Friday, January 25, 2008

Lesson 24: Spring Management & Preparation Of Packaged Bees

A warmhivesquat welcome to all our new subscribers! Nice to have you with us for these online beekeeping lessons. When I first started keeping bees in 1994, I called a large company that sold beekeeping equipment. I was intimidated by the way they assumed I knew everything there was about keeping bees. They rattled off sizes and names of different boxes and frames and foundation that made me think I neglected to press 1 for English.
We don't mind when you call us and say, "what are those thingies that hang inside a bee box" because we know that you mean frames. We don't make you feel stupid if you pronounce a honey super like supper. We expect new beekeeper to be on a big learning curve. Hey! We're still learning ourselves. So do not be intimidated by getting your feet wet in beekeeping. Keep learning.
Ready, set, go, spring is around the corner! I'm anxiously awaiting the first warm spell that comes along because I'm going to place pollen patties in my hives. It looks like Sunday afternoon may be the best day. This will help the queen begin laying some early brood. It can be a little risky this early, because colonies could wind up with more brood than they can keep warm, but it's a risk I'm willing to take for early spring build up of my hives.
Which brings me to today's lesson about spring preparation and management. First, there are two groups of beekeepers headed into spring. Those who do not have bees but will be getting packages or nucs this year, and then there are those who have wintered bees and are looking forward to seeing how well these over-wintered colonies survived the winter.
A first year hive is just what it sounds lie. It is the installation of a package of bees or a nuc. A second year hive means the colony has overwintered one winter and is now in its second year. After that, we just refer to hives as established hives.
Let's talk about the first year hive first. Even though in the north we'll still have one more month of off and on brutally cold, snowy weather, spring is coming, and it is coming faster than most beekeepers can expect and prepare adequately. You cannot wait until winter is over and warm weather is finally here to begin beekeeping preparations. By then you'll always be trying to play catch-up.
In my early years of beekeeping I was shocked when I called in April to order bees only to be told that they sold out in January. It depressed me to think I would have to wait another year. So, get into the mind set that you must prepare now!
1) All equipment must be in your possession soon, so that you can become familiar with it and paint it if you need to.
Unless you live in the deep south, you need these hive components:
a. Screen bottom board
b. 2 Deep brood hive bodies with frames/foundation
c. 2-3 Medium supers with frames/foundation
d. An inner cover
e. An outer cover
f. An entrance reducer cleat
g. Either a top feeder or an entrance feeder
h. A hive tool
i. Protective clothing
j. A smoker
That's your equipment checklist. Do not improvise. Keep bees the right way with the right tools. Do not use a screw driver instead of a hive tool, or a trash bag instead of a hat and veil. Do it right if you are going to keep bees! We have several online options if you still need to order your hive, bees or equipment:

If you are rusty or unfamiliar with hive components, please review Lesson One (and following) which explains the various components which make up the beehive.
2) Prepare you mission of installing your bees by reviewing Lesson Seven which explains in detail with pictures on how to install your bees. Go over and over this lesson until you can do it in your sleep.
3) Build up your confidence. Installing packaged bees is very simple and enjoyable. So do not give in to your fears or reservations.
4) On a descent day, before your bees arrive, place your hive in the spot of your choice. Block the entrance with your entrance cleat to prevent mice from making a home prior to your bees arriving.
Once your preparations are made, now you're ready for your bees to arrive in the spring. Once we inform you of an approximate date your bees will arrive, call your post office and let them know too. Tell them the approximate date and give them your home phone number and cell phone number if you have one. Ask them to call you immediately when your bees arrive. Mix 1:1 sugar water in a clean spray bottle and have it ready to take to the post office. Once you receive a call from the post office, grab your spray bottle and head out. Spray the outside screen of your package of bees at the post office. They need that sugar water spray! You cannot over spray them. The spray will go through the screen and provide nourishment for them.
You will notice lots of dead bees on the inside bottom of your package of bees. This is normal. The packages are packed with this in mind, allowing for those that die. However, if you have more than 1" of dead bees, call us as this might mean the bees were over-stressed in shipping.

