A quality full bee suit is designed to prevent our little friends from getting up close and personal while we are working the hive. It also keeps your clothes free of honey, wax, propolis and bee poop!
The suit should be big enough for full range of movement and not pressed tight against the skin, but if too loose bees can get caught in the folds of fabric, so best to try different sizes to ensure a good fit. If they are really determined, bees can sting through a bee suit, but good quality and fit can prevent a bad experience that might put you off bees for life!
Over time you may opt for a half suit, or even standard overalls with a separate veil, but there are obvious risks associated with less protective outer wear.
This is a tricky one, since it depends on the beekeeper, the bees and the task at hand. Leather gauntlet gloves are the industry standard, providing a high level of protection from direct stings. The downside of these is that they are cumbersome, crush bees which releases alarm pheromone and they can hold bee venom against your skin for prolonged periods.
Bare handed beekeeping is gentler and slower, allowing a much more tactile experience and keeping the hive calmer. Drawbacks to bare hands include the odd bee sting from that grumpy one hiding on the back of the frame, sticky fingers, propolis staining and insects crawling over your bare skin (you get used to that after a while!). Handling of varroa treatments can also present a problem.
Latex or nitrile gloves are a middle ground that offers some protection from bees, honey, treatments and propolis while allowing the dexterity to work the hive gently and efficiently.
Ultimately this is up to you, as a beekeeper, to decide what suits you best and what you are comfortable with.
Relatively inexpensive, the hive tool is used to unstick hive mats and boxes, to separate frames and remove brace comb and propolis build up.
The j hook type is also handy for lifting frame ends when space is tight and bees are in abundance.
On occasion, when a hive tool has been misplaced, we have used a blunt chisel or a screwdriver … we now have spare hive tools!
The purpose of the smoker is to disrupt and mask the pheromone communication chain within the hive. The bees generally take this as a cue to snack on some honey since other directives are not forthcoming. This basically stops the bees from spreading the word that someone has just removed the roof of the house and is rifling through the pantry …
The smoker should produce a cool smoke from smoldering organic material such as pine needles, dry grass or hessian. A small fire should be lit in the chamber of the smoker, then smothered with compacted dry organic material to produce a cold smoke which can be puffed into the hive using the bellows. Check the smoke for temperature so as not to singe wings.
This should be enough to start you off on your beekeeping adventure. Now you just need a hive…