Sunday, August 4, 2013

How Bee Proof is Bee Proof? The Strengths and Limitations of a Good Bee Suit

This is a post that I put on Reluctant Homesteaders but I thought it would be good to have here also.

Being Spring, we have had a lot of interest in my post on the Ultra Breeze Bee Suit.
I have been pondering what I would say in a review of the suit for 3 or 4 weeks, and I have changed my mind several times on what exactly I have to say about the suit.

Not because the suit is any less than I expected, it is a fantastic piece of workmanship.
I love everything about the suit. It is easy to put on and take off. It has very good visibility, front and side. It really is very cool to wear, much cooler than the old suit I used to wear. It is especially cool if you are moving around, it really does breath.

It has large well placed pockets. It has tight, heavy duty zippers and hook and loop tape to prevent gaps at the closures. It is a fantastic suit, clearly designed by a bee keeper who knew what he needed and sewn by people who care about quality. This suit will last a lifetime.

Hopefully mine will be long.

But, and this is a big "but", because I cannot really put it to the sting test, I cannot say it is sting proof.
Being allergic to bees, I am not the person to be testing it for sting-ability. I wear it as a last defense against the 1% chance of being stung. I am not in there throwing around hive frames full of bees, I am gently coercing my bee friends to let me peek inside or change syrup jars on the feeder. I am mowing wide swaths of grass and brush where there might be a hornet.
That's me pointing importantly while wearing my Ultra Breeze bee suit. That's Buck catching a swarm from a neighbors valve box.
Any major interactions with bees- catching swarms, moving hives, is being done by my Bee Deputes, Buck and Jake.

And this is where my story turns a little more philosophical.

Although these precautions had lulled me into a sense of safety, I had a little wake up call last weekend. I was lifting a cardboard box in my studio and, against all odds, I pressed my bare arm against a Yellow Jacket that was crawling on the box and was stung.

There were no doors or windows open. There was such a tiny chance that a bee would be in the room at all. How infinitesimal are the odds that that bee would be crawling on the back of a box right where my arm would press? Anyone want to do that math?

Among the many things I pondered that night while in the ER, was the fact that I can never be "Bee Proof".  I cannot avoid bees even when I am in my own home. I cannot be bee proof.
I cannot wear my bee suit at all times. There is no reason to live being afraid of what might happen, because I can never really know what is going to happen.

I also decided that my final word on the Ultra Breeze Bee Suit is this: buy the suit if you are just wanting to reduce the amount of stings you get and you want to have a cooler, better fitting and more comfortable suit that is made in the USA by people who care. It is well worth the money. It is the Maserati of bee suits.

But don't fool yourself if you are allergic to bees. A nice bee suit is not going to be the panacea you are hoping for. Bees are everywhere and weird things happen.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Swarmin' Season Again and I Have Nothing to Wear

Well, the day before my fancy Ultrabreeze bee suit was scheduled to arrive, Hive #1 decided to swarm. How inconvenient.

Hive #1-The Ladies Honey Collective- had been very busy recently and there was always a crowd around the entrance when the weather was nice so I had suspected they were building up a force for swarming.

I was just finishing up a project at the Art Shack and was about to drive into town when our Good Friend who watches the Homestead when Buck and I are not there, came up the hill and told me that the bees were making an amazing amount of noise.

The weather was sunny that day, but rain was forecast for the rest of the week and I suppose the bees decided it was now or never.

I walked down and sure enough, the familiar tornado of bees were leaving the hive and hovering in the air.

At first they seemed to be settling in the top of the oak tree behind Hive #1. My heart sank. Not only could I not capture this swarm because I did not care to wear my old flimsy (cheap) bee suit and end up in the hospital again, but NO ONE would be able to get them if they are at the top of that tree.

I phoned down to our son Jake and asked if by some chance my new bee suit had arrived "Let me look.... Nope"

As we spoke, the cloud of bees began to get closer to the ground and started clumping on a Scotch broom branch. Now SOMEONE could catch them....
Out of desperation I said to Jake "I don't suppose you would do me a huge favor and come get this swarm? It's not hard and I have all the gear you need here (Bucks bee suit)." I hate to admit it, but I'm sure I was doing a little whine. I soooo wanted to keep this swarm.

To my surprise Jake thought for a moment and said "Sure."

A little back story. As a child Jake grew up playing and rambling on the weekends here at the Homestead, but since heading off to college, Jake has been living in major cities until he moved back in February. He has zero experience with bees.
He drove up (luckily the swarm stayed put for the 45 minutes), suited up and followed my directions, just like he had done it a 100 times. Pretty brave huh? (OK, I am pretty impressed by my son).