When you transport your bees, keep them covered up, but allow air for them to breath. Keep them out of direct sunlight as this will excite them. Your package will be dripping with sugar water, so don't ruin your car's upholstery. Take a plastic tub with you so that you can carry the package in your car. If you put packages in the bed of a truck, keep them from being wind burned if you are driving at interstate speeds.
There are usually bees on the outside of your package. This does not necessarily mean the box is leaking bees. It just means some didn't make it inside, but they are hanging on for dear life to stay with their sisters, clinging to the gage.
Since package bees have no queen (she is in a separate cage), no brood and no honey, their morale is low. They are not aggressive. They are a bit confused and so you will become more confident once you see how calm they are.

What if the weather is cloudy and rainy on the day you pick up your bees? No big deal. DO NOT INSTALL THEM IN BAD WEATHER! Spray them completely with sugar water every four hours in the daytime, and before you go to bed and when you wake up. Keep them in a dark cool place above 55 degrees. You can keep them alive this way for another couple of days or longer until the weather breaks.
Next, follow my lessons on installing a package of bees. AND, get this! YOU MUST PLACE ALL 10 FRAMES IN THE HIVE AFTER INSTALLING YOUR PACKAGE. If you fail to do this, the bees will attach comb in the blank space up to the inner cover or top cover and you will not be able to open your hive without destroying the nest. ALL TEN FRAMES MUST GO BACK IN THE HIVE AFTER INSTALLING YOUR PACKAGE!
You must install your bees, as I have pointed out in Lesson Seven, in only one deep brood box. Do not put your second brood box on yet, nor your honey super. You will not need to add these until later. The general rule is to wait until about 7 frames are drawn out in your first box, then add the second. When seven frames in the second box is drawn out, add your honey super. Always use your inner cover over your last box, even at first when you only have one deep brood box. And your top cover goes on last. Weigh down your top cover with a heavy rock incase you have a nasty spring thunderstorm with high winds. I've lost hives due to severe thunderstorm winds. This new hive is very light in weight. Once it matures, it will way over 100 pounds. But for now, keep it weighed down.
Once installed, stay out of the hive for 1 week, at least 5 days. No peaking! On day 5, 6 or 7, gently smoke the opening of your hive, wait a minute, open the lid and inspect the queen cage. Pull it out, as she should not be in her cage. Usually there is a small amount of comb on the bottom of her cage. Be sure she is not on that comb. If she is, gently shake her onto a frame. Save the cage as a souvenir that YOU DID IT!
Continue to feed your bees either with a top feeder or an entrance feeder. But, remove the entrance cleat at this time to allow the bees full access in and out. Save that cleat for fall though! Don't lose it.
Close up the hive and wait another week. Around day 14 from your original installation date, smoke the entrance and inspect the hive. Pull out a few frames and see if you can see tiny eggs in the bottom of the cells where the comb has been drawn out. You might see if you can find your queen. If you spot your queen, good for you! Now, be careful. If she is on the frame you are inspecting, hold that frame over the hive incase she falls off, she will fall safely back in her hive. If you hold your frame over the grass and she falls off, it is unlikely that she will find her way back in. Maybe, but let's not see how good she is with directions.
Careful with that queen. When you place the frame back into the hive, in the same orientation before you took it out, make sure that you do not smash the queen. Watch her as you lower the frame down into the hive to ensure she is not wedged between combs or the wooden ware.
Now that it's been two weeks, and the queen is laying good, you can rest comfortably knowing that all is well. Continue feeding your bees, at least 2 weeks after installation and longer if they seem to be consuming a lot! Once real nectar can be found in your area, your girls should forage for nectar rather than drink from your feeders.
Now, you will need to simply enjoy beekeeping. Inspect your hive briefly every two weeks to make sure you see the queen or that you see freshly laid eggs. Then you know all is well.
Take a moment now that you've experienced bee and decide if you want more hives. Believe it or not, it is not too late. Say it's May 15, and you installed your package and have shown off to all your friends and relatives how you can open a hive and live. Maybe you find that you thoroughly love keeping bees! Your girls (the bees) have really brought you a lot of enjoyment and peace. Well, go ahead and order another hive or two. All through the month of May you can continue to install packages. Call us to see if we can provide you with packaged bees. Last year we shipped out way into July!
Keep our number handy: 217-427-2678.
Last year, we had many customers purchase hives from us, and then asked us to install their bees for them. Once installed they came in a week or two to carry home their hive with the bees installed. We seal it off with screen wire and staple the hive together temporarily for travel. Perhaps you will want us to do the same for you. Just remember, when purchasing a hive in their own box, you must make sure you have proper permission to transport the hive across county and state lines. This does not apply for packaged bees, only an established hive.

