When my husband told me he wanted to start keeping 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’ve never been a big fan of anything that stings.
But my husband’s enthusiasm wouldn’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 getting the best of my fear and I took baby steps until I was side by side with my husband in the hives.
It’s been 7 years and “knock on wood”, I’ve never been stung. I know it will happen one day, but with proper equipment, a knowledge of bee behavior and patience, you can keep stings to a minimum.
Below are 8 ways to keep beekeeping fun and sting free!
If you’re interested in beginning beekeeping it may not be a bad idea to talk to your physician and ask if he can perform an allergy test to see if you will have a severe reaction to a sting.
She 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 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 tempered 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. They’ll fly into you aggressively. If you don’t move, you may risk a sting or two.
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 the bees. Be warned that these clothing items are not sting proof, but they can help lessen the occurrence of stings.
Learn how to use a smoker properly to help calm your bees. You can also burn different materials to help sooth the hive. (Check out my post What to Burn in Your Smoker to learn more)
Do hive inspections on warm, 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 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.