Choosing the right beekeeping suit for you
When something has gone wrong with your beekeeping experience and your bees are clearly grumpy, aggressive and unimpressed by your intrusion into their hive, you will be grateful for having purchased a good quality suit that will protect your body?
I know this as I have put myself in several unpleasant situations with inadequate protection and this leads to an uncomfortable, compromising experience that doesn’t help you or your bees. I would like to help you learn from some of my issues and make you understand what is important in a bee suit.
There are many beekeeping articles that talk about what you need in a suit. I’m not going to tell you every detail of what options are available but rather put some ideas in your mind that will make sure you ask good questions to the seller and are well informed before you turn up to spend your hard earned money.
When shopping for a bee suit you should ask your supplier the pros and cons of each suit and match the requirements of your suit with your intended use of that suit. Be aware that your local/favourite beekeeping supply shop might be trying to sell you cheap imported suits that will provide hardly anymore protection from cranky bees than not wearing a suit at all. Competition between suppliers is fierce and cost cutting is everywhere. You should not cut corners when it comes to equipping yourself with good quality ‘safety’ equipment.
As you become more adventurous with your beekeeping you may start to collect swarms, perform splits, undertake cutouts and many other more advanced techniques. When this starts to happen you will find you are no longer always working with quiet, passive, well bred colonies that are always willing to be polite and friendly when you intrude into their home. It is at this point that a well protected and bee proof suit is an absolute necessity and not a luxury.
So what do you need to look for to get it right? A few questions I have an answer for:
Do I need a full suit or jacket?
Here I would ask are you quietly attending to just a few hives or are you intending to branch out and get into more complex tasks? If your hive has a well tempered queen and you intend to always keep her like this then a jacket might be sufficient. If you are bringing in extra hives that you have caught or cut out then you need a full suit. If you are allergic to bee stings then you MUST get a full suit.
Do I want a ventilated suit?
If you only work in the shade and in short bursts (one or two hives) this might not be necessary but if you intend to work for longer durations on warm days then this is critical. I now have a ventilated suit from Duncs Honey which keeps me much cooler, I feel less rushed and can take my time with the bees.
A bit about the suits I have:
The first suit I ever purchased has lasted for six years and is still in great condition. It has thick material that bees can’t easily sting through and a fencing style veil. The only time I have had a problem was when I was relocating an aggressive hive on a very hot day and I wore a singlet under the suit. This left the skin on my shoulders and armpits touching the material of the suit and I was stung through it several times (For what its worth I was very amateur at that point!). Ever since I always wear a tshirt under the suit. This suit has a tight elastic cuff at the ankles which has never allowed a bee to enter via the legs. The other two suits have loose elastic and a zip at the ankle which provides less protection as evident by the number of bee stings I have had on my ankles. I can easily add some more elastic to overcome this issue.
The second suit I have was mainly for friends who want to learn a bit more about bees and want to get up close. I have worn this suit several times but feel vulnerable in that the material is not as thick and the zippers and velcro don’t meet nicely at the front of my neck and I have had bees inside my veil more times than I like. Carefully check this point on any suit you may purchase and make sure the velcro attaches firmly all around where the zips come together. I put tape over this part of the suit to avoid any unwanted bees inside my safe space! This suit has a round veil that doesn’t move with my head as easily as my suit with the fencing veil.
The third suit I have is a ventilated suit (I look like Buzz Light Year) and is really comfortable. It provides superior protection as it is heavily padded and has a thick separation between me and any aggressive bees. The extra padding takes away some of my ability to move in the suit, for example if I crouch down I have excess bulk in front of me which can be a bit awkward. However the large ventilated openings keep me cool and there is no way that I feel exposed to bee stings in this suit. It has extra padding for my knees which I also really like. It has a loose cuff at the ankles which I might add some more elastic to. Otherwise this suit is great (thanks Duncs Honey for this recommendation).
I nearly forgot to mention that my favourite suit (the first one I ever bought) has sustained some damage. I best tell you about this so you can learn from our/my mistake. I had a particularly tall friend who wanted to learn more about bees. He couldn’t fit into any of the spare bee suits I had so he had to have my best one as it was a bit longer than the rest. Now it is common practice for those that help me out to take care of the smoker and keep it running nicely. On this day my friend thought he was clever and tilted the lid open and started to blow into the smoker (turns out the bellows had a small hole that was causing it to be less effective). After a few good blows he had it flaming nicely out the top and before I had time to say anything he had melted a substantial hole in the veil reminding us that plastic and fire don’t play nicely together!
If you need more help on this topic here are some other articles on this topic by some great bloggers…
In summary it is my opinion that it is important to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Spend a bit more at the start and you will be comfortable, protected and your suit won’t deteriorate. Shop around and be wary buying on the internet where you don’t get to see, feel and try your suit before purchase. Stay safe and happy beekeeping!
Check out our other blog post ‘ESSENTIAL BEEKEEPING TOOLS FOR THE BEGINNER‘ to learn more about how to get set up as a new beekeeper
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