Beekeeping for Beginners: Common-Sense Guide to Bee Safety

It's common bee safety knowledge that bees are defensive by nature, so don't set off their warning bells is one beekeeping for beginners tip.

| 2011 Guide to Backyard Bees and Honey

Veil Over Hat

Safety equipment can be as little as long sleeves and a veil fitted over a hat you already own. Puschmann

Apiphobes … we all know one. Someone who is terrified of bees, who sees a bee and cannot contain his fear. Maybe he truly is allergic, or maybe, like a friend of mine, he was just trained from a young age to be afraid. Most of us (except perhaps those raised by beekeepers) have been conditioned to a certain degree: See a bee, think only of their capacity for stinging, not of their other less injurious attributes like making honey and pollinating many of our favorite fruits and vegetables. Because of this almost inborn fear, beekeeping for beginners can be a challenge for many people.

The first time you take the lid off the hive, hear the buzzing, and find yourself surrounded by bees can be a little scary for everyone, but keeping yourself safe is relatively easy. Many tactics for beehive safety involve plain old common sense.

Though we have been conditioned to think of them as attackers who live to sting us, bees are by nature defensive and reactive. Bees become defensive only when threatened in some way. They release an alarm pheromone (a smelly chemical that alerts the other bees of an attack), and when the odor gets the hive up in arms, the beekeeper is in for a bad day.

One of the keys to beekeeping is doing your best to avoid putting the bees on the defensive; a difficult task considering you’re hoping to steal their hard-earned food supply. 

Timing is everything

When handling bees, it’s important to remember that a hive is moody. Knowing the natural rhythms of your bees is essential for staying safe. If you take the time to consider a few things before working the hive, your next bee encounter is bound to be more enjoyable.

If possible, choose a day that is bright, sunny and warm. Rainy or hot, muggy days can make bees more defensive. Thunderclouds or storms are to be avoided, as environmental factors during these times are thought to cause bees to be more irritable. More bees are likely to be in the hive during a storm – meaning more hanging around with the express purpose of defending the hive, and more bees for you to handle or avoid.

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