If you’re a beginning beekeeper, there are probably a lot of goals on your mind: learning the ins-and-outs of queens and worker bees, understanding eggs and brood, debating hive locations, and just generally learning all you can about your bees. Safety is another important goal that should be foremost on your mind. While beekeeping is generally a fairly safe hobby, it’s still critical to remember that it’s not without some risk. You’re going to be working in close contact with thousands and thousands of stinging insects that tend to dislike disturbances and will bravely defend their home in the face of a perceived threat. It’s wise to do your safety homework and approach your hobby with care and caution. Here are a few ideas to help you stay safe during apiary chores.
1. Work Carefully
Bees don’t like surprises, and having their happy home disturbed isn’t their favorite thing, either. So aim to make your routine “intrusions” calm and low-stress for the bees by simply working carefully. Ever notice how if you tap on a hive, there is a second or two of intense buzzing? Bees don’t like noises like that, so try to keep your movements quiet, with minimal bumps and bangs. If you can prevent your bees from sounding the “danger” alarm (your smoker plays a key part in this), you’ll have a safer experience, with fewer bees taking flight around you. Take your time, but with that said, don’t keep your hives open for an extensive length of time, either. Work carefully and swiftly.
2. Do Inspections During Nice Weather
If you’re going to do some basic routine work in your hive—monitoring eggs and brood, for instance, or checking the status of honey and pollen—then choose a warm, sunny afternoon. The logic here is that if you pick a day with nice weather, your hive will have far fewer bees inside, as many of the workers will be out “working.” This less-crowded hive will be easier—and safer—for you to work in, as you’ll be less likely to annoy or disturb the bees. Additionally, some beekeepers feel that a colony is generally “crankier” on wet or stormy days, so as a good rule of thumb, if you don’t have to work in the hive during less-than-ideal weather, then put it off. Time of day can offer similar advantages; aim for working in your hive somewhere between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when many bees are out of the hive.
3. Wear Protective Gear
You’ll likely see advanced beekeepers working without gloves, in ordinary clothes or even without a veil. Aren’t they worried about getting stung? At their level of experience, probably not. They’ve probably worked with bees for so many years that they’re perfectly at ease, and many advanced beekeepers enjoy the freedom and added dexterity that comes from foregoing the gloves and other protective gear. They also might not care that much about getting stung. But that’s them. As a beginner, it’s best to keep the gear on. The peace of mind that protective clothing provides will help you concentrate more fully on getting your work done and learning the habits of your bees. It should also make you feel more confident about going out to work—especially when bees start to fly about your head and crawl up your hands.
4. Keep The Hive Tidy
Although you may find it surprising, keeping a clean area around your hives has the potential to keep both you and your bees safe. Don’t leave empty hive boxes, old frames or chunks of comb lying around—each of these honey-scented objects has the potential to attract skunks, raccoons and even bears. These animals pose a risk not only to your hives, but also to you. So do yourself a favor and keep things cleaned up—you certainly don’t want to have a close encounter with a potentially disease-carrying critter, and you definitely don’t want to face a beehive/bear encounter! Mice are another critter to watch out for—not for your safety, but for your bees.
What beekeeping safety advice would you suggest to others?