If you are thinking about starting with one hive, please review my lesson on why you should start with two hives. It is Lesson 18.
In our next lesson, I'll look at how to manage a second year hive, meaning a hive that made it through their first winter!

We appreciate those of you who spread the word about this beekeeping online resource! You'll notice information at the bottom of these postings where you can send this to a friend. Help us spread the word!
Until next time, remember to Bee-Have yourself!
David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lesson 23: How To Jump In To The Whole Beekeeping Thing

Things are really busy ALREADY here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms! I feel like the butcher that backed up into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work. Wow! The beekeeping season takes off each year around this time, and accelerates rapidly all the way through November. But this year, there was never a let up. We're glad for that.

Sign up for one of our beginning beekeeping courses. It's a one day course at our honey bee farm. Click here for more information.

I know it's cold outside in most of the US, but take a look at this video below and enjoy what summer looks like. I took this of some of my hives during a strong nectar flow. Look at the girls coming and going! You might have to push play twice for it to run.

Good for you for being interested in beekeeping! I want to encourage all of our first time beekeepers to enjoy this first year. You'll make mistakes like we all do. You'll have great success and probably some failures in beekeeping. But keep your chin up and enjoy keeping bees.
I assume there are lots of folks who are sitting on the fence, wishing they were beekeepers, but making every excuse under the sun why they can't do it. Come on! Get off the fence and put some adventure in your life. Jump into beekeeping. Convince a buddy or girlfriend to start too! It's double the fun if you can keep bees with a friend. Better yet, why not involve the whole family. As you can see, you have a wealth of information here at your disposal. And you can always call us for advice and opinions. And we sell anything you might need to keep bees--EVEN THE BEES & Queens. Let's go!

Here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms we are committed to help you succeed at keeping bees.

We've helped all kinds of people get started in beekeeping from young people, to retired people, farmers, professors and even a plastic surgeon. Back in the day, it was difficult to learn beekeeping, especially if you did not have a mentor. Without the Internet and the tremendous research we now have, beekeeping was hit and miss back in the day.
Some of our new customers kept bees 30-40 years ago but gave it up back then and now want to get started again, but are threatened by how much beekeeping has changed. They fear they are too far removed from what's going on now. But, basic beekeeping really hasn't changed all that much. Sure, there are new pests, but we have found new ways to combat these pests.

