Category Archives: Protective

Two out of three ain’t bad

Beehives are full of things that get all over your hands – honey, propolis and bees. Most beekeepers therefore wear gloves.

Gloves provide protection from the sticky stuff that’s easy to remove (honey), the sticky stuff that is both hard to remove and gets everywhere else (propolis) and the sticking of stings into your delicate digits by the bees.

How to get stung

Perhaps surprisingly – at least for beginners – protection from stings is probably the least important thing that gloves provide.

Gauntlets

Gauntlets …

Surely not? What about those huge leather welders gauntlets? Thick impenetrable leather, heavily stitched seams along the sides of the fingers, protection up to the elbows. You’re certainly not going feel the stings through those.

Yes … but you will get stung.

You’ll get stung because you’ll have “hands like feet” as my graduate students used to say of my laboratory skills. You will have little manual dexterity, no real tactile ability and – probably – poor grip as the leather becomes hardened with age.

You’re like a brain surgeon wearing mittens.

Consequently, the bees will sting the gloves (but not you) as you fumble about handling the frames, inadvertently squashing bees under your fingers, or the frame lugs. The alarm pheromone released will agitate the colony and you – or rather the gloves – will get stung again. And again.

What’s more, unless you carefully wash the gauntlets between inspections, the lingering alarm pheromone will agitate the next colony you inspect … before you’ve even had an opportunity to squash a few more bees.

How not to get stung

Paradoxically, I think the best way to avoid being stung is to use thin gloves. You’ll have better grip, much better dexterity and a hugely enhanced tactile awareness of what’s happening in and around your fingers.

You’ll be able to feel individual bees. Unsurprisingly, they buzz in an agitated way if you start to squash them. You probably won’t hear it above the noise of her 25,000 half-sisters that are also in the hive.

But you’ll feel it.

Consequently, you’ll be able to move your fingers slightly, allowing the bee to move before you lower the frame back into position.

Thin gloves aren’t enough

Of course, the other two things that help you not get stung is having well-tempered bees and learning how to carefully inspect a colony. These points should be self-evident. If your bees are naturally belligerent or you bash the frames about clumsily you are much more likely to get stung.

The combination of thin gloves, gentle bees and good beekeeping makes weekly inspections a real pleasure … for you and the bees 1.

Marigolds

Marigold gloves

Marigold gloves …

Standard washing up gloves provide a good combination of protection and sensitivity. Buy them so they’re a reasonably snug fit. I usually buy the bright yellow “Extra Life” kitchen gloves which you can find for less than £2 a pair. With care and with minimal washing they’ll last half a season. Of course, there are hundreds of alternative kitchen ‘rubber’ gloves. Try several. I like the makes with the rolled cuff as they don’t ride down my arm as much, so protecting that super-sensitive (to stings) wrist area. The Lidl ones I’ve tried lack this rolled cuff and were a poor fit.

I strongly advise you do not buy the Marigold Extra Tough outdoor gloves. Yes, they’re thicker and so provide even more protection. But that extra thickness markedly reduces sensitivity. More importantly, they’re black so your hands look like the paws of a bear and the bees will give you a hammering anyway 😉

Bees can sting through standard Marigolds. However, the sting cannot usually get embedded into your skin. Consequently, you feel a tiny pinprick – a reminder that you’ve been a bit clumsy perhaps – but little else.

Nitrile and latex gloves

Nitriles ...

Nitriles …

Even better in terms of sensitivity are gloves made from latex or nitrile. These are very thin, provide excellent grip and still give some protection. Powder free nitrile are probably to be preferred as repeated use of latex gloves can lead to allergic reactions.

You can buy long cuff nitrile gloves in boxes of 50 or 100 for about £10 per hundred, or much cheaper if you arrange to buy in bulk through your association.

Do buy the long cuff versions. Some of the nitrile gloves sold through beekeeping suppliers are short cuff (and are much more expensive per pair if bought in small amounts). The longer cuffs pull over the cuffs of your beesuit and protect your wrists.

