While an understanding of bees and their habits is indispensable to successful beekeeping, a well designed beekeeping suit can take most of the worry out of the beekeeping process, a process whose origins are shrouded in the mists of time.
Man has been keeping bees and collecting honey for millennia. The domestication of bees can be traced back through the ages to ancient Greece and even as far back as ancient Egypt. While the techniques and methods used to keep bees and collect their honey have changed over the millennia, perhaps the most obvious changes have been in the protective clothing used by beekeepers to prevent excessive stinging, evolving into what is today known as the beekeeping suit.
The Beekeeping Suit
There are three main parts to a beekeeping suit:
* a jacket and overpants (both with elastic at the wrists and ankles) or one-piece jumpsuit
* protective gloves
* a hat or hood with a veil
Defensive bees are attracted to the breath of the beekeeper (or predator), that coupled with the fact that stings on the face and neck are much more prone to excessive pain and swelling leads to it being generally accepted that it is the veil that is the most important part of the beekeeper’s suit. Even experienced beekeepers usually use a veil in their work, though they may elect not to wear gloves in order to to be able to do the delicate work necessary for keeping up the hives. In fact, it is highly recommended that beekeepers, especially novice beekeepers, wear a whole beekeeping suit in order to prevent excessive exposure to bee stings.
A beekeeper’s protective suit should generally be light colored (white or a light neutral color is best) and of a smooth material in order to differentiate the beekeeper from a bee colony’s natural predators, most of which are dark and furry. Also, the smoother the material, the easier it is to remove stingers and venom sacks with just a tug on the cloth. It should be noted that any stingers remaining in the cloth will continue to emit what is known as an alarm pheromone that will attract aggressive action by more members of the colony, therefore it is highly recommended that all parts of the beekeeping suit be washed regularly. As a note of interest, the effectiveness of the suit’s gloves can be increased by dipping the gloved hands in vinegar before coming into contact with the bees.
By far the best suits, especially for beginning beekeepers, are the one-piece jumpsuits with an integrated hood and veil. Some jumpsuits come with elastic at the cuffs and wrists, while others have Velcro adjustments that can be used to fit the exact size of the beekeeper’s wrists and ankles. Prices will vary depending on the materials used in the construction of the suit and the size of the person being fitted. If sized correctly and well-designed, a good beekeeping suit and gloves is an effective protection against all types of stings and can make the beekeeping process a worry free adventure.