Beekeepers are a resilient bunch, bouncing back and moving forward. And, I'm trusting our wonderful honey bee is even more resilient, and will thrive long into our future especially as more people like you begin to give them a safe and healthy place to prosper and grow. You can even treat them so good that you can water them like I do. In the video below, watch me pour water into the bird bath that they love so much. I was right in the middle of their heavy flight path, getting bump into, but they didn't sting me, just accidentally bumping into me trying to get a drink on a hot day. If you have your speakers on, it sounds like at the end, I say "ouch", but I actually said, "Wow!" because there were so many bees in the air and I didn't have a hat or veil. This was in the middle of about 20+ large hives.
If you are worried that you don't know how to install your bees when they arrive, then review my online lesson specifically written on Installing A Package Of Bees complete with pictures!
If you are concerned about bee sting reactions, review my lesson on bee stings.
You might be wondering if people will think you have lost your mind. But actually it is the opposite. When people discover you are a beekeeper, they will live out this hobby vicariously through you. They will respect your work and ask you to speak at schools, and special interest groups.
Hey, some people sit around and do cross word puzzles to keep their mind active. Why not study about beekeeping. The newspaper will probably want to do a story on you. Pollinators will be contacting you to see if they can rent some of your hives to pollinate their crops that are suffering without honey bees.
You'll find yourself intrigued and energized by keeping bees. Believe it or not, you'll want to read everything you can on keeping bees. And if you really get hooked, bees will be on your mind all the time.
Now is the right time for you to make the plunge and get going! Don't let others talk you out of it. You've always wanted to, now do it. Maybe your children are bored and wasting time on less productive things. Perhaps they might benefit from becoming beekeepers at a young age.
Let me summarize: We'll help you obtain all your equipment and supplies. We'll continue to educate you on how to keep bees through these lessons. We provide you with resources such as books or DVDs. We'll provide you with the bees and a queen sent right to your house. We'll take your calls or e-mails and answer your questions as best as we can to help mentor you along the way. My! What's keeping you from jumping in?
Those of you who have called in, know that we take time out of our busy day to spend as much time as we can answering your questions on the phone or through Email. And we know what we are talking about---atleast that's my opinion. I don't know if credentials are important to you and if they are, I'm a graduate of the Indiana Beekeeping School, a member of the Illiana Beekeeping Association, the Central Eastern Illinois Beekeeping Association, a member of the Indiana State Beekeepers Association and the Illinois State Beekeepers Association. We also regularly attend special workshops and conferences on beekeeping.
So believe me when I tell you that now is a great time to jump in to this whole beekeeping thing. Honey sales are strong, and honey is becoming more and more recognized for his remarkable health benefits. Our honey is always in big demand.
Now I know that you deal with some stress from time to time in your life. Some of you probably have been told that you need to de-stress your life. Let me tell you that beekeeping has been so relaxing for me. Wow! It is so therapeutic for me to just pull up a stump or a lawn chair and watch the girls fly in and out, busy working to bring me lots of honey. Seriously, it is a blast to sit out doors, listen to the birds and just enjoy watching the bees do their thing.
You're not alone. It's also fun to join your local beekeeping club and share thoughts and ideas. There are more beekeepers than you probably think. In my home state of Illinois, there are 18,821 beehives across Illinois! These 18,821 hives are kept by 1, 329 beekeepers. But here's why you need to keep bees, because in 1988, there were 37,025 hives in Illinois kept by 2,966 beekeepers. Read those statistics and I think you'll see what we are encouraging others to become beekeepers. We need honey bees kept by responsible beekeepers if we are to continue to enjoy fruits, vegetables and crops that are dear to our food supply.
There you go, so why not jump in today! Give us a call during our business hours between 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Central Time Monday - Friday. 217-427-2678. We look forward to hearing from you soon.
It's been nice being with you today.
In my next lesson, I'll be going over Spring Management Techniques for both newly installed packages and overwintered hives. These tips will help you have a great year! See you then...

And remember.... Bee-Have Yourself!

David & Sheri Burns

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lesson 22: Should We Medicate Our Hives?

Hello Folks!  Beekeepers around the country are busy getting equipment ready, and I spoke with one beekeeper in Georgia and he reports that out of 7,000 hives he only lost 3! Sheri and I are praying that our 40 hives are wintering well, but we won't know until February and March how many many have perished. A 20% loss is common and up to a 50% loss would not be a shock to us because we captures many swarms and removed some hives from structures late in the year, and they didn't really have too much time to build up for winter. We'll see.

Here in Illinois we have received lots of rain, and much warmer weather the last few weeks. Warmer weather puts my hives that are short on winter stores at greater risk of starvation. Why? Because when it warms up, they eat more. I moved some of my hives into a less windy area, and what I thought was high and dry ground, but look at this! Some of my bees just joined the Navy and have gone to sea. Normally in Illinois we don't have flooding in January, we have snow!

