When my husband told me he wanted to keep bees I was NOT on board with the idea. When I was 11 years old my dad was stung by a bald face hornet, had a terrible reaction, and went into cardiac arrest. He made it through, but it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. He had years of allergy shots and had to carry an EpiPen for the rest of his life. Since then, I had never been a big fan of anything that stings.
But my husband’s enthusiasm couldn’t be squelched. He reassured me over and over that honeybees were different than hornets. At the time, I wasn’t super interested to learn about the “gentleness” of bees or how honeybees can be docile. In my head, they had a stinger and that’s all I needed to know.
Despite my reservations, I supported my husband’s decision but told him that I wouldn’t be participating in any aspect of the beekeeping process. I also made it clear that I wasn’t super excited about him “playing around” with a bunch of bees either. I was scared to death that he would have a similar reaction that my father did.
Over the years, I inched my way into beekeeping. My curiosity slowly got the best of my fear and eventually I was side-by-side with my husband in the hives.
It has been seven years and “knock on wood,” I’ve never been stung. I’m sure it will happen one day, but with patience, proper equipment, a knowledge of bee behavior, you can keep stings to a minimum.
Get tested for allergies
If you’re interested in beekeeping, it may not be a bad idea to talk to your physician and ask if they can perform an allergy test to see if you will have a severe reaction to a sting.
They may prescribe an EpiPen as a safeguard.
Safety in the beehive begins before you purchase your first colony. It begins with research on bee breeds available in your area. Some breeds like Italian, Carniolan, and Caucasian are known for their gentle disposition. They are slow to be defensive.
We’ve had great success with Russian bees, which are not only gentle, but may show better than average resistance to mite infestations.
Talk with seasoned beekeepers in your area. Ask where they get their bees and what the temperaments are like. If you already have an aggressive hive, talk to a queen breeder about replacing your queen with a milder breed. In six weeks your hive should change their attitude.
Set your hives up in an area away from walkways and public traffic.
Bees become annoyed when their landing path (the area in front of the hive entrance), is blocked. So don’t stand in the way when working with your bees. They may begin to thwap you as a warning. If you don’t move, you may risk a sting or two. See How to Choose the Best Beehive Location for more information.
Wear protective clothing like beekeeping gloves, a veil, and even a suit. I find the gloves and veil cumbersome now, but they made me feel safe when I first started working with bees. Be warned that these clothing items are not sting-proof, but they can help lessen the occurrence of stings.
Use a smoker
Learn how to use a smoker properly to help calm your bees. You can burn a variety of different materials to help sooth the hive. Check out my post What to Burn in Your Smoker to learn more.
Utilize the weather
Do hive inspections on warm and sunny days. The bees will be in a better mood if they’re warm and comfortable.
No sudden movements
When you’re working with your bees it is important to be patient. Move slowly and take your time. Don’t swat, don’t rush … the bees pick up on fast-paced movement and can become threatened.
If you are stung
If you do happen to get stung, immediately move away from the hive. When a bee stings, it emits a pheromone that tells the other bees, “we’re under attack!” This gets the rest of the hive riled up and they may come after you as well.