As a beekeeper, some form of protective clothing is essential, especially for the face. Stings to the facial area don’t happen all that often, but when they do, significant swelling can occur.
I’m speaking from personal experience here…
I foolishly walked near one of my hives without protection and bent down to pull out a weed. Bang! I was stung on the eyelid. It swelled so severely within minutes I couldn’t see and the swelling soon traveled to my cheeks and another eye, and a red rash progressed to my arms and stomach. Needless to say, a doctor’s visit was in order.
I was surprised at the severity of the reaction as I’d been stung before but never on my face. It may not happen to other beekeepers, but I strongly urge you to wear some form of protective clothing. Now I always have at least my hat with its built-in veil with me.
Types Of Protective Clothing
Basically, there are three types of protective clothing for beekeepers. It’s up to the individual beekeeper to decide which one suits them best and gives them sufficient confidence to examine the hive.
The three types are as follows, varying from the minimum amount of protection to the maximum:
- Veils that cover the face only.
- Jackets that include a built-in veil and provide protection from the waist up.
- Full-length suits that provide complete whole-body protection.
In conjunction with each of these are long-sleeved gloves to protect hands and fingers from being stung.
Veils vary in design. Some of them are attached to a hat, whilst others come without a sewn-in hat and are worn over a beekeeper’s hat of choice.
Although inexpensive, a veil provides the least amount of protection. It can be difficult to prevent the bees from coming in under the veil. Even if you tuck it into your clothes initially, as you move and work in the beehive the veil moves as well. One bee or more under your veil can be unnerving, especially for a new beekeeper.
The low cost is probably not worth it and in my opinion, a veil certainly doesn’t provide sufficient protection. As a new beekeeper, you will want to be comfortable and have positive experiences with your bees. Good protection, such as that provided by a well-made jacket or overalls will give you more confidence than if you were wearing just a veil alone.
If you do decide to use a protective veil just make sure you choose the stronger, thicker nylon or metal gauze netting as it will last longer. The veil mesh is black because a beekeeper can’t see through the white mesh.
Jackets have the advantage of providing more protection than a simple veil. A jacket with a built-in veil is the most practical option. There are usually two types of hood to choose from, the first has a round hood and the second has a fencing-style hood.
The round-hood jacket has quite a few advantages. The hood is supported by a wire band that makes sure the protective netting doesn’t come close to the face. The round hood allows for plenty of ventilation and light and the beekeeper has the ability to see clearly wherever they turn their head, giving 360-degree views. The jacket with the fencing-style hood doesn’t allow the beekeeper to look around so easily because the material hood at the back can partially block the view when his/her head is turned.
Some jackets come with a zipper up the front, others are designed to be pulled over the head. If the jacket has a front zipper, just check that when zipped up to the veil there is no gap left where a bee could enter. My jacket has a Velcro patch that fits over the zippers to ensure there are no gaps. As an added protection, some jackets have zippers that cross over and a Velcro patch that is secured over the top.
When considering jackets to buy, look if the veil can be removed for washing. It’s not a good idea to launder the veil in the washing machine as washing machine cycles are too harsh for it. In any case, the veil won’t need to be washed as often as the jacket. You should hand wash the veil with a gentle soap or laundry detergent. The suit can easily be laundered in the washing machine.
It’s important to try on the jacket and see how well it fits and how easily it can be done up securely. Move around in the jacket to see how comfortable it will be when you are performing tasks in the beehive. Check the elastic at the bottom to ensure it fits you snugly and leaves no gaps where a bee may enter. Some jackets and overalls may have elastic loops attached to the cuffs. These hook over the thumbs and prevent the sleeves of the jacket from riding up when putting on protective gloves.
Although more expensive than a veil, I believe the extra cost of a jacket will be worth the added protection and peace of mind it provides you.
Overalls are the most expensive option but offer the most protection. As a new beekeeper overalls were the best choice for me as they gave me confidence knowing there were no gaps for the bees to enter.
The overalls come with elasticized ankle and wrist cuffs that are firm enough to prevent bees from crawling inside. Long gloves give an extra protective layer. I wear gumboots for added protection too.
I’d always recommend trying on overalls before buying to check for comfort and fit. Are they easy to do up? Can you move around in them comfortably? As I’m not very tall even the smallest size was too big for me so they are a bit difficult to move around in at times. Check the zippers to make sure when everything is zipped up there are no gaps. Is there a Velcro patch covering the zippers and are there elastic hoops on the cuffs?
In the summer months, beekeeping can be hot work in a full-length beekeeping suit, so it’s important to consider the type of material the overalls or jackets are made from. You will want to find protective clothing that fits well, enables you to move around easily, and is long-lasting.
Usually, the protective clothing is made from cotton or a polyester/cotton mix, and in hot weather can become uncomfortable to wear. In recent times however newer, aerated garments have become available. The garment has two strong layers of fabric that are tear-resistant and keep the beekeeper cooler on hot days. Keep in mind these garments are generally more expensive but do allow the beekeeper to ‘keep their cool’ when working in the hive on hot days.
Most beekeeping gloves are made from calf or cow leather and have a long sleeve with an elasticized top that prevents bees from crawling inside. Although gloves provide good protection against stings, the thick material makes it difficult to manipulate components of the hive because the feeling is lost. You can buy gloves with aerated sleeves, but the thinner material could allow for a sting or two.
You may decide to use thick rubber gloves or other protective gloves you have at home rather than purchasing a pair, but it’s likely these won’t provide a long sleeve for protection and there is the possibility of the wrists becoming exposed. Also, they may not provide dexterity when working in the hive.
You need to feel confident when working on their hive. There are a few choices of protective clothing: veils, jackets, and overalls. Well-made protective clothing is a must so when considering what garments to buy you should visit a beekeeping supply store to try on the various styles. Make sure that whatever type you choose is comfortable, fits well, is made from a suitable material, and is within your price range. Good quality protective clothing will be long-lasting and give you the confidence to work in your hive well into the future.