Should We Medicate Our Hives?

Currently, I am healthy. I do not take any medication (other than a couple of gulps of honey a day) because there is no need to. I am not taking preventative medicine, nor am I taking any antibiotics just in case. Well, that's how I look at my bees. Why would I medicate a healthy colony?

The pat answer you'll see in bee books and probably what you'll learn from other beekeepers is to dump Terramycin, Tylan or Fumagilin-B in your hives as a preventive measure. Here's the theory that I disagree with. Dump Terramycin in the hive prevents American Foul Brood. Actually, in my opinion, if AFB is present, Terramycin treatment will only mask the disease. Once the treatment is stopped, the disease will explode. There is no treatment for AFB. Terramycin does not destroy AFB. Nothing does. Most states require that the hives bee burned and buried when AFB is found. And, this sort of treatment has probably led to a strain of AFB that is resistant to antibiotics. Even with humans, too much antibiotics can actually weaken our immune system, not to mention the destruction of good bacteria.

AFB is best kept out of the hive by changing old comb out and replacing it with new foundation every 2 or 3 years. Keep your hive clean on the inside. Remove clumps of old burr comb and propolis. If you suspect you have AFB, call your state inspector and find out for certain. Do not treat just in case. Remember, there is no treatment for AFB. It is a deadly disease that spreads, so drastic measures must be taken and that means burning the hive and putting it under ground. The spores of AFB can live 50 years in old comb and resurface. This is why you never want to buy used equipment!

Nosema is a disease that can be treated with Fumagilin-B. The drug does not kill the disease, but it can keep it from growing. There is certainly good merit to treat for Nosema if there has been a positive identification of the disease. Otherwise, forget it and stop worrying! In most states it is free to send a few dead bees to your Dept of Ag, and request to see if disease is present.

In my opinion many of the medications being given to the colony are being absorbed into the wax. Eventually, the toxicity level within the comb becomes alarming to both humans and the bees who must live and raise their young on such wax.

You'll have to make your own decision but weigh everything out carefully. By all means, PLEASE follow directions if you do choose to medicate. Some applications are confusing, so be sure you mix your medicines correctly. And, follow the labels regarding how long you have to wait after treatment before you can place honey supers on your hives.

I was buying honey from a beekeeper and thought I was getting pure honey. However, I found out that he was leaving harsh chemicals in his honey supers! If we are going to keep bees we must be responsible.

I like telling my customers that we do not use chemicals in our hives. Everyone appreciates that! I am certain that it makes more work for me and costs me the loss of some hives. But, to me, it is the right choice not to medicine on bees that are not sick.

What About Mites?

In 2006 we battled mites and lost a few hives because of the mites. However, this year, no mite problem to speak of. It was great! We use a natural treatment for mites and that is the powder sugar drop. One of my past teachings addresses this. It is very important to use screen bottom boards on your hives. Mites fall through and find it hard to get back in. There are many medications that beekeepers use to combat mites and many if not all of them have some effect upon the hive.

Hey, if you have some questions that you'd like me to answer in these lessons, email me at I'd love to address your questions about beekeeping.

We take a lot of phone calls every day from beekeepers around the country and we'd welcome your call too. Feel free to give us a call between 9am - 5pm Central Time. 217-427-2678 and if you haven't ordered your supplies, well get to it! We are swamped with hive orders, so please don't wait until March or April and want your hives yesterday. Once you place your order, it takes us about 15 days before we can ship. And that will be 21 days in March, so order in advance of a great beekeeping year.

I just thought of something. Why not tell a friend about beekeeping. Introduce someone to these lessons and encourage them to join the hobby with you! We need more beekeepers!!

See you next time, and remember,
BEE-Have Yourself!