Nitrile gloves can be reused time and again, though they’re much less resilient than Marigolds. They eventually lose their slight stretch and either go super-baggy at the wrist, or you pull your hand through the glove when putting them on.

Propolis, apiary hygiene and sweat

Gloves get dirty. Propolis gets caked on the outside and, particularly on a sweltering hot midsummer day, you’ll fill them with sweat if you use them for prolonged periods. I rinse them in washing soda solution after use and then turn them inside-out to dry … usually stuffed into my beesuit pocket or dropped in the bee bag.

I use separate pairs for each apiary, not each hive. This probably isn’t ideal in terms of apiary hygiene, but I rationalise it because I’m aware of the very high level of drifting of bees between adjacent colonies.

It’s also much, much more difficult to pull on a new pair of nitriles if your hands are soaking wet with sweat … so not changing them is also a pragmatic decision.

If they’re heavily soiled with propolis it’s probably best to simply chuck them out, though you can freeze them and then easily peel it away.

Psycho bees

I’ve never worn gauntlets for beekeeping. I’ve tried them on many times. Since I can’t easily pick up a pen wearing them I’m not going to try picking up a frame by the lugs. In contrast, with nitriles you can easily pick up the queen, for example for marking. You can also usually pick her up with a bit of care when wearing Marigolds.

So, if thin gloves provide sensitivity with protection, what about the rare times when you want protection with protection? The times when the colony are truly psychotic.

Not my bees of course 😉

What about the colony you’re asked to requeen for a nervous beekeeper? The colony that dive bombs you from across the garden. The colony you’ve been warned is a bit ‘hot’. The colony you’ve donned a thick fleece under your beesuit for.

The colony that goes absolutely postal when you lift the crownboard 2.

Under these circumstances I simply wear two pairs of Marigolds. I’ve never needed anything more. They’re effectively impenetrable to stings.


Colophon

Bat out of hell

Bat out of hell

Two out of three ain’t bad is a track by Meat Loaf from his 1977 album Bat out of hell. It seemed appropriate as two of the three types of gloves described “ain’t bad”. Bat out of hell, the first of a trilogy of albums that together have sold more than 50 million copies, was a collaboration between Meat Loaf and the lyricist Jim Steinman. It was produced by Todd Rundgren. It’s a great album to crank up loud and sing (badly) to driving back late at night from beekeeping talks.

 

Thumb loops

My first beesuit was bought from BBwear. It’s still going strong. It lacks a bit of sartorial elegance these days – it’s got holes in some pockets, the hive tool pocket is ripped beyond use, the elasticated leg bottoms are no longer elasticated and the entire thing is mottled with wax and propolis stains.

It’s been through the washing machine countless times and it’s got lots of life in it yet.

BBwear suits

BBwear suits …

Since that first suit I’ve bought many more. All are from BBwear. All are as well made and look to be as hard wearing. Their BB2 jacket is particularly good and the one I use for most apiary visits. I’ve stuck with BBWear as I’ve been pleased with the product and the service. Many have been bought for work – for trips to Varroa-free regions or for apiary visitors – and Belinda at BBWear has always given us a good deal and quick delivery. We now have a good range of colours in the work apiary; apricot, denim, cerise (or cerese as BBwear list it) and the more conventional – less lurid – white or sage.

Good but not perfect

S t r e t c h e d ...

S t r e t c h e d …

However, all the suits and jackets (at least those I own, which include BB1, BB2 and BB101) have a design flaw. The thumb loop elastic isn’t great quality and soon  s  t  r  e  t  c  h  e  s. These thumb loops are designed to prevent the cuff of the suit from riding up your arm. If it does it leaves a tempting little gap at your wrist for any bees to take out their irritation on. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a gloves ‘over’ or ‘under’ (the cuff) beekeeper … without using the thumb loops you’ll soon be waving that little half-inch strip of oh-so-stingable wrist at your charges.

And it hurts (me) like hell if they target that little patch of tender skin on the inside of my wrist. Ouch.

