The best thing to keep you safe is knowing what to expect.
- Know your bees. Are they aggressive (and may charge you) or calm? Africanized bees are known to charge from more than 20 feet away some beekeepers need to be dressed in their gear before they arrive to the bee yard.
- Think about the weather or season. If it has been rainy for the past week they may be temperamental.
- Will you be working with a small hive or a larger hive. 10,000 bees may seem like a lot, but 80,000 bees flying around your head may mean you need to wear a full suit (veil, jacket, long pants, and gloves).
- Are you doing a short check (looking at the top most frames) or are you checking all the frames? If you are just lifting the roof you may not need to smoke your bees as much as a full hive check.
- Is it a super hot day? I know when I am sweaty or sticky I can get a little cranky. It is important for me to be gentle and calm. If I am not calm with my bees they will notice and guard their hive if they think I may hurt them. (I also need to remember to stay hydrated so I can stay healthy on those hot days. I always keep some water in my car if I need it.)
- Sometimes you will get stung. You might hurt a bee when you set down a frame or push them a little to far. It happens. As a beekeeper you must expect that you will get stung. Some beekeepers are allergic to bee stings and must carry an Epi-Pen (a shot that goes into your leg) to prevent them from having a dangerous allergic reaction. Other beekeepers bring topical antihistamines to calm any swelling. Other may need to take medication to stop a mild allergic reaction. It is important to know how you react to a bee sting to keep yourself safe.
The more you know about what to expect the better prepared you can bee to work with bees. I know that some days I am fine without gloves and a Jacket but there may be other days that I need them. I am not more brave than my beekeeper friends wearing full suits, but I do think that this year I have been blessed with a calmer colony of bees. I am always prepared and have water, gloves, a jacket, veil and allergy medication on hand just in case.
Yesterday I was walking back to my car after working with the bees and one got stuck in my hair. I tried my best to help her out while staying calm, but I got stung anyway. I am sure if I got lost in a head of hair I would be scared, frustrated, and ready to sting whatever was trapping me. I am not mad, but a little sad for that little stuck bee. As soon as I was stung, a friend helped me pull the stinger out. Because it was pulled out so fast, It wasn't as painful as my last sting.