Questions from the Initial Beekeeping Experience

Our “Newbee Questions, Expert Answers” series, takes the questions of a curious, fascinated, worried, perplexed and sometimes downright confused “newbee” and provides expert responses.

In this edition…

Three weeks in and our newbee is starting to figure a few things out. So, that clearly means his questions are slowing down, right? Not one bit! They merely increase as time passes.

Mark has a series of random questions – Ron to the rescue!

Mark: I need to mow my lawn! How will my bees react?

Ron:  In general you will be fine.  I’ve never had a problem with it.  The only variable would be if you happened to get a cranky queen, then the hive might not like the noise.  My own experience is that it’s never been a problem.  I mow within about 10 feet of one regularly.  Bees tend to respond more to vibration.  If you run your week whacker around the hive it might be a different story.

Mark: If friends and family want a look, what precautions should I take?

Ron:  Always have them gear up if you are going to open the hive or if they are going to get close.  You don’t want a first experience to be a bad one.  If they are just going to watch you work a hive, light-colored clothing with a hat and veil will probably work just fine.  Gloves, too, if it makes them feel more comfortable.

Beekeepers and visitors alike should wear what they need to wear to feel comfortable around the bees.

Mark: I noticed a few ants on the outside of the hive. Is that a problem and, if so, what should I do?

Ron:  If it’s just a few ants the bees will deal with it, but more often than not you either have an ant problem or you don’t.  There are a number of different solutions people use, such as putting each leg of the hive stand in a can of oil.  I prefer diatomaceous earth.  It’s completely natural.  Spread it around the hive and it will keep the ants out.  I’ve had very good luck using it and it won’t bother the bees.

Mark: My neighbors use pesticides in their garden. How should I tackle this?

Ron:  Don’t eat the veggies they offer you!  Seriously, that’s a tough one.

The reality is that if you keep bees in town you cannot control what your bees are going to get.  This is another reason to make sure you have a good water source, so at least some of the bees want to stay around.  Another solution is to raise a lot of plants the bees like so they tend to spend more time at your place instead of your neighbors.

Ultimately you may want to talk with your neighbors about it, but my experience has been that people who are used to using pesticides are not going to change their habits.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to try to gently educate them if you believe they care about bees.

One neighbor of mind wouldn’t give up spraying dandelions (a favorite bee flower).  Of course that’s a herbicide but it won’t do the bees any good when they bring the nectar back to the hive and the honey gets tainted with the herbicide.  But with a little cajoling I was able to convince him to kick the flower portion of the dandelion off before he sprayed the plant.  We found some middle ground.

The bottom line is, some folks will work with you and others won’t.  And by the way, before approaching any of your neighbors you might bone up on the city ordinances if you haven’t done so already.

Mark: What’s this about “patties”? Should I be using them?

Ron:  Pollen patties can be helpful when a package is getting established and the bees are still settling in and finding their own resources.  However, the nutrients in a pollen patty are not complete, but they will help a package of bees in the short run.  Pollen provides the protein need to raise the larvae and nectar (or sugar syrup when you are feeding them) is the carbohydrate the bees need to produce wax.

Mark: Don’t get it! I keep getting told I will get stung. But I have a veil, a jacket, jeans and I tuck the bottom of my jeans into my socks. How can bees sting me if I wear all this?!!

Ron:  (laughing) Embrace the sting Mark, because believe me you will get stung!

You just have to accept it as part of keeping bees.  First of all they can sting through jeans.  It doesn’t happen often but if you get a little rough or visit a hive on the wrong day and get them fired up, they can sting you through your jeans.  Just today I got stung on the back of my arm and I have no idea how the bee got inside my jacket.  It’s never happened before.  Give them the slightest crack and they will find it.

The key is to not upset them.  Calm, even movements work the best.  And if you get a hive that runs to the cranky side you should requeen it, especially if you keep the hive in town.

When bees sting a pheromone is released that tells the other bees “here’s the bad guy”.  So after removing the stinger you should smoke the site with your smoker to mask the pheromone.  I know some people who carry clove oil and put on a dab of that because bees don’t like clove oil.  Also don’t run away.  You’ll likely just attract more attention.  A single sting is really not that bad, it’s the itch for the next couple days that will drive you crazy.

Mark: How do I get tested for a bad reaction to sting? Should I have an EpiPen?

Ron: If you’ve never been stung before and don’t know how you will react, you might want to see a doctor about being tested to find out if you are allergic and would suffer anaphylactic shock.  Basically that means a reaction that can stop your breathing.  If you are allergic a doctor will probably prescribe an Epi-Pen.  He will also likely tell you not to keep bees because it’s a very serious condition.  And one more reason to possibly see a doc.

A couple years ago a fella from the local bee club who had kept bees for over 40 years got stung and passed out while teaching a class.  He did not have an Epi-Pen and those there when it happened would have administered it if there had been one on site.  Ultimately the bee sting caused him heart problems (he had a quadruple bypass soon after) and the doctors said the Epi-Pen would probably have killed him. 

A rare case yes, but it does serve to illustrate that it can be a serious matter  and if you have concerns you should definitely get checked out by a doctor.