21 April 2013

Basic Equipment for a hobby beekeeper

When you start beekeeping you need some protective clothing, sturdy footwear, gloves, a hive tool and a smoker. 

It's important to protect the eyes - a sting in the eyeball can lead to permanent eye damage or blindness.

Bees always seem to crawl upwards to try to get to a safe place, they move towards the highest and darkest places they can find. If you drop a frame of bees, or a brood box, or a super, there will be a lot of angry, confused and disorientated bees starting their upward journey from the ground. It's quite important to make sure that they don't take refuge in your socks, shoes or trousers, so tucking trousers into calf-height boots of some sort is a good idea. Plastic wellies are relatively cheap, and can be easily disinfected.

Some people think it's important to buy a full suit that will last a beekeeping lifetime - costing well over a hundred pounds. Their reasoning is sound, they argue that you buy cheap, you buy twice. But there are perfectly adequate suits available for, currently, £39. The economics of buying one of these makes sense to me.

A zipped boiler suit and a hat and veil combination will work, as long as trousers' side slits are sewn closed. A separate hat/veil can be useful for doing maintenance work, or gardening, close to the front of the hives. You could try something like this one. (The UK supplier I bought mine from no longer sells them.)

If choosing a smock or jacket veil and a pair of overtrousers, make sure the jacket is long enough, and the lower elastic is tight enough, to prevent bees crawling upwards.

The most important thing is that you should be confident with your choice, and not feel intimated by other people's opinions - I wear a full suit with a full-round veil because I like it. I find the vertical strengtheners of the fencing-style veil distracting, and prefer the extra ventilation from the full-round mesh. I always wear trousers and a long-sleeved top beneath my suit, it gets a bit warm on a hot day, but I think this is better than risking getting stung many times if I should do something silly during an inspection and end up with many irritated bees taking to the air.

Some people reckon there's no need to wear gloves, but those people also end up with loads of propolis staining their hands, so it's probably a good idea to at least wear a pair of thin nitrile or latex gloves with cuffs long enough to cover the wrist.

Many beekeeping suppliers include a pair of leather gloves along with a suit. If you're comfortable wearing them, then a pair of latex or nitrile disposables on top will help keep them clean. Cheap nitriles tend to be stronger than cheap latex gloves.

Bee Inspectors wear disposable, long-cuff, blue nitrile gloves.

I wear a pair of very thin cotton gloves beneath a pair of thick, long-cuff, blue, 'Marigold' nitrile gloves. Sometimes I cover these with a pair of disposable nitriles. The cotton gloves are to absorb sweat, the disposables are simply to keep vast amounts of propolis off the more expensive thicker gloves - these are thrown away after an inspection.

You can buy packs of disposable gloves from car-spares places and from farming suppliers as well as online.

Black gloves aren't a good idea - bees don't like black.

Hive tools
During one inspection I prefer my J-type hive tool, during the next one I'll prefer my chisel-ended one. I bought several hive tools from Taylors Eye Witness but almost every equipment supplier will sell both styles.

I keep an old steel one in the shed, just in case I lose all the others. I also have an extra long one, which is brilliant for releasing brace comb that's been built at the bottom of the brood box.

Every time I put the gear away I plan to wrap something bright round the handle of my hive tool, because even though it's 'good practice' to keep it in your hand all the time, I always seem to manage to put it down somewhere and it has an uncanny knack of blending into its' surroundings.

The theory behind 'smoking bees' before, and during, an inspection is that they think there's a fire, so rush to fill their honey stomachs with food in case they need to fly away to a new site. Having a full stomach is meant to make them more docile and less able to bend their bodies to sting.

The only part of that that I've noticed is that they will move away from the source of smoke. Smoking the frame tops persuades them downwards, smoking through an entrance will push them upwards, so lifting the edge of the crownboard and puffing some smoke through the gap towards the frame tops is, I think, the best way to prepare for an inspection. Leave them for a couple of minutes before doing anything else.

Every equipment supplier will sell smokers, they come in all shapes and sizes and can be made of mild steel, tin, copper or stainless steel. My smoker is a large one - I know it won't run out of fuel during an inspection.

Some people prefer not to use a smoker, but use a water spray instead. The reasoning is that bees don't like the rain and will spend time getting themselves dry instead of taking to the air. I've seen bees flying through bonfire smoke, they don't fly when it's raining so it seems a bit mean to deliberately make them wet.

It's good practice to routinely wash clothing and gloves, and clean the hive tool after an inspection. I keep a bucket containing washing soda solution in my apiary and replace the solution every few weeks.

Keeping things clean will mean it's less likely that disease will be carried between apiaries, but if EFB or AFB is found it is very important to also wash clothing, including hat, veil and gloves - which is why wearing thin, cheap, disposable, overgloves can make life a lot easier.

Record keeping
Keeping records is important. Hive records can take many forms, from a loose leaf file, a computer spreadsheet or a single sheet of paper to a coded brick on top of the hive. Some people carefully record apiary temperatures, others make a note of cloud cover. Whatever system you choose has to work for you, and, in the early years should be good enough for somebody else to refer to if you need some help.

Within UK there is a statutory requirement to keep full records of any treatments given, which includes where and when purchased, when administered and how disposed of afterwards.

And more ...
As with any other hobby, once you have kept bees for a little while you will want, and need, more equipment ... and a shed to keep it in!


No comments:

Post a Comment