Yes, I really do have a camouflage bee suit. It wasn’t an idea that came to me fully formed, but one that evolved piecemeal.
Over the past several years I’ve had frequent encounters with camouflage. The most embarrassing one occurred in 2009 when I was in graduate school at The Evergreen State College. The school is not far from my home, and by using a shortcut through the state forest, I can cover the distance in about 30 minutes, assuming all the trees are still standing.
No way home
On this particular day, we had torrential rains and the local roads were flooded. After class, I got as far as the local post office—a tiny dilapidated trailer that sits alongside a crusty old church—but I couldn’t go any further. It was 10 pm, dark as pitch, and Waddell Creek cascaded over the asphalt. I called home and my husband tried various routes, but he couldn’t find a way either. It was truly a case of “I can’t get there from here.”
I called my friend, the assistant postmaster, and she put me up for the night. The problem was that I had a mandatory field trip the next morning and I couldn’t get home before then. I had no clean clothes, no toothbrush, and no way to stay dry in the field. Ever the gentleman, my friend’s other loaned me his brand new, never-been-worn camo rain gear—straight from Cabelas.
Off to class
Bright and early the next morning, off I went to join my classmates and examine the biodiversity of urban forests. It was excruciating. All day long the guys, big handsome rogues half my age, would walk straight into me, nearly knocking me over. “Oh, Rusty! Sorry, I didn’t see you standing there!” At each new stop, the professor would do a head count, then solemnly pronounce, “We seem to be missing someone.” It was a long, long day.
By the end, I never wanted to see camo again. But as things happen, my daughter soon paid a visit and brought me a cache of BDUs she had leftover from her army days. They reminded her too much of Iraq, but they were perfectly good, so she thought I might want them for gardening.
From rain gear to BDUs
It turns out that, with a dirty job on the agenda, they were great. And so many pockets! I love pockets. I began wearing them for more and more things. And then, one day, I started wearing them for tending bees.
I’d always assumed that, being dark-colored, the camo would upset the bees. But they didn’t seem to mind . . . like maybe they didn’t see me either? And my regular bee suits were so gross—with parallel lines of propolis permanently etched across my hips—that I was happy to have an alternative. Camo barely shows anything.
Then one day I went to the dump, stood in the back of my pickup, and with great ceremony, tossed my old suits into the void below. It was liberating. My suits were so worn and loose they attracted more bees than they repelled. Still, I would need a full suit for those days when I felt like a target.
A camo bee suit from England
I had decided to try a suit from Natural Apiary. I liked the description, the customer comments, and the fact they had colors, and I especially liked the price. I was planning on the green one, figuring it wouldn’t look quite as bad as white when scored with parallel lines and bee poop. I was just about to hit the “place order” button when a sudden inexplicable urge guided my hand to the camouflage option. I hit that, then ordered.
Afterward, I struggled with this. Was I entirely crazy? Well, yes. Would it be hot in the summer? Of course. Would other beekeepers think I was fried? Yes, but they do anyway. I decided to live with it.
Two days later my suit arrived. I loved it! I wanted to wear it to dinner. It was described as having eight pockets, but it actually has ten if you count the ones on the sleeves, and it fits better than any suit I’ve had before. It has all the creature features of a good suit, and just think: my “mortified of bees” neighbors won’t even see me out there!
The trouble with pockets
The second day I wore it, though, I had a problem. Remember all those pockets? Big, deep pockets? Well, I dropped my keys in one and forgot about them. At the end of the day, I hung my prized suit in the garden shed, locked up for the evening, and forgot about the keys until the next day when it was time to let the chickens out of their coop.
I live in the woods along with all kinds of things that are not conducive to hen health, things like foxes, owls, weasels, and ermines. So we lock down the birds at night. But as soon as I went to release them the next morning, I remembered my keys in the pocket of my new bee suit, which was safely looked in the shed where I couldn’t get them. The chickens squawked a fright and I couldn’t bear to leave them incarcerated all day.
To the rescue
The chicken coop has two doors. One for humans and one on the opposite end appropriately sized for chickens. Once the chickens exit, they go down a ramp and through a wire tunnel that leads across a corner of the vegetable garden and through a second appropriately-sized entrance into their own yard.
To open their door from the outside, I would have to go through this second “appropriately-sized” entrance. It went like this:
- Wear BDUs
- Ignore rain and hail
- Lay face down in 16 years worth of chicken s–t
- Pull self through 12” x 16” wire opening
- While laying on stomach, reach through tunnel and pry wooden door with crow bar (which I actually remembered to bring)
- Say “good morning” to chickens
- Pull self back through the 16 years worth
- Injure both hands on the way out
- Write about experience
- Clean blood from keyboard
That was yesterday. Today my right hand is bruised and swollen but I can still type. I have my keys. The chickens are happy. I haven’t figured out what to do with all those extra bees, but I’m still in love with my camo bee suit.
Honey Bee Suite
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