Stuff I wish I had been told when I was a new beekeeper.
By Phil Ainslie (August, 2019 Newsletter)
Fellow WCABA members, if you have “stuff you wish you were told”, please let me know by going to wcaba.org and click on contact us.
Equipment and clothing
1. Cotton suits cling when you get sweaty and bees can then sting through the wet cotton. Solution: vented suit. I was working on an Africanized hive on a high 90’s day and sweating profusely. Bees all around and all over me. Ended up with 25 stings on my arms from the grumpy ladies stinging through my suit.
2. I suggest two-piece suits. Most of the time you will only need the top. One-piece suits are more difficult to get in and out of and generally you will only need the one-piece suit when you are working with hot bees, bees near the ground, or working with a large number of beehives.
3. Fencing veil: The disadvantage is that your cheek can rest on the mesh when you turn your head, resulting in opportunities for a sting. Again, I was working with Africanized bees. I leaned over to pull some frames. The suit pulled across my back and pulled the fencing veil closer to my face. Each time I turned my head, my face rested against the screen. You guessed it, the damnable girls stung me through the veil. Now I use a rimed hat veil. The downside to hat veils is the wind. This can be fixed with a chin strap. The other downside is when working in tight quarters the hat type veil keeps getting knocked around. If possible, try on your bee suit. Purchasing your wearable gear at a seminar offers this opportunity. Be sure to lean over, flex your arms, turn, and twist with the suit on. Binding can cause the veil to rest on your face.
4. Gloves: Yes, they can sting through the leather gloves. It does not happen often but it can occur.
1. Bees can sting through socks. I was extracting some bees that were in the lower portion of porch steps. I was in a full suit and thought I was protected. Well, the bees came out in force, yes indeed, they were Africanized and quite grumpy. The porch step was near the ground and directly in from of my ankles. One bee said, “betcha I can sting through his socks”, others said “me too” and the race for my ankles was on. Ugg!
2. Stings itch! All I remembered from the stings I received as a child was the pain. But the pain is not all that bad. The itching at the stings is another matter indeed. Eventually, I found that an application of some of my honey to the stings reduced the itching and inflammation significantly. I don’t know if this works for anybody else but it works for me. My wife even commented on the noticeable reduction in redness and swelling.
3. Double check all your suit zippers. Watching bees fly around INSIDE your veil is disconcerting and a little intimidating.
1. Eight frame supers are the way to go if you prefer deeps and lifting is an issue. This will reduce the load by as much as 14-16 lbs.
2. Medium or shallow supers can be used also in place of deeps. Three mediums are about equivalent to two deeps.
3. You may want to place your hives on a stand that enables you to lift without stooping over. The downside to this is that it is possible to have supers that are a bit high as the hive expands into more supers. Generally, in Texas, we don’t get the high stacks you see on the internet. So far it has never been a problem for me. I keep all my hives 12 to 15 inches off the ground.
Location, location, location
1. If you have a stream on your property, know-how high it will rise during flooding. I lost 4 hives due to flooding. Now they are all on high ground.
2. Afternoon shade! Other things to consider about location: a. Afternoon shade. b. Nearby water source c. Keep your horses away from the hives when inspecting or extracting. d. Fence in your bee yard if you have cattle or grazing animals. e. Place something under your hives to keep the grass at bay. Old plywood, old carpeting, or whatever you come up with. This also reduces the chance of getting chiggers in the tall grass around your hive. I was mentoring a man that had his bees in tall grass and I managed to get chiggers as a result. Good grief those itched.
3. Nectar! Of course, the more flowering plants the better. a. Cotton flower nectar can be attractive to bees, although it is low in sugar content. Cotton also has nectar on the underside of the leaves. Cotton honey tends to crystalize quickly and for this reason, it is a good source for creamed honey. b. Wheat is of no value to bees. c. Corn has pollen but no nectar. d. Sunflowers are a motherload of pollen and nectar.
Grumpy bees, why?
1. Queenlessness. This aggressive behavior usually stops when you replace the queen.
2. Shortage of nectar-producing flowers (nectar dearth). The bees get aggressive and start robbing. The robber and the robbed both get aggressive. a. Fighting bees release alarm pheromone and this makes other honey bees aggressive. More fighting=more pheromone=more fighting= escalation. You and your pets become fair game. b. Dead bees and honey attract wasps and yellow jackets
3. Rainey weather when accompanied by the heat and high humidity.
4. Your queen was superseded by a queen with aggressive or Africanized genes. A colony that supersedes the queen sometimes can result in more aggressive bees. That’s because you have no guarantee of the new genetics. The new queen mated with drones from goodness knows where. Her offspring may not be as nice as the carefully engineered genetics provided by your bee supplier. When this happens, order a marked and mated queen from your supplier to replace the queen that is now in your hive.
5. As your colony grows in size and the season progresses, the bees become more protective of their stores.
6. Do you launder your bee clothes and your veil? Previous stings on gloves and clothing can leave behind an alarm pheromone that can stimulate defensive behavior when you revisit the hive. Be sure to keep your garments clean. You can also smoke the area of the sting to disguise any alarm pheromone that may linger on your clothing or on your skin.