Once the stretch is gone the temptation is to wind the elastic repeatedly round the thumb to take up the slack. Unless you’re careful, you’ll do this a bit too tight and then every time you’re at full-stretch the blood supply to your thumb is cut off. On a hot day, the relief of stripping off your perspiration-filled gloves is almost matched by the relief of unwinding the elastic and letting the blood back into your thumb.

You then drive on to the next apiary and the dangling elastic catches on the gearstick and the indicator stalk …

Replaceable elastic loops

In a new BBwear suit/jacket the elastic thumb loops are sewn directly onto the cuff (and it looks to me as though Sherriff suits are the same). Once mine are stretched beyond salvation I cut them off and replace them with a simple short loop of dacron (at least, I think it’s dacron … it’s a near indestructible manmade tape I had some spare bits of). My sewing skills are hopeless, but no-one who wears a beesuit for half the weekends a year cares much about appearances.

Ugly but functional ...

Ugly but functional …

With the dacron loop permanently fixed to the suit, it’s then a straightforward matter to tie a loop of ‘knicker’ elastic in place using a simple overhand knot. This stuff is available inexpensively online. Once the elastic (inevitably) stretches just cut it off and replace it with another piece. No more accidental changing gear in the car … no more atrophied thumbs due to restricted blood supply … and no more little strips of pale, tender flesh exposed.


 or should that be thumbloop?

 

Hopping mad

Stanley Rigger boots

Stanley Rigger boots …

Almost exactly a year ago I recommended these rigger boots. I’d been using them for about six months and had been pleased with their fit and function. They’d been warm enough in the winter, strong enough to protect my toes from a carelessly dropped full super and easy to get on and off.

I spoke too soon.

Sometime this spring the lining on one boot worked loose. When I tried to slip the boot off the lining remained trapped round my heel, necessitating some unbalanced hopping about while prising my heel free with my fingers. Now both linings have come adrift from the inside of the boot and it’s a real palaver to get the damn things off. They remain comfortable, safe and secure, totally waterproof and easy to get on. They’re just nigh-on impossible to remove again.

Screwfix still supply these … my advice is to get something different and I’m now on the lookout for an alternative. Any suggestions?

Beekeeping footwear

Aigle Wellingtons

Hotfoot …

Until this season I’ve used a variety of beekeeping footwear. Other than for quickie inspections (using a jacket only) I usually wear a full suit and Wellington boots – waterproof, reasonably long in the leg, easy to tuck the beesuit into and, if you choose carefully, a grippy sole for wet grass or mud. Most recently these have been neoprene-lined Aigle boots. Although supremely comfortable they were far too warm to wear for summer inspections … with the beesuit suit tucked inside my feet and ankles would be soaked in sweat for the entire afternoon and they were a nightmare to remove if I needed to go in the house for the (inevitable) things I forgot. They were tight on the calves, which ensured they were completely bee proof, but this undoubtedly contributed to the overheating.

Stanley Rigger boots

Stanley Rigger boots …

I purchased a pair of Stanley Rigger boots in the Screwfix winter sale, paying about half the list price (£60 at time of writing). They have thick dark brown leather uppers, are quite wide in the leg, comfortable enough to wear all day and have a sole with excellent grip. They are waterproof and – less usefully – have an oil, chemical and heat resistant sole (!). Importantly, when you’re as forgetful as I am, they are pretty easy to slip on and off. They are shorter in the leg than most wellies, but are easily long enough to tuck the beesuit into. When walking in long wet grass – the sort of thigh-high stuff that seems to accumulate more that it’s fair share of rain or dew – your calves will get wet, but some of my apiaries are so overgrown this used to happen in wellies anyway. Although the leg width is generous I’ve had no problems with bees getting inside. The sole is reasonably broad, but driving isn’t a problem.

Fat calves?

Fat calves … ?

Note that the photograph on the Screwfix website of the boots ‘in use’ is clearly doctored (unless the wearer has spectacularly fat calves). Importantly – as I’ve recently discovered – these boots also have steel toe caps, so that when you drop a full super onto them from head height you don’t damage anything other than the box.