David & Sheri Burns

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lesson 21: Bee Stings

Here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, we are committed to help you be a successful beekeeper. David is a certified master beekeeper. We are offering 2 days of Queen Rearing classes June 27-28, and two Basic Beekeeping courses Oct 4 and Oct 25. Click here for more information.

Well, I wasn't sure at first about addressing bee stings. Books and bee keeping videos barely skim the surface when addressing bee stings. So I decide that I would give you the facts and some of the experiences I have had with bee stings.
Ouch! Probably one of the biggest obstacles that discourages people from keeping bees is that bees can sting! Many people are afraid of honey bees, and some people are scared to death of them. So, in this lesson, I want to talk frankly with you about bee stings. I want to give you the honest truth about bee stings, and how to avoid most stings. And, I want to bolster your confidence so that even if you do get stung, it ain't that big-a deal!
First, I'm not referring to Africanized bees in this lesson. I'm speaking mainly from the experience I have had with Italian bees. We sell and recommend Italian honey bees because they are very calm and good honey producers. So keep in mind that this lesson does not apply to Africanized bees.
When I first started keeping bees in 1994 it wasn't that I was scared of being stung, but I just didn't want to be stung. But to be honest, back then as a new beekeeper I had a fear that I would make a wrong move, and suddenly 60,000 bees would all sting me at the same time. That never happened. Most of my stings have been what I call, clumsy stings--stings you get from being clumsy in the hive. So, I'll share some important tips on working the bees to cut down on stings.
Does it hurt to be stung? YES, and though you can develop a resistance toward the bee venom, I don't think you can ever ignore the pain of a bee sting. To me, it does not hurt as much as a wasp or a yellow jacket, and certainly nothing like a bumble bee. How bad the pain is felt is determined by where on your body you are stung. There are some tender spots that really hurt, like the temple on the head, or any where on the face or head for that matter. I really don't notice the pain as much when I get stung on the fingers, arms, legs or back.
No matter how long you keep bees and how often you get stung, it hurts. The pain reminds me of getting a wood splinter. It's that kind of pain. But, it doesn't hurt all that long. For me, it hurts the most for about 1 minute, then the pain comes and goes until it is over, usually within 5 minutes.
I sting myself! That's right. To stay more immune from the venom I usually sting myself several times a week--that is if I don't naturally take a few while working my hives. It's my own personal opinion, but I believe bee venom from honey bee stings has made me a much healthier person.
Whenever I have a stiff join or what seems to be arthritis, I'll sting myself in that area. In a day or so, I'm cured! Call me crazy but I love bees so much, I even don't mind being stung. To sting myself, I catch a few bees, place them in a jar with air holes, and place the jar in the refrigerator for about 5-10 minutes. This slows the bee down allowing me to grasp her by the wings and hold her in anticipation of her warming up. Then, once she is warm and active, I placer her on the spot and slightly back her up holding her by her wings. It doesn't take long and the stinger is in.
Many MS and patients with certain forms of arthritis have found bee venom therapy to work well.
On days when I'm in the yards working my bees, I don't have time to think about getting stung. In fact, when I am stung, I am surprised, because I'm so engrossed in the work at hand. I believe that's why I'm not stung all that much. Because I approach the hive with confidence rather than fear. Just like my hound dogs, I believe my bees know me. They are use to me. They are very smart. They sense me walking up to their hive. They seem to be able to understand what I am doing. My bees can read me and I've learned to read them.
Can you avoid all bee stings? Maybe, I'm not sure. I suppose if you wear a complete bee suit and you don't have any holes, and you wear gloves, you could possibly never be stung. But, remember, as a beekeeper stings are probably going to be part of the territory. Below is a video of my son who helps me work our bees. He always dresses in full gear every time. He never works bees unless he is wearing thick gloves, boots and has every gap taped. But, as you can notice in the video, he is not gentle in working bees. Notice how he throws down the hive tool and bangs the sifting screen on the hive. If you're going to work hives like that, fast and aggressively, you'd better dress the way he does.

