New beekeepers sometimes ask if they really need to buy a bee suit. With all the start-up costs of a new hive, it may seem like a good place to save a little money. And then, in the early spring when you first get your bees, you may be even more convinced you don’t need one. After all, your newly hived bees with no brood or honey stores are surprisingly good natured.
But once the weather warms and the queen is busily laying eggs, the bees start getting a bit testy. Later, when the hive is overflowing with workers and a host of guards, they become even more aggressive.
In my opinion, you need at least a hat and veil. You can make do with long-sleeved clothing and a pair of jeans, but you need to protect your face and neck. The bees, who are defending the hive, will strike where you are most vulnerable. Even if you don’t mind getting stung, it is disconcerting and distracting (if not worse) to have bees butting into you.
Whenever I’m around the hives without a veil, they seem to go for my hair and I can’t get them out. They keep working their way deeper and deeper until they finally plant their stinger where they want it. I’ve seen them do this to my cat as well. They’ll get in his fur and just burrow down through it until they find flesh.
I started out with a jacket-type suit with an attached veil. This works pretty well most of the time. Still, if I have a lot to do on a summer day, they will sting right through my jeans. If the jacket rides up in the back, they go for that too. After a number of years making do with just the jacket, I finally opted for the complete suit. Now when they get me, it’s usually through my socks, just below the elastic ankles.
The thing to remember is that once one stings you, the others respond to the alarm pheromone. So where there was one bee intent on making you leave, now there are dozens. It’s hard for a beekeeper to do a thorough job of checking his hives if he’s not protected from this frenzy.
The other thing to remember is that a bee suit protects your clothing. I always have horizontal lines of propolis on my suit where I’ve braced a heavy super against myself as I moved it from place to place. Propolis is next to impossible to remove from fabric. If you can save a few changes of clothes from all the staining, your bee suit will pay for itself in no time.