Handling bees safely

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Handling bees safely

Working with honey bees should be a pleasurable and enriching experience. However, beekeepers need to bear in mind that bees can be dangerous and should be treated with respect.  Stinging is the bees' only form of defence against all the creatures, including humans, who would like to take their honey stores. However, bee stings can kill a person. This can happen in one of two ways; the first because of an allergic reaction to a sting and the second because there have been so many stings that the body is overwhelmed by poison. However, it is not necessary to be afraid of bees. By handling them calmly, gently and carefully with the proper use of smoke and protective clothing the beekeeper can manage the bees with little difficulty.

When planning a visit to the hive, beekeepers should be clean and well washed, not smelling of sweat, alcohol or strong food. Avoid strong smelling soaps or preparations and very dark or woolly clothing. It is always safest to visit the apiary with another person. In hot places, especially with African bee races, work with the bees should be limited to the evening or early morning. Evening is best as the bees have all night to settle down again after they have been disturbed. Experienced beekeepers will be able to assess the mood of the bees and not open them if environmental conditions are upsetting the bees; for instance very high or very low temperatures or the advent of a thunderstorm will disturb bees greatly and make them aggressive. An ideal temperature for beekeeping anywhere is 20-25°C.

Beekeepers working with bees should be quick, gentle and as quiet as possible. Quick and careful handling minimises disturbance to the bees. Beekeepers should not knock or bang the hives but make sure they remove roofs and top bars with minimum of tapping and noise. Never stand in front of the entrance. Quick jerky movements attract the guard bees' attention of and if they interpret this as an attack to which they will respond by stinging. Plenty of smoke should be used when opening the colony of bees. If someone is stung cover the place with smoke and, if possible, quickly scrape the sting away. This will hide the alarm smell that will attract other bees to sting.

Beekeepers should try to avoid crushing bees as they work. This can spread the alarm pheromone and also disease. Keeping the apiary clean and clear will help to ensure any work to the hive can be completed as quickly as possible and with the minimum of fuss. Water sprays and covering cloths can also be used to keep the bees under control. Take care with the smoke as excessive smoke can encourage the bees to abscond.

Don't go directly back home or to places near people until all the bees have returned to the hive. It is best to take a long route back through trees or tall grasses. Smoke each person leaving the apiary and once they are clear of bees then let each one move back to the place they will remove their bee suit. The last person should check themselves carefully and only proceed once all the bees have gone.

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