Finding Your Comfort Level in the Beeyard: What to Wear

If you’re more concerned with staying on  budget than looking fashionable,  then you’re reading the right article. 

In most situations in life, people have varying levels of comfort, and what holds true for one person may not for another. Some people are at home in front of a microphone, while the thought of being on stage terrifies others.  The same can be true about standing next to a beehive. 

We  set up a hive not just to get honey, but with the hope of enjoying working on it, and in order to enjoy what we are doing, we need to be comfortable. Like any other activity, you can spend as little or as much as you want to get equipped. (well, maybe not as little, but definitely as much)

Beside the hive and all that goes with it, you also have clothing and protective gear to consider.   I’ve heard some beekeepers recommend the full body protection from head to toe to new beekeepers. If I were working africanized bees I would agree, but for the average beekeeper with a hive or two in the backyard or even 20 to 30 hives, there are alternatives.

I love browsing through the catalogs as much as the next guy or girl, and especially when you first start, you may be tempted to buy one of everything.  In order to get a better feel for costs, I picked up a popular beekeeper supply catalog to take a peak at what’s available and the current cost.  I see they have a tie down veil for $13.95 and a ventilated sun helmet for another $13.95, or $9.95 if you want to go with  plastic.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is an English style full suit for about $87, or the premium beesuit with zippered veil for about $70 plus $14 for the helmet. In between are pullover jackets with veils from $50-$64.  Add to this gloves, pants, and boots and you are out a good chunk of change.

On the commercial end, you can pay several hundred dollars just for the jacket, but It’s like comparing a fly rod from the local dept store with one from Orvis. I believe my fly rod came from Kmart, and it has caught plenty of fish.

If you’ve seen me in the beeyard with my ragtag get-up, you know that the catalog companies won’t be calling me anytime soon to pose in their glossy pages. My beekeeping outfit consists of the following:

One tiedown veil and ventilated helmet for about $28 (actually the helmet was given to me, so make that $14)

Goatskin gloves which I keep on hand for the times when I need them for about $14. current price is $18.95

The rest of my outfit consists of an old pair of  painters pants and an old long sleeve dress shirt. Footwear is usually sneakers, or an old pair of army boots. I’m not one that likes shoes, so as soon as it’s warm enough in the spring I go barefooted. There have been a few occasions when I forgot to throw a pair in the truck when I was going to work on the hives, so I was just careful about where I stepped. Worse than being shoeless is wearing sandals. You move one way and a bee crawls under a strap, then move another way and she gets trapped and stings you. I once realized I had my sandals on when I felt quite a few bees crawling on my foot. I carefully eased the sandal off and didn’t get stung.

The key to being comfortable and protected is clothes that are loose and tight at the same time, meaning loose and tight in all the right places.

 In January, when there is two feet of now on the ground, the wind is whipping, and you are ordering you equipment, you may not think of being too warm come summer time when you are working on your hives. But try to imagine it’s 80 degrees out. Your covered in long sleeves and legs, rubber boots, a veil and hat, and leather gloves, and all this is over your street clothes. Add in a little nervousness for good measure, plus having to lift 40+ pound boxes, and things can get very warm very quickly.

To stay fairly cool and still have a reasonable amount of protection, which translates to comfort, you can get by with basics. Lets work from the inside out. Shorts and a t-shirt are a good start. Everyone has a supply of those, so it’s no extra cost. Over that, you want loose fitting, light colored clothing. If you go to Goodwill or a similar thrift shop, chances are you can find a pair of painters or similar pants. Get some that are at least a size bigger than you would normally wear. The air space between your skin and the clothing acts as your sting insulation. Keep in mind that you will be doing some bending and squatting, so test in those positions.

If you are worried that bees may crawl up the insides of your pant legs you are right. They will. Bees on the ground like to crawl up, and when you squat or bend and they are squeezed against your leg, they will sting. This problem can be solved with a rubber band around the ankle, or if you are handy, a piece of elastic sewed in the cuff. I’ve never gotten around to doing that and just occassionally take a sting to the leg. After the first few times, you realize that they are only going to sting  once, and you don’t panic.

The same guidelines go for a shirt. You want one that you can tuck in and still have it loose around the arms and body with cuffs that you can button, should you decide to work gloveless.

Top this off with a tie down veil and the ventilated helmet which is made of a natural material and will keep you much cooler, and you are set to go with money left in your pocket.

My gloves are the thin goatskin type. I prefer to work barehanded but I do wear them when the need arises, and sometimes it does. They are handy to have around.

I do have to say that in going on my seventh year working with bees, this modest “beesuit” has served me well. I’ve never been stung through my clothing, and have yet to have a bee find it’s way into my veil. I sometimes forgo the long sleeve shirt,  but I never open the hives without wearing a veil.  To me it would be like driving my truck without wearing my seatbelts. I consider it an absolute must every time.

Now you know how you can safely and more comfortably work on your hives without breaking the bank. You can take the money you saved and buy a couple of good bee books.  Happy Beekeeping!

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About Beekeeping in the Berkshires

Here at Berkshire Farms Apiary we've been keeping bees and making honey since 2005, with hives in most of the surrounding towns. We also make pure beeswax candles, lip balm, and hand salve, as well as give presentations. As secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association, I am very active in the local beekeeping community.
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