So, you’ve done your research. You’ve purchased your bees, and a hive, and a smoker. You’re almost ready to start beekeeping, but there is one very important item you might have forgotten: your beekeeping suit.
To someone unfamiliar with it, a beekeeping suit may look strange. It might bring to mind images of a radiation suit or an astronaut’s outfit. You will probably get some funny looks if you wear the suit in public (although it would make a great Halloween costume!) But a beekeeping suit is a vital piece of equipment for any beekeeper. Like it or not, no matter how well you care for your bees, they will still try to sting you at times.
Beekeeping suit history
Beekeeping suits have come a long way throughout history. In ancient Egypt, keepers cared for their bees without any protective equipment. The first beekeeping suits were invented in Europe in the 1500’s and included a wicker mask to cover the face. They were rarely worn because the mask limited visibility. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then. The modern beekeepers suit contains a long-sleeved jacket, a veil, and gloves.
Authentic Reproduction of 16th Century Bee Suit Via: Historical Honeybee Articles - Beekeeping History
(Image Left) 16th Century Beekeeper with Skep from the 1568 drawing; ‘Beekeepers and the Birdnester’ - By Pieter Brueghel.
(Image Right) A Historically Accurate Reproduction of Brueghel's 16th Century Beekeeper with Skep by Martin Buckle. http://www.martinatnewton.com/home-page.
Bee veils for your bee suit
The veil is an essential part of the beekeepers suit. Usually, the veil attaches to the beekeepers hat and hangs all the way down to the shoulders. It is made of a breathable mesh material, so the wearer can still breathe and see what he or she is doing. Even more importantly, the material will protect two very vulnerable areas, the face and neck, from stings.
Bee gloves for your bee suit
Another necessity for beekeepers is a good pair of gloves. There are a variety of materials that can be used to make the gloves, and you may want to tailor them to the type of bees you have. Beekeepers who have more docile bees can get by with gloves made out of a thin material called nitrile. Beekeepers who are just starting out or who keep more aggressive bees will need thicker gloves that are specifically designed to protect against bee stings. Some veteran beekeepers choose to go without gloves, counting on their experience to keep them from getting stung, but this is not recommended. Even the best and most experienced keepers are not immune to stings from their bees.
Bee suit material
The main part of the beekeepers suit is a long, heavy jacket that is usually made out of thick cotton. Cotton provides the best defense against stings, but can also be warm and can cause the wearer to sweat, especially in the summer or in hot climates. There are beekeepers suits made of nylon, which is slippery and prevents bees from being able to land and sting on it. However, nylon is even less breathable than cotton, so be prepared to get sweaty if you wear one.
In recent years, experts have designed a ventilation suit made of several layers of breathable mesh material that offers sting protection as well as air flow to keep the wearer cooler. Of course, in the summer or in a hot climate, you’re likely to sweat no matter what you wear. Protection from stings should be your number one consideration when deciding what type of beekeepers suit to purchase.
Beyond the bee suit: your feet
Boots are the final component of a beekeepers attire. Bees often attack at the level of the hive entrance first, which means your feet and ankles are definitely vulnerable. There is no specific type of boot that is necessary. Just make sure they come up well over the ankles and are off heavy material such as leather or rubber. Tuck your pants down into your socks and boots to keep bees from getting up in your pant legs. Bees in your pants are even worse than ants in your pants! You can also use a rubber band to secure your pant cuffs against the outside of your boots, if you prefer. Just make sure the seal is tight with no places where bees could sneak through.
Taking care of your bee suit
Once you’ve purchased the perfect suit and veil, you will want to take care of them. Wash and dry your suit after use, especially if any bees try to sting you while wearing it. Leftover stingers can give off an alarm scent that may cause even more bees to attack you, so clear out any stingers and wash your suit thoroughly if any of your bee friends turn on you.