He deftly pulled the swarm into my pre-made bee box and while they rested in the shade, we went up and moved the empty Hive #2 to a less vulnerable place on the property. It is now surrounded by 25 acres of our own timberland, so hopefully it cannot receive any toxic drift from our neighbors.
Then Jake calmly re-hived them.
He's a natural!
I (of course) filmed the event. You can watch it on youtube at:

Unfortunately my film makes it impossible for me to convince Buck that I stayed "far away from the bees". I did try though. And I did have two layers of clothes under my bee suit. I just about boiled to death.
But, not a single sting for anyone that day. Perfect.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hive Collapse

I'm so sorry to have to report that even though I use no pesticides or herbicides of any kind on our Homestead I have lost hive #2. And it seems pretty clear it was Colony Collapse Disorder.
There are no bees present even though the hive was thriving with I would estimate about 75,000 to 100,000 bees about 2 weeks before.
Although I do not use pesticides or herbicides, my "neighbors" the Christmas tree farmers and timber lot owners have no problem with liberal applications of the stuff and I am guessing that since hive #2 is on the other side of the hill from Hive #1 it was the victim of wind drifted pesticides/herbicides from that side of the valley.
The main culprit these days seems to be the herbicide 24D which has been around since the 40's but has never been used so liberally by so many until recently. To add insult to injury the currant genetic tinkering with plants is to do one better than "Roundup Ready" corn and soy and now we will soon have 24D Ready plants to cause even more liberal sprinklings of toxins into our environment, whether we want them here or not. It seems many of the weeds that used to be killed by Roundup are now resistant. Now they are pulling out the bigger guns (and making bigger $$$$) with 24D.
Do seem I mad? You betcha.
There is a boatload of info here and here  and everywhere, so I am not going to go on about it. I just had to vent a little and let you all know our world is NOT getting more bee friendly unless we make sure it does.

Hive #1 is doing fine. So far...

In my research I ran across this scholarly paper on stepping back and really examining what we are doing to bees.
I am very sad. I feel like my dog died.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Step Up to the Bar Girls

Plenty of syrup is going, going, gone at the feeder during the couple nice days we have had. Only a couple. We have had historic, record setting in the rain department here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Insecticide Causes Bees to Lose Their Way Home

June just sent me this link to an article on two separate studies which have shown that very small exposure to current pesticides interrupts Queen production, causes less food to be brought in and increases the the occurrence of bees not returning to the hive. Very sobering but not a big surprise.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The're Alive and Buzzing!

"Can I have more please?"

We have been having another crazy spring here in the Willamette Valley, a week of glorious 60 degree sunshine and then last night I noticed a white sheen outside the window. Two inches of snow out of the blue.
Early last January Buck and I checked the hives during a break in the cold weather and found that hive #1 (the Women's Honey Collective) was damp inside. Since everything I have read tells me that damp is worse than anything, I decided it would be better to pull out the syrup jars for the rest of the winter. I hoped there was plenty of stored food and that the bees could keep warm without their backup source of food.
Luckily they have manged their affairs wisely and seem to be doing fine.
Last week, during the warm weather, there were lots of bees buzzing in and out of both hives gathering pollen from discreet places like wild Hazelnut trees and the tiny blue flowers of Heal All.
I had left the jar of syrup under hive #2 thinking they might be able to get out now and then to drink from it.
On Saturday I was working near the hive and could actually watch the syrup jar empty in less than 6 hours. It was kind of amazing to watch the bubbles floating up every couple minutes.
I am considering keeping the jars out of the hives for now, since they won't add moisture to the hives this way and I can change the jars without opening a hive- something I can no longer do without my Deputy Beekeepers help.
Some sources say that outside syrup will attract raiders to the hive, but I know that commercial bee keepers set out huge 5 gallon drums of the stuff in the middle of their apiaries. I'll take my chances and keep an eye on the situation. This is working the best for us right now.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Winter Beekeeping Is About Learning

One thing I have learned the hard way through the years is that when it comes to careing for those who cannot tell you something is wrong, you need to learn what can go wrong BEFORE it happens.

Bees depend on their beekeeper to be vigilant and help them avoid calamities before they happen. If we wait until the evidence of a disease is obvious, or worse, don't know what to look for and so notice nothing, it will usually be too late to help much.
To that end I am using these chilly months to refresh my knowledge of bee diseases so that I can head them off in time.
Here's one problem with my winter hive that was not so tough to solve. 
But unfortunately the mouse already had gone down the floor of the hive, chewing up the bottom two inches of each comb. Note to self: It IS important that roofs fit tight on a hive, not just "kind of" tight. Mice, I have learned, can fit into a crack the size of a pencil.

If you are using your winter wisely and sharpening your bee skills too, I would suggest a perusal of my "bee resources page" where I have compiled links to several useful sites and videos on bee diseases. I have also recently found this concise pamphlet on honey bee diseases.
And remember: an ounce of prevention...