Taking Off the Gloves

Thunder Bay Bee on My Hand
Thunder Bay Bee on My Hand

When I started keeping my own bees and not just following another beekeeper, I was rough with the bees. Heavy-handed frame shaking, accidental drops, poor use of the smoker, and a general manhandle-management style. A few pointers and tips from more experienced keepers helped, but by the end of the season as a solo beekeeper, I had been stung nearly three dozen times. I came to call my laissez-faire style of beekeeping fast and loose; go in quickly, and wreck-up-the-place. Comb in the wrong place – tear it out; if bees got in the way of putting on the outer-cover, they would get crushed. I realized, at the end of last season, this fast and loose approach was not very conducive to a well thought-out approach that would be more my style.

I mentioned, in a previous post, that I had reread Ross Conrad’s Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture. It continues to a be an excellent resource for ideas on how to not only manage bees in a less harsh-chemical-way, but as a resource for how to interact with your bees in a more holistic and balanced approach.

Conrad mentions that in order to truly understand and appreciate honeybees, you need to be closer to them. He goes so far as to keep his bees without a bee-suit and with out gloves. Baby steps, Alex, baby steps. I happen to be systemically allergic to honeybee venom (and even more so, vespid or wasp venom). I realized something maybe wrong last season when I was stung on my foot and my leg partly swelled. Then, on the day we were leaving for Eastern Apicultural Society’s annual event, I was stung on the face and ear. By the next day, I was at urgent care in River Falls, Wisconsin. My face, ear, and neck were swollen and my throat became very itchy. Later, toward the end of last year, I began allergy shots. Since beginning the venom therapy, my tolerance for stings has greatly increased. This has allowed me to slowly work toward being more in sync with my bees.

Baby steps, Alex, baby steps. Being closer to the bees is very important – awareness of heat rising from within an open hive; you cannot feel heat very well with gloves on. With gloves, you feel sort of invincible. You can be clumsy and not worry about getting a fist of angry bee-backsides in your skin. Take the gloves, and you immediately become closer to your bees. You become careful. You slow down.

Bare-hand handling of frame
Bare-hand handling of frame

That is my baby step. Taking off my gloves. I no longer wear gloves while tending my bees for this simple reason – it makes me much more careful. You can feel the bees walk across the back of your hands, across your palms and down your fingers. It makes one operate in a deliberate, and purposeful manner. I have been stung on my hands; it still hurts, but I am always able place the answer on why I was stung. Usually, it is because I was not paying attention to the bee walking across my palm or fingers. This maybe my only step this season; I do enjoy the comfort and mental security that my beesuit provides.

I feel going gloveless is an all around win. Going slowly and deliberately, means fewer crushed bees and fewer bees that have stung, this mean less defensive-scent in the air. This equates to calmer bees. Calm bees are a joy to work.