wish to visit your beeyard “to see honey being made and the queen bee!” Now what? Bees will be flying and not necessarily only in one direction. The visitor needs to be safely dressed, perhaps more so than you. Maybe you have some bee clothing belonging to a family member; maybe not. In that case you might be able to borrow veil, bee suit and gloves from a friend. In addition you will have to ask your visitor not to wear dark socks and do wear sensible shoes. In addition you will have to explain about cosmetics and lotions that contain perfume. Ask your visitor if there is a possibility of being allergic to bee stings. If so, tell your friend to watch from inside a tightly closed up vehicle. Or “sorry it’s not a good idea to have a beeyard visit.” Promise the disappointed visitor a jar of your honey when you have harvested.

Keeping safe while working with your bees is essential. Fortunately the bees can remind you to work safely – they have a stinger!


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