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PHOTO: Kristina Mercedes Urquhart
It’s the unconscious goal of almost every beekeeper: Don’t get stung. For some of us overachievers (ahem, yours truly), getting a bee sting is a sign of beekeeper failure. I try to avoid crushing, injuring, killing, annoying or angering my bees at all costs. After all, we’re working together. For others, though, getting stung just really hurts! Even without an allergy, a well-placed sting can lay out a beekeeper with a giant swollen hand, a puffy face or worse.
Here are nine incredibly simple ways to reduce the number of stings you’ll get as a beekeeper. Trust me, you want to pay attention.
1. Shower Before Inspections
Honeybees are very sensitive to smells, and they like things that smell sweet: flowers and nectar, honey, sugar, and other sweet things. Human body odor tips them off to a potential intruder and can smell foul to the sensitive bee. A quick shower can help reduce your body odor and avoid a potential bee sting. But with that said …
2. Don’t Wear Perfume
Most fragrance in our body products, including perfumes, deodorants or body washes, is actually chemical fragrance—not real scents that come from plants or flowers (those are called “essential oils”). Perfumes and other body products can be irritating to bees, but may also attract them to you, making inspections precarious. The goal is to be as unintrusive as possible.
3. Brush Your Teeth
Who knew your dental hygiene would benefit your bees? Like human body odor, our breath can be off-putting to bees and let them know that a big, honey-hungry mammal is knocking at their front door.
4. Don’t Blow On Bees
They don’t care for it, and again, it lets them know you’re here and you’re smelly! And, if you’ve recently eaten a banana, you could be sending the wrong message (see Tip No. 5).
5. Don’t Intentionally Crush Bees
When a bee is crushed or injured, she naturally emits the alarm pheromone, which to the human nose smells like bananas. The more bees you crush, the more alarm pheromone is floating around, more likely causing the bees to panic and potentially making them more defensive.
6. Reduce Bee Brush Use
Docile though they are, honeybees don’t take kindly to being shoved around. That’s essentially what the beebrush does. While the bristles are very soft and flexible, the message is the same—move over, bees! In some cases, bee brushes are necessary, and they’re handy to have in the bee basket, but if you absolutely don’t need to use it, don’t.
7. Move Slowly
Moving slowly is just good life advice! When it comes to beekeeping, slowing down will help your bees feel at ease and gives you time to see what you’re doing. If you’re going slowly, you can pay attention. Which is really important because you need to …
8. Read Their Cues
Through your inspection, read the bees collective body language. Is their buzzing increasing? Getting louder? More urgent? Are a few guard bees circling around you in a warning gesture? Do they just seem agitated? Or are they calm, going about their business and generally ignoring you? Learn to read their cues and you’ll reduce chance of stings tenfold. If you see some of those early warning signs, it may be time to pack up and call it a day with that colony.
9. Be Cautious When They Have Lots Of Honey
When late summer rolls around, most healthy colonies will have a hefty amount of honey stores. This is great news! It means they’re ready for winter and they may even have a little surplus for you to harvest. But with a lot of honey in the hive, their defenses are up. If you’re harvesting honey, or simply conducting inspections near the end of the season, proceed with caution, care and ease.
Honeybees are really easy-going and flexible, but knowing a bit more about how they tick and what their preferences are can go a long way to preventing unnecessary loss of bees and stings to you. And this makes you and the bees happier!