Okay, here's the confidence building part. Don't let a tiny little stinger keep you from enjoying such a wonderful hobby or sideline business! Beekeeping is a blast. The stinger on a honey bee is very small, measuring only 1.5 mm. Keep in mind that once a bee stings you, she cannot sting you again, and she dies. So it is a last resort for a bee to sting. Cowboy-up and don't be afraid to take an occasional sting. It is much more painful for me to pick raspberries than to work my hives. Learn to be calm and steady when you are stung. Don't jump, scream, run or drop everything in your hands.

What to do when you are stung?

Remain calm, scrape out the stinger, puff some smoke near the area where you were stung, back away from the hive for a couple of minutes and then get back on the horse! The reason you want to scrape off the stinger is to reduce the amount of venom that is injected. Most people pinch the stinger and then pull it out. But, by pinching the stinger you pinch the venom pouch, releasing the full dose of venom. But, if you scrape the stinger out with a credit card or your hive tool, you lessen the venom dose, thus the reaction to the sting is minimized as well.
The reason you puff some smoke around the area where you were stung is because a sting can alert other bees to sting. I've only had this happen one time, where one sting resulted in several bees stinging the same spot, my ankle. That's the day I learned not to wear black socks when working hives.
Mostly I get one sting, and none of the other bees seem to care. But, the smoke can reduce the alarm odor that is given off with a sting. It's good to step back a few feet from the hive for a minute or two, not so much to let the bees settle down, but so that you can settle your nerves and see that everything is okay and return to work the bees with confidence, or to assess if it's a bad time to work your bees.
When you are stung, you must immediately assess if the weather is the cause. Listen! Do not work your bees on cloudy, cool or very windy days. Working bees prior to a storm coming in always invites a sting.

So let's go through some things to help reduce stings:

1) Choose a good day. A good day is warm, very sunny, high pressure or barometric on the rise, and not real windy.
2) Choose a good time. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Working bees prior to 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m. invites stings simply because there are more bees at home. Between 10 and 2, the foragers are out, the hive is smaller and you can better manipulate your hive.
3) No perfume, hairspray or heavy soap smell. If you get all prettied-up to work your hive, it could turn ugly. But, bad body odor can also draw some stings. So, be clean, but don't over do it.
4) Never wear dark clothing! Bees sting dark areas. They resist white. Wear white, especially socks if you do not wear boots.
5) Do not swat at a bee that is buzzing around your head. Swatting will NOT make a bee go away. It has the opposite effect. She will become much more aggressive if you swat at her and she will pursue you if you run. Bees can fly up to 18 mph. Can you out run a bee? No. So, be still, and wait and see if she will go away. Usually a guard bee is the first to buzz your face, making a louder than normal buzzing sound to intimidate you. It works too! But, no matter how loud she buzzes, the stinger is the same size and doesn't hurt any more or any less so do not fall for the buzzing intimidation. Be still and see if she will get tired and retreat. I've worked several hours in a bee yard with the same bee buzzing my face. She never did anything more than "got in my face" but my veil held her at bay and I ignored her and finished my work. DON'T SWAT!!! I know it is a natural reaction, but DON'T DO IT! Got it? You cannot swat at honeybees!!
6) Avoid sweating or breathing heavily onto the bees. Don't hold your breath. Breath normally, just avoid breathing close up on a frame. On hot and humid days, lean over slightly to the side of a hive so that if you sweat, it will not fall onto the bees.
7) Bees are most calm during a nectar flow. However, I don't like to interrupt the hive operation during a strong nectar flow because this could reduce my honey production. But, they are the most calm when the flow is on. By flow, I am referring to a time when several floral sources are producing an abundance of nectar.
8) Always use a smoker! You MUST smoke your hive. Smoke the hive, but be gentle and don't over smoke them. A little smoke goes a long way to calm a hive. Do not work your bees without smoking them! Untreated burlap makes good smoker fuel. I use pine needles and mulch as my smoker fuel.
9) Calm and gentle movements. No sudden movements and by all means don't drop a frame or a hive tool on the bees. Bees can't hear, but they are very sensitive to vibrations. If you do drop something or tip a hive over, back away slowly, stand still if you are not being pursued heavily, smoke and try to get things back together once the bees have calmed down. It happens to the best of us.
10) Always wear a hat and veil. You may not care about being stung below your head, but you cannot risk being stung in the face or eye. Wear a hat and veil or you will regret it. And if you want to avoid being stung, wear protective gear and duct tape all clothing gaps.

What's the difference between a normal reaction and a life threatening reaction.

Some people say they are allergic to bees because they turn red, itch and swell. Everyone does! Only those who have built up an immunity don't swell and itch. By the end of the season, I don't turn red or swell anymore. But after the winter is over, I swell, itch and turn red where I am stung until my immunity is restored. The swelling can travel. If I am stung on my arm, the swelling usually travels several inches in one direction from the sting point. This is a normal reaction. The itching will stop, after three days the swelling will start to go down. It can take up to one week for the swelling to be completely gone. This does NOT mean you have a life threatening allergic reaction to honey bees. It means your body reacted in a normal way to the bee venom. A fellow was helping me work my hives without a veil and he was stung on the lip. His lip got huge! It was cloudy, we had no smoke and he had no veil...go figure. So don't panic when the swelling starts. It is normal and it will eventually go down. But do remember, if you are stung on your hand, remove your rings immediately in preparation of the swelling.
A life threatening reaction is when your body goes into what is called Anaphylactic Shock. Few people react in this way to a honey bee sting, but it must be taken seriously and immediate medical attention must be administered. Those who react in this way can have breathing difficulties as well as other systemic issues. It can be resolved quickly by medical professionals. But timing is critical.
But for the rest of us who are not allergic to a bee sting, when we get stung, it hurts for a few minutes, turns red, swells up and itches for a few days. That's normal. This is why as beekeepers we select gentle bees. That's why I recommend the honey bee known as the Italian bee.
I'm asked that if a certain amount of bees were to sting at the same time, could that large dose of venom cause death. Well, I've heard that drinking too much water at one time can kill you. However, research has shown that an average person weighing 160 pounds could receive 1500 stings at one time and live. The most I have ever been stung at one time is 12, far short of the 2,000 stings that could kill me.
Drones, the male bee, doesn't sting because they do not have a stinger. You can really impress your friends at your next backyard cookout by catching a drone and pretending that it is a worker bee and put it inside your mouth. Open up and let it fly out. Your friends won't know that it's a stinger-less drone. But before you try that sure you've got a drone!
People often ask me how many times I get stung. It really isn't all that much. I often work my bees without a shirt and no gloves because summer is hot. The package bees that we sell are very gentle. I know bees and I know how to read them and how to determine the best day to work them. As a result, I am rarely stung given the amount of hours I work bees.
On occasion, a hive can turn mean. An aggressive queen can raise aggressive daughters. Small critters bothering the hive at night can make the bees mean in the day time.
They were up all night trying to chase away a skunk. You'd be mean too after a night like that. And for those of you in the deep south, you want to be sure your bees do not have an Africanized trait.
When a hive becomes too aggressive to enjoy, it's time to requeen with a calm, gentle Italian queen. After 4 weeks, all the bees will be from your new queen's stock and things should be noticeably calmer. Don't put up with a mean hive. Requeen at once so that you can enjoy beekeeping.
So, don't be afraid. Be sure that you do not have a life threatening allergic reaction toward honey bee venom. If you don't, then use the tips above to limit stings and enjoy keeping bees. When you are stung, take it like a trooper and stay calm and get back in there and enjoy beekeeping.
Thanks for joining me today for another lesson in beekeeping. When spring rolls around, you'll be an expert!! It's cold here in Illinois and the bees are in tight clusters in their hives. But it won't be long until we'll be out there putting in the pollen patties. So, keep reading, get your bees and equipment ordered and get ready for a great 2008 beekeeping year!!
And as always,
Bee-Have